In Roy Moore’s Senate Race, Democrats Copied Russian Election Interference Tactics
Democrats have been pushing a massive probe into whether Russia influenced the 2016 presidential election through fake social media activity. They claim to be horrified at the idea that someone tried to manipulate our elections. But not too horrified, apparently. The party used similar tactics in last year’s Alabama’s special senate election.
Democratic activists carried out a secret project last year they called “Project Birmingham.” Emulating the Russians’ disinformation campaign, they directed the Twitter and Facebook campaign at embattled conservative Republican Roy Moore. He ended up losing by a slim margin. Doug Jones became the first Democratic senator elected in Alabama in 25 years. He won by only 21,924 votes out of about 1.35 million cast.
In an internal report obtained by The New York Times, party activists took credit for “radicalizing Democrats with a Russian bot scandal.” The activists created a fake Facebook page for those on the right, where they tried to divide support for Moore. The report admits, “We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.” They endorsed a write-in candidate over him in the hope of costing him votes. They set up thousands of fake Russian Twitter accounts to follow him on Twitter. People were supposed to think the Russians were behind Moore.
The main project had a budget of $100,000. The entire race cost $51 million, according to FEC filings. The funding primarily came from Reid Hoffman. He is the left-leaning, billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn.
The internal report said the Facebook page boosted the campaign of the write-in candidate, Mac Watson. It claimed to have gotten him interviews with The Montgomery Advertiser and The Washington Post. He noticed his Twitter followers suddenly increased from about 100 to about 10,000. In the end, he got only a few hundred votes. Most of the writer-in votes went to Condoleeza Rice and some football coaches.
Fake ‘Dry Alabama’ Campaign
The activists also created a second “Dry Alabama” campaign which implied Moore’s supporters wanted to ban alcohol. It was designed to alienate moderates. One post declared, “Re-enact Prohibition and make Alabama dry again!” The second campaign also cost $100,000. About 80 percent of the funding went toward Facebook ads.
It was very successful. 4.6 million viewed the posts. About 97,000 people engaged them. Viewers watched videos 430 times. Two Virginia donors funded it. Investing in Us funneled the money, though its head denied knowing anything about the project. That group finances political operations in support of progressive causes.
The Moore campaign suspected something fishy and complained to Facebook. Facebook suspended Jonathon Morgan, an executive with one of the groups involved in the effort. Facebook’s rules prohibit misrepresentation.
Moore’s loss surprised many. Despite a scandal about his alleged involvement with younger women in his earlier years, he remained popular. Famous for insisting on the public placement of the Ten Commandments against the courts, he was a national favorite among many social conservatives.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said he is looking into whether the campaign violated any state laws. Newly elected Senator Jones has called for a federal probe. Hoffman apologized last month for donating the money to the campaign. He claimed he did not know others would use it for disinformation.
Moore tweeted on January 2 that he would be getting to the bottom of it.
There are many false and misleading accounts on social media about me, it is about time I speak for myself! Come join the growing Conservative movement in Alabama and follow @RealJudgeMoore for more details about how the Dem's hacked my race! #staytuned
— Judge Roy Moore (@RealJudgeMoore) January 2, 2019
American Family Association spokesman Walker Wildmon suspects the campaign may have cost Moore the race. “[W]hen you have billionaires from California funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into Alabama to defeat Roy Moore, then this very well could have turned the election,” he observed. The report itself states that its “sustained targeting” of Republican voters “had enormous effect” on turnout.