Facebook removes fake accounts linked to Turning Point USA

  • Facebook has removed 200 fake accounts created by a marketing firm that was working for an affiliate of conservative youth group Turning Point USA. 
  • The company announced that it had discovered a coordinated campaign to use fake accounts to comment on news articles, writing messages centered around topics like the coronavirus outbreak and the 2020 election.
  • In examples published by Facebook, commenters criticized mail-in ballots, promoted big game hunting, and said Democrats “will do anything to screw over Americans.” 
  • Facebook said it discovered the campaign after reporting from the Washington Post last month found that the affiliate group, Turning Point Action, was paying teenagers to post pro-Trump messages. 
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Facebook has removed hundreds of fake accounts created by a marketing firm working for Turning Point Action, an affiliate of pro-Trump youth group Turning Point USA, the company announced Thursday. 

Facebook said it identified a coordinated campaign to create fake accounts that commented on other people’s posts after the Washington Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker reported last month about a campaign to pump out conservative messages on the platform. Since then, Facebook said it’s identified 200 fake accounts tied to Rally Forge, a marketing agency that it said was working on behalf of Turning Point USA, as well as an organization called Inclusive Conservation Group. Facebook said it has now banned Rally Forge from the platform. 

In a statement to Business Insider, Turning Point Action clarified it had been running the campaign, not Turning Point USA.

“Facebook’s blog post in question was in reference to a project for Turning Point Action, a 501c4 and an entirely separate entity. The mistake has been flagged with Facebook’s communication team,” the statement read. “Turning Point Action works hard to operate within social platforms’ TOS on all of its projects and communications and we hope to work closely with Facebook to rectify any misunderstanding.”

A spokesperson for Rally Forge did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. 

In its report, Facebook described how, beginning in 2018, fake accounts using stock profile pictures posed mostly as right-leaning people based in the US and commented on articles posted by high-profile individuals or news agencies.

The comments centered around topics like the 2018 midterm elections, the 2020 presidential election, the coronavirus outbreak, and trophy hunting, as well as praise for President Donald Trump and the Republican party and criticism about former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic party. 

The accounts have recently focused their activity on the Facebook pages of The New York Times, the Washington Post, Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, Facebook said. 

In examples published by Facebook, commenters criticized mail-in ballots, promoted big game hunting, and said Democrats “will do anything to screw over Americans.” 

Facebook said that after the fake accounts were caught by its detection systems, the campaign changed tactics to create more realistic accounts that used names similar to the people behind the accounts — Facebook calls them “thinly veiled personas.” 

Their “sole activity on our platform was associated with this deceptive campaign,” Facebook said. 

In addition to the coordinated comments, Facebook took down 55 pages and 75 Instagram accounts associated with the campaign. All told, the associated accounts spent $973,000 on ads on both Facebook and Instagram.

Turning Point USA is a conservative activist group founded by Charlie Kirk, a 26-year-old who spoke at this year’s Republican National Convention. According to the Post’s report from last month, Turning Point Action paid teenagers to post messages on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter that mirror talking points from Trump’s re-election campaign. The messages included misleading or outright false claims, and the users did not disclose their relationship with Turning Point Action, the Post reported. 

Turning Point Action’s field director, Austin Smith, told the Post at the time that the campaign was “sincere political activism conducted by real people who passionately hold the beliefs they describe online” and shouldn’t be compared to a troll farm. 

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