- The Washington Times
Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Facebook is investigating News for Democracy, an organization backed by liberal megadonor Reid Hoffman, over misleading news pages the group operated prior to the 2018 midterm elections, the social network said Monday.

News for Democracy created several active Facebook pages that may have broken the social network’s advertising policies and rules against misleading users during the race, The Washington Post reported.

“Our investigation is ongoing, and we’ll continue to take action against accounts that we identify as violating our policies,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.

Mr. Hoffman, a LinkedIn co-founder and Microsoft board member, did not return requests for comment, The Post reported. Dmitri Mehlhorn, his top political adviser and a News for Democracy, declined to comment, the report said.

News for Democracy was designed to promote “outreach to groups that were center [and] center-right, and trying to reach out to them with messages,” Mr. Mehlhorn said previously, The Post reported.

The organization created more than a dozen Facebook pages during the campaign geared toward certain audiences, including “Sounds Like Tennessee” and “The Holy Tribune,” subsequently used for spreading left-leaning messages, according to archived examples of paid ads the group purchased.

“Sounds Like Tennessee” typically aggregates regional news coverage about local sports and news, but the page also pushed an ad purchased by News for Democracy attacking a GOP candidate running in the 2018 midterms, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican.

“The Holy Tribune,” meanwhile, pushed ads attacking President Trump and touting Senate hopeful Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from Texas, despite the page otherwise usually posting content appealing to evangelicals.

Both pages are categorized on Facebook as news companies, though neither makes clear their connections to News for Democracy, The Post noted.

“People connecting with [pages] shouldn’t be misled about who’s behind them,” Facebook spokesman Matt Steinfeld told The Post. “Just as we’ve stepped up our enforcement of coordinated inauthentic behavior and financially motivated spam over the past year, we’ll continue improving so people can get more information about the pages they follow.”

Facebook previously ramped up measures targeting inauthentic behavior against U.S. intelligence officials accused Russian users of weaponizing the platform to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

Two years later, ads purchased by News for Democracy ultimately garnered at least 16 million views or clicks during a single two-week span in September 2018, according to a study by the New York University Tandon School of Engineering cited by The Times.

Mr. Hoffman, 51, is worth roughly $1.7 billion, according to Forbes. He contributed $1 million to former President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, and he previously promised to donate $5 million to help veterans if President Trump releases his widely sought tax documents.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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