The stunning revelation shows the increased sophistication of foreign efforts to disrupt the U.S. elections, almost four years after the Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed how an adviser to the Trump campaign used leaked Facebook data to target persuadable voters.
After receiving a tip from the FBI, Facebook and Twitter determined that a nonprofit media organization called Peace Data was a front for a Russian political-influence campaign that targeted left-wing voters in several countries, including the U.S. Facebook said it removed Peace Data and several associated accounts, which hadn't gained much of a following, from its platform, NBC News reported.
Following the revelations, news reports have focused on the journalists who wrote for Peace Data without realizing its role as a misinformation hub. Many of the reporters were happy to find a paying gig amid the relentless cutbacks in newsrooms worldwide.
Six journalists interviewed by Reuters said they were approached on social media about writing for Peace Data, and were paid as much as $250 for an article. Peace Data's editors only communicated by email with reporters, and occasionally would ask them to add a political angle to their stories. The Russians were prompt with their payments, which freelancers always appreciate.
It's good the misinformation campaign was uncovered before it could do more damage, and it's another reminder the efforts to spread propaganda are unrelenting.
Let's hope the situation doesn't deteriorate if election results are protracted for weeks, as they were in the "hanging chad" fiasco of 2000. The pandemic, economic stress and protests against racism have added to political tensions that a contested election would magnify, possibly with dangerous results.