Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said Thursday that he is opening an investigation into whether a disinformation campaign targeting Republican Roy Moore violated campaign laws and tilted a close election.
Democratic operatives allegedly used Facebook and Twitter to undermine support for Moore and boost Democrat Doug Jones, who narrowly won the race. Marshall is worried the ruse affected the outcome of the election, especially considering the rapidly changing nature of social media campaigns.
“The information is concerning,” Marshall, a Republican, told The Washington Post. “The impact it had on the election is something that’s significant for us to explore, and we’ll go from there.”
Marshall stopped short of suggesting his office begin a formal investigation into Project Birmingham but noted that he will start gathering evidence. “Technology has put us in a difficult position in many respects in terms of the applicability of our current laws,” he added.
Reports about the caper began making the rounds after The New York Times reported on the matter on Dec. 19. News of the so-called false flag operation, which involved operatives from American Engagement Technologies (AET) creating fake Russian bots to follow Moore, took off from there.
Billionaire Reid Hoffman added fuel to the fire when he apologized Wednesday for funding the effort, but he left crucial questions unanswered. His statement did not include a detailed accounting of everyone involved in the campaign, nor did it explain who crafted and executed the action.
Hoffman plowed $750,000 into the organization, much of it going to the project, the report notes. Democratic operatives associated with the plan explained in an internal report leaked to The New York Times how the project sought to implant ideas into people’s heads.
The scheme itself likely didn’t shift the election, but the Twitter bot angle gained significant amount of national attention.
Local and national media falsely suggested Russia was backing Moore’s candidacy. The Montgomery Advertiser was the first to cover the story. National media outlets quickly followed suit.
“Roy Moore flooded with fake Russian Twitter followers,” read the headline on a 2017 New York Post story, which cited the Advertiser. WaPo, for its part, focused on the fact that Moore blamed Democrats for the fake accounts.
AET’s founder Mickey Dickerson has not responded to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s repeated requests for comments about the nature of his group’s campaign. Dickerson worked on former President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Hoffman, who has previously said he supports a probe, has also not responded to TheDCNF’s questions.
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