Pro-Trump group Turning Point Action, an affiliate of Turning Point USA, paid Arizona teenagers to spread right-wing messages for the group on their personal Facebook and Twitter accounts, The Washington Post reported.
The Post reported Tuesday some accounts belonging to minors had been suspended for posting talking points, characterized as “platform manipulation and spam.”
Twitter and Facebook have shut down accounts on their platforms reportedly linked to a misleading social media campaign run by Turning Point Action, an offshoot of popular conservative youth activist organization Turning Point USA https://t.co/YCJYo8dfLG
— CNN (@CNN) September 16, 2020
An examination indicated the social media campaign spanned across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and included nearly 4,500 tweets with the same content, the report said.
Although teens used their personal accounts to carry out the social media campaign, the phrasing of the messages drew comparisons to trolls and bots.
“In 2016, there were Macedonian teenagers interfering in the election by running a troll farm and writing salacious articles for money,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “In this election, the troll farm is in Phoenix.”
Charlie Kirk, the 26-year-old founder of the conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA, strongly denied the campaign resembled a troll farm, calling that a “gross mischaracterization,” adding it was simply “sincere political activism.”
Still, critics are calling the domestic campaign more influential than election interference from countries like Russia.
“The scale and scope of domestic disinformation is far greater than anything a foreign adversary could do to us,” Brookie said.
A spokesperson for Turning Point Action told CNN the roles these teenagers filled resulted from changes due to the pandemic.
“Many positions TPA had planned for in field work were going to be completely cut, but TPA managed to reimagine these roles and working with our marketing partners, transitioned some to a virtual and online activist model,” he said.
The report noted the teens involved identified themselves as young Republicans and pro-Trump, with some using their real names online.
The parent of two teenagers working for the group, Robert Jason Noonan, told the Post that Turning Point Action paid his teens to push “conservative points of view and values” on their social media accounts. Noonan said his daughters were classified as independent contractors and would sometimes work out of an office in Phoenix.
Some cited positive experiences in the role, with a recorded conversation with one 16-year-old working for the campaign indicating he thought the work was “really fun.”
While Twitter and Facebook have both taken steps to crack down on potential misinformation, the repetitious postings from the teens could prove fruitful for Turning Point Action.
“There is a logic to having an army locally situated in a battleground state, having them up and online and ready to be deployed,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania.