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Jones “outraged” about Russian-style social media experiment during US Senate race

U.S. Sen. Doug Jones Thursday called on the Department of Justice and the Federal Elections Commission to investigate a group of Democratic tech experts who tried to carry out tactics similar to Russia’s election interference during the 2017 Senate special election that led to Jones’ election.

The report from The New York Times said the social media project — which involved deceptive posting methods on Facebook and Twitter intended to divide Republicans and draw votes from Moore — was likely too small to have an effect on the race but was more likely an experiment to determine the potential effectiveness of any future social media interference.

The project was designed to help Jones, the Times reported, but Jones said in a conference call with reporters Thursday that he was angry about the so-called experiment even if it had no effect.

“I can tell you very simply, hell, I’m as outraged as everybody else about it,” Jones said. “I have railed about Russian interference in our election process ever since I started campaigning and during this first year in the Senate, and I think we’ve all kind of focused too much on just the Russians and not picked up on the fact that, you know what, some nefarious groups, whether they’re right or left, could take those same playbooks and start interfering with the elections for their own damn benefit. And I gotta tell you, I’m not happy about it.”

Jones said he agreed with the Times report that the interference likely had no impact on the race, which was plagued by accusations of sexual misconduct against Jones’ opponent, Republican Roy Moore.

Another part of the tactics used by the group including trying to link Moore’s campaign to thousands of Russian accounts that quickly began following Moore shortly before the election, which drew national attention. The mass Twitter following was reported by numerous local and national outlets.

At most, the project cost about $100,000 and involved creating a Facebook page that presented itself as a conservative Alabama group that was criticizing Moore. Jones narrowly defeated Moore by 22,000 votes in a race in which more than 1.34 million votes were cast.

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“I will tell you this: I think the FEC and the Department of Justice should take a close look at this to determine whether or not any criminal laws were violated, and if so, prosecute them. We have to kind of nip this in the bud. We should not encourage or allow to happen any group, regardless of who they are or maybe even well-intentioned, to do the kind of things that illegally interfere with the election process. That is my position. I feel very strong about it.”

Jones said his team had “no idea” about any of the social media antics being played during the election.

“We had no idea about any of this,” Jons said. “In fact, we had some pretty sophisticated … software to kind of monitor those things. We didn’t see anything like that. What we did see was a lot of traction of bots that were attacking me. I mean, thousands and thousands, who continued to attack us. None of our software programs who were bot tracking saw anything like this. So it must have been pretty small.”

Chip Brownlee is a former political reporter, online content manager and webmaster at the Alabama Political Reporter. He is now a reporter at The Trace, a non-profit newsroom covering guns in America.

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