A leftwing initiative launched this week aimed at monitoring conservative "disinformation" has ties to a progressive billionaire linked to several of the sort of disinformation projects he is now trying to combat.
LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman’s investment fund donated an undisclosed amount to Indivisible, an advocacy group launching the new effort to track conservative disinformation. The fund, Investing in US, has also financed a group that created fake social media personas to suppress Republican voter turnout in Alabama's 2017 special Senate election. Indivisible thinks its "Truth Brigade" can help flag misinformation better than social media algorithms, according to Forbes.
Social media platforms have increased their efforts to contain "disinformation" in recent months, often with mixed results. Until recently, Facebook flagged posts claiming the coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab, even as the theory gained traction in the scientific community. LinkedIn, the only American social network in China, recently censored a China critic based in the United Kingdom who referred to the Chinese government as an "oppressive dictatorship."
Critics say Hoffman’s involvement casts doubt on the Truth Brigade’s ability to effectively police disinformation. "A man who invests in social media projects aimed at hardball political disinformation is not one whose allies can be trusted," said Scott Walter, president of Capital Research Center, which tracks liberal dark money groups.
The Alabama special election wasn’t Hoffman’s only run-in with disinformation. Facebook investigated whether a Hoffman-backed initiative called News for Democracy published misleading information targeting Republican voters during the 2018 election.
The New York Times reported in 2017 that Hoffman was a major donor to Indivisible, which was founded in 2016 by two former congressional staffers. Dmitri Mehlhorn, Hoffman’s partner at Investing in US, identified Indivisible as one of the company’s grantees in a December 2018 post on Medium. Mehlhorn did not disclose how much funding went to Indivisible.
In 2017, Indivisible members registered as Republicans in a Utah congressional primary in order to boost a moderate candidate to replace outgoing representative Jason Chaffetz.
Indivisible press secretary Emily Phelps told the Washington Free Beacon the group has not received funding from Hoffman since 2019, and that he "doesn't have any connection" to the work of the Truth Brigade. Investing in US did not respond to a request for comment.
While Indivisible bills itself as a grassroots organization, its donors are among the wealthiest supporters of the progressive movement. In addition to Hoffman, organizations directed by billionaire financier George Soros and the late banking magnate Herb Sandler have given millions to Indivisible.
Soros’s Open Society Foundations gave $2.6 million to Indivisible from 2017 to 2019. Democracy PAC, which was formed by Soros, gave $500,000 last year to Indivisible’s political action committee, Indivisible Action. Strategic Victory Fund, a super PAC formed by the Soros-backed Democracy Alliance, contributed $150,000 to Indivisible Action last year.
Walter questions whether Indivisible is forming the Truth Brigade to fight disinformation, or as a fundraising ploy.
"If you are these people you want thousands of folks regularly interacting with you. That’s a great way to fundraise," said Walter, whose watchdog group published a report on Indivisible in 2018.
Indivisible is no stranger to political controversy. The group also supported defunding police departments and packing the Supreme Court. It has partnered with the Women’s March, the left-wing resistance group whose leaders have a long history of anti-Semitism.