Facebook has suspended the account of Jonathon Morgan, the researcher behind a disinformation campaign against an Alabama Republican candidate who ended up losing the race for a Senate seat. Morgan claimed it was “research.”
Morgan, the CEO of New Knowledge, a social media research firm that published a major report on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 elections, has confirmed to The Washington Post that his Facebook account was suspended.
In a statement, Facebook said it had yanked “five accounts run by multiple individuals for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior” and was investigating them.
“We’ve removed thousands of Pages, Groups and accounts for this kind of behavior, as well as accounts that were violating our policies on spam and coordinated inauthentic behavior during the Alabama special election last year,” Facebook said.
Facebook has previously been accused by the US establishment of allowing Russia-linked pages to “sow discord among Americans,” but this time there is no finger-pointing at Russia. The mastermind is a reputable US researcher, whose bot-powered effort to drum up support for write-in Republican candidate Mac Watson while smearing the Trump-endorsed Roy Moore, was recently exposed by the New York Times.
The Times reported on Wednesday that Morgan and his team attempted to paint Moore as a Kremlin candidate, linking thousands of alleged Russian Twitter bots to his account and alerting the media to the fact.
A wide-ranging campaign was also launched by New Knowledge-handled accounts on Facebook. According to the report, a specially created generic page boosted Watson’s campaign, getting him TV gigs and more recognition. Morgan admitted that he was in contact with Watson, but argued that his false flag campaign did not aim to endorse him or manage to influence the outcome of the vote.
The researcher argued the goal of the campaign was innocuous – to get firsthand knowledge of how the disinformation campaign works in a real-life situation.
In the end, Democrat Doug Jones celebrated a nail-biting win, becoming the first Democrat to represent Alabama in the Senate in over 25 years. Moore lost by 1.5 percentage points in what was described as a shocking defeat.
In the wake of the revelation, Jones said that he “was outraged as anyone else” calling for the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice to investigate New Knowledge’s interference.
In an uncharacteristic pitch for a US lawmaker, Jones said that the Americans seemed to be a bit too obsessed with hunting for Russian meddling.
“I think we’ve all focused too much on just the Russians and not picked up on the fact that some nefarious groups, whether they’re right or left, could take those same playbooks and start interfering with the elections for their own benefit,” he said.
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