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Facebook removes accounts tied to pro-Trump student group

Facebook removes accounts tied to pro-Trump student group
© RNC

Facebook announced Thursday that it removed a number of fake accounts that the platform said were tied to a network operated on behalf of Turning Point USA, a pro-Trump conservative student organization.

The social media company said it removed 200 Facebook accounts, 55 pages and 76 accounts on Facebook-owned Instagram since the start of the month as part of the operation.

Facebook said an investigation, launched after a Washington Post report last month about some elements of the activity, found that Turning Point USA was working with marketing firm Rally Forge to create the network of accounts.

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Turning Point told The Hill that Facebook’s post was not in reference to the nonprofit Turning Point USA, but rather to a project for Turning Point Action, the political action committee formed by Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk. Turning Point Action said the PAC is a separate entity from Turning Point USA.

“Turning Point ACTION works hard to operate within social platforms' [terms of service] on all of its projects and communications and we hope to work closely with FB to rectify any misunderstanding,” Turning Point Action said in a statement.

Turning Point Action referred all questions regarding the activities of Rally Forge to the marketing firm. The Hill has reached out to Rally Forge for comment.

A Facebook spokesperson was not immediately available to respond to Turning Point Action's statement.

About 373,000 accounts followed one or more of the removed pages, and around 22,000 people followed one or more of the Instagram accounts. Approximately $973,000 was spent on ads for Facebook and Instagram by both inauthentic and authentic accounts removed as part of the network, according to Facebook.

In addition to removing the accounts, Facebook said Rally Forge is now banned from its platform. Turning Point USA’s official Facebook page, with more than 2 million followers, is still up on the platform.

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The accounts, a large portion of which Facebook said had automatically been removed by its systems, would comment on other people’s content. Most recently the accounts would comment on pages of news outlets including the Post, Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and The New York Times, Facebook said.

Examples of the comments cited by Facebook include pushing misinformation about mail-in voting as well as comments criticizing Democrats.

The social media company said the network appears to have started its operations in 2018 and continued into 2020, though it went dormant for the most part until June.

Facebook said the recent activity included “thinly veiled personas,” with names a slight variation of the people behind them and whose “sole activity on our platform was associated with this deceptive campaign.” 

“We assess this shift in tactics is likely due to the majority of this network’s fake accounts getting caught by our automated detection systems,” Facebook said.

Facebook and other social media platforms have faced mounting pressure to further address misinformation on its platforms, especially in the weeks leading up to the presidential election.