At the heart of Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign will be a massive “disinformation” operation dedicated to spreading falsehoods and confusion through social media and other outlets — an operation that will cost the team about $1 billion, according to an investigative report published by Atlantic Monthly in its March issue, and available online starting Thursday.
During the 2016 campaign — according to a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation as well as special counsel Robert Mueller — the Russian government-backed Internet Research Agency flooded Facebook and other social media outlets with false statements and fabricated news stories to support the president’s election bid.
However, Trump’s team also ran an extensive online operation, using data to “micro-target” voters and feeding them propaganda designed to appeal to their specific beliefs and prejudices, per The Atlantic.
That 2016 effort, however, was a “bootstrap” operation that was run by a “motley band of B-teamers toiling in an unfinished space in Trump Tower,” according to Atlantic reporter McKay Coppins. The alleged 2020 disinformation operation is considerably more extensive, referred to as “The Death Star” by one veteran Republican operative who spoke to the outlet.
The new plan to target and influence voters with “disinformation” is already “heavily funded, technologically sophisticated, and staffed with dozens of experienced operatives,” according to Coppins’ reporting.
Even prior to the 2020 campaign, social media has been flooded with mostly pro-Trump “fake news,” according to independent reporter Judd Legum, writing on his Popular Information site. A study cited by Legum revealed that political disinformation spread via Facebook had been viewed 158 million times in the first 10 months of 2019.
The majority of that false information consisted of negative attacks on Democrats, according to Popular Information.
Even the current flood of false information online will likely be small by comparison to the 2020 Trump operation, according to The Atlantic, which described the 2020 Trump effort — overseen by campaign manager Brad Parscale, who was Trump’s 2016 digital director — as “what could be the most extensive disinformation campaign in U.S. history.”
The amount of phony information and falsehoods that will be pumped into the media system by the purported initiative is so vast that even if it fails to secure reelection for Trump, “the wreckage it leaves behind” may cause permanent damage to American politics, Coppins wrote.
The alleged disinformation initiative will extend well beyond the boundaries of Facebook, according to The Atlantic. In addition to social media, the campaign plans to use “peer to peer” texting apps that will allow a single worker to send unsolicited text messages to hundreds of recipients per hour.
Under a 2002 ruling by the Federal Elections Commission, political text messages are not required to disclose where they come from, or who paid for them. This has allegedly allowed campaigns to skirt election laws that require the backers of political advertisements to reveal their identities.