Turning Point USA Troll Farm Points to Need for Social Media Platforms to Strengthen Disinformation Protections

A report today the The Washington Post revealed that Turning Point USA, a pro-Trump youth organization, was employing teenagers to disseminate disinformation, including attempts to discredit mail-in ballots and downplaying the health risks associated with COVID-19, as part of  a “sprawling yet secretive campaign that experts say evades the guardrails put in place by social media companies to limit online disinformation of the sort used by Russia during the 2016 campaign.”

Statement of Jesse Littlewood, Common Cause Vice President of Campaigns

Turning Point USA’s Arizona troll farm takes a page from the Russian disinformation playbook from the 2016 presidential race and is likely only the tip of the iceberg. The effort is a direct attack on voters and our democracy, and is a reminder that disinformation that suppresses the vote doesn’t just come from Russia or other hostile foreign powers, or in the form of microtargeted ads. The majority of disinformation that we’ve identified through the Stopping Cyber Suppression program throughout this year’s primary elections has been “organic content” — not ads, but posts exactly like the ones described in The Washington Post.

The report again hammers home the point that social media platforms must strengthen their disinformation policies around voting and election interference to reduce the harm to voters and take strong action against coordinated efforts to spread disinformation like the one described. This is not acceptable campaigning activities — coordinated disinformation efforts intended to suppress the vote should not be tolerated, no matter who is doing them. Likewise, social media users and the media must be on guard against disinformation – never amplifying disinformation but reporting it to the platforms and to trusted nonpartisan voter protection groups like Election Protection. We strongly encourage social media users to play an active role in fighting the dissemination of disinformation  by reporting these abuses to the Common Cause disinformation tip line at commoncause.org/disinfo. But social media companies must also take their social responsibilities seriously and significantly strengthen their disinformation policies as well as their efforts to monitor and remove such content.