Firm Who Warned America of ‘Russian Meddling’ Caught Running Fake Russia Bot Campaign
Firm Who Warned America of ‘Russian Meddling’ Caught Running Fake Russia Bot Campaign from The Free Thought Project
The company behind an op-ed in the New York Times about “the Russians” and their nefarious efforts to influence American elections were the actual perpetrators of said influence.
The co-founders of cybersecurity firm New Knowledge warned Americans in November to “remain vigilant” in the face of “Russian efforts” to meddle in US elections. This month, they have been exposed for doing just that themselves.
Ryan Fox and Jonathan Morgan, who run the New Knowledge cybersecurity company which claims to “monitor disinformation” online, penned a foreboding op-ed in the New York Times on November 6, about “the Russians” and their nefarious efforts to influence American elections.
At the time, it struck me that Fox and Morgan’s reasoning seemed a little far-fetched. For example, one of the pieces of evidence presented to prove that Russia had targeted American elections was that lots of people had posted links to RT’s content online. Hardly a smoking gun worthy of a Times oped.
Morgan and Fox, intrepid cyber sleuths that they are, claimed in the article they had detected more “overall activity” from ongoing Russian influence campaigns than social media companies like Facebook and Twitter had yet revealed — or that other researchers had been able to identify.
The New Knowledge guys even authored a Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russia’s alleged efforts to mess with American democracy. They called it a “propaganda war against American citizens.”Impressive stuff. They must be really good at their job, right?
This week, however, we learned that New Knowledge was running its own disinformation campaign (or “propaganda war against Americans,” you could say), complete with fake Russian bots designed to discredit Republican candidate Roy Moore as a Russia-preferred candidate when he was running for the US senate in Alabama in 2017.
The scheme was exposed by the New York Times — the paper that just over a month earlier published that aforementioned oped, in which Fox and Morgan pontificated about Russian interference online.
New Knowledge created a mini-army of fake Russian bots and fake Facebook groups. The accounts, which had Russian names, were made to follow Moore. An internal company memo boasted that New Knowledge had “orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.”
Moore lost the race by 1.5 percent. To be fair, accusations published by the Washington Post that he pursued underage girls back in the 1980s may have had something to do with it as well, but that’s a different story.
Of course, New Knowledge and even the New York Times, which blew the lid of the operation, are trying to spin this as some kind of “small experiment” during which they “imitated Russian tactics” online to see how they worked. Just for research, of course. They have also both claimed that the scheme, dubbed ‘Project Birmingham’ had almost no effect on the outcome of the race.
The money for the so-called research project came from Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, who contributed $750,000 to American Engagement Technologies (AET), which then spent $100,000 on the New Knowledge experiment. After the scheme was exposed, Hoffman offered a public apology, saying he didn’t know exactly how the money had been used and admitting that the tactics were “highly disturbing.”