A different take on the Tulsi Gabbard/Russia media report

I don’t have trust in much that the media reports anymore and I do think the mainstream media  displays a penchant to push certain media narratives that feed Democrat political spin messaging, but I decided it’s only fair to point out the other side to the Tulsi Gabbard/Russian media darling take.

Ben Popken, author of the NBC story on Tulsi Gabbard being promoted by Russian media, mentioned in my previous blog post, pushes back on criticism that his story relied on New Knowledge data for his report.  He has a tweet thread laying out how he went about his research:

NBC News doesn’t mention New Knowledge until the…let’s see…33rd paragraph, and then only as part of a group of experts weighing in. Hm, is that how you place a source that you’re basing your entire story on?

On January 2, 2019, the CEO of New Knowledge, Jonathon Martin, posted a detailed piece, Social Media and the Alabama Special Election, where he explains:
“There has since been a document described in the media from AET — the full version of which I have not been allowed to see — that does not mention me or my firm, but seems to conflate my research project with some broad, grandiose political claims that are unrelated to anything I worked on. I acknowledge working with AET, but I don’t recognize the claims they’re making now.

We did not write the leaked report and we could not have because it didn’t reflect our research. The leaked version of the report made a number of claims that did not originate with us.

  • We do not recognize the mention of an effort to move 50,000 votes by suppressing unpersuadable Republicans. We didn’t suppress votes — we provided links to news stories that might be relevant to voters.
  • We do not recognize the report’s mention of an effort to “manufacture approximately 45k Twitter followers, 350k Retweets, 370k Tweet Favorites, 6k Facebook Comments, 10k Facebook reactions, 300k Imgur upvotes and 10k Reddit upvotes.” Any effort to connect us to such activities is a lie. New Knowledge did not engage in the use of Twitter at all in the Alabama election — and we did not “manufacture” followers against Roy Moore.

What I’ve read or been told of the AET report sounds like marketing material written for political donors. It does not describe the intent or outcomes of our research project. So let me set the record straight about my research in Alabama:

  • We created a Facebook news source, “Alabama Conservative Politics,” that linked to credible news organizations like The Washington Post and Fox News.
  • We used our real names as page administrators.
  • Typical posts only attracted dozens to hundreds of “reactions” (typically “likes”).
  • When we made a small purchase of Facebook’s built-in advertising tools, we received reactions in the low thousands (again, typically “likes”).
  • Less than 2% of users clicked through to read any of the articles we posted.
  • In total we spent approximately $30,000 on Facebook advertising (for context, a reported $51 million was spent during the Alabama special election).

During the race, many researchers, myself included, noticed that the Roy Moore campaign had attracted bot followers on Twitter, whose account usernames were nonsense words in the Cyrillic alphabet. I assumed at the time that this was the work of internet trolls — because genuine state sponsors of disinformation are adept at appearing to be domestic commentators.

At no time did New Knowledge get involved in any use of Twitter bots (or bots on any other platform) in the Alabama election. To this day, we have no knowledge of who did this or why.

Again, we only conducted a small, limited research project on Facebook.”


AET referenced in Martin’s statement is American Engagement Technologies, run by Mickey Dickerson, a former Obama official, who was charged with creating and leading the U.S. Digital Service.


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Filed under General Interest, The Media

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