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Twitter, Facebook shut down accounts linked to youth conservative group’s misleading social media campaign

Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, speaks at the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) Leadership Forum during the NRA annual meeting in Dallas, Texas, U.S., on Friday, May 4, 2018. President Donald Trump delivered a strong sign of support for the National Rifle Association at its annual meeting on Friday, as gun-rights advocates regroup in the wake of the mass shooting at a Florida high school. (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images via CNN)

(CNN) — Twitter and Facebook have shut down accounts on their platforms reportedly linked to a misleading social media campaign run by Turning Point Action, an offshoot of popular conservative youth activist organization Turning Point USA.

The steps from the social media giants come after The Washington Post reported that Turning Point Action had paid teenagers to flood the platforms with conservative talking points, which included disinformation and misleading claims. The campaign, the Post reported, functioned like a troll farm but had evaded disruption because it was carried out by humans who used their own accounts without disclosing that they were posting on behalf of Turning Point Action.

The group, whose founder Charlie Kirk spoke at the Republican National Convention last month, had produced thousands of social media posts — many that contained nearly identical content, throughout its operation in recent months, according to a review by the Post.

“It sounds like the Russians, but instead coming from Americans,” Jacob Ratkiewicz, a software engineer at Google, told the newspaper.

Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told CNN the platform had removed multiple accounts for violating its policies on having and maintaining multiple accounts. A Twitter spokesperson confirmed multiple accounts had been removed for violations of their policies on platform manipulation and spam.

Both platforms said they are continuing to review the accounts The Washington Post said were part of Turning Point Action’s campaign.

Austin Smith, the field director of Turning Point Action, explained to the Post in a statement “like everyone else, Turning Point Action’s plans for nationwide in-person events and activities were completely disrupted by the pandemic.”

“Many positions TPA had planned for in field work were going to be completely cut, but TPA managed to reimagine these roles and working with our marketing partners, transitioned some to a virtual and online activist model,” he said.

Turning Point USA told CNN it has no comment on the Washington Post report.

Concerns over misinformation on social media have been at the forefront of the presidential election as platforms have struggled with how to handle a President who eagerly shares rumors, unverified viral videos and conspiracy theories.

Facebook and Twitter promised earlier this year to crack down on misinformation, but their responses over the summer to deceptively edited political videos and harmful posts about Covid-19 were often lacking — and too slow.

Additionally, Facebook announced earlier this month that people associated with the infamous St. Petersburg troll group that was part of Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election are trying to target Americans again.

The operation seems to have been shut down before it could get much traction on Facebook or the rest of the internet. That mirrors what happened around the 2018 midterm elections, when — as far as is publicly known — the Russian trolls’ online efforts were halting and small.

The trolls had far more luck gaining followers and engagement in 2016, though it is not known how much of an impact, if any, their work had on the election.