A Silicon Valley billionaire who co-founded LinkedIn apologizes for accidentally funding a recently discovered fake news operation.
LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman issued a statement Wednesday about a New York Times story that uncovered a “secret experiment” that used fake news in the Alabama Senate race that pitted Democrat Doug Jones against Republican Roy Moore in December 2017.
The Times report claims that Democratic technology operatives engaged in Russian manipulative tactics, funded by Hoffman, in an effort to help Jones defeat Moore in last year’s special election.
“I categorically reject the use of misinformation to influence an election,” says Hoffman in his statement, claiming he was not aware of the project. “I would not have knowingly financed a project that planned to use such tactics, and I would have refused to invest in any organization that I knew could carry out such a project, however, I have an apology to make and I have learned a lesson here.”
Hoffman, who is currently a member of the board of directors of several technology companies such as Microsoft, has invested millions of dollars in groups that favor the Democratic Party after the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.
One such investment was made in American Engagement Technologies (AET) according to the Washington Post. Hoffman invested $ 750,000 in the group headed by the first director of the Digital Service of the United States (USDS) Mikey Dickerson.
Dickerson, who was also an engineer at Google, helped found the USDS during the Obama administration in an effort to improve the government’s use of technology.
According to Hoffman, AET provided funds for New Knowledge research, a Texas-based cybersecurity research firm. That endorsement, in part from Hoffman, helped fund the special project that carried out a disinformation campaign in the Alabama race.
New Knowledge CEO Jonathan Morgan personally confirmed that the agency put together fake news in the Jones-Moore election. However, he claims that his use of such tactics was on a small scale and he denies being involved in the larger scheme described by the New York Times.
The special project involved the creation of a false story that linked the Republican candidate Roy Moore to thousands of false Russian accounts. The robots began following Moore on Twitter en masse and caught the attention of the media. A Facebook page was also created that pretends to be Alabama Conservatives in an attempt to divide Republican voters in the state. The efforts cost $ 100,000 according to the Times.
Morgan has stated that his participation was strictly for research purposes and was not based on affecting the outcome of an election. In any case, Facebook has suspended Morgan’s account for “engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
It should be noted that New Knowledge is one of the cybersecurity companies that gathered two new reports on Russia’s interference in US policy for the Senate Intelligence Committee. The reports were published earlier this month.
Senator Doug Jones, who beat Moore in the election, asked the federal government to investigate. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall is investigating whether the disinformation campaign violated the state’s campaign laws.
Hoffman joined Jones to request a federal investigation into the tactics. He is also committed to maintaining better oversight of the organization he finances, as well as improving the way he supervises future investments.