In a rare and somewhat dystopian example of in-sourcing, an Arizona politician appears to have been involved in employing local teens to replicate Russian efforts to spread right-wing disinformation on social media in advance of the upcoming presidential election.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Rally Forge, a local digital marketing company headed by Jake Hoffman, a Queen Creek council member and Republican House candidate for Legislative District 12, ran a program over the summer in which teenagers were paid to spam Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook with identical messages that asserted COVID-19 is overhyped and generally attempted to undermine confidence in the validity of American elections — all in support of President Donald Trump.
As one of only two general-election candidates running for the two open state House seats in District 12, Hoffman is all but assured to become a state legislator by default after the November election.
The accounts of the teens employed by Rally Forge — its website prominently touts that it doesn’t “brag
about our clients” while building a “movement” — did not disclose their connection to the company or to Turning Point USA, a prominent conservative youth group that directed the effort. A number of the accounts listed their location as Gilbert.
In response to the Post’s reporting, Twitter suspended 20 accounts for violating the site’s terms of service and Facebook cracked down on an additional number. The paper found nearly 4,500 identical posts associated with the effort, which it believes is just a small fraction of the total output.
The field director for Turning Point Action, the Turning Point USA entity directly managing the effort, defended the program to the Post as an alternative summer program in which teens can engage politically after COVID-19 disrupted normal organizing efforts.
In a written response to the paper, Hoffman defended the identical spam messages that were often posted in the comments of news articles as similar to a phone-bank script. He did not respond to a voicemail left at a phone number listed for him on the Arizona campaign finance website by Phoenix New Times Tuesday afternoon.
Experts quoted by the Post compared the local effort to those Russian troll farms conducted in support of Trump leading up to the 2016 election, which included amplifying Turning Point USA content.
“In this election, the troll farm is in Phoenix,” Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, told the Post.