- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 6, 2020

A new anti-Trump PAC plans to sink President Trump’s reelection using artificial intelligence to spot and drown out his messaging online.

The group Defeat Disinfo says it will use technology to track the online debate of Mr. Trump’s claims and then boost counter messages with a network of paid influencers.

Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal is advising the political action committee, which is being led by Curtis Hougland, who runs the New York-based technology firm Main Street One that wages information wars online.

“President Donald Trump is the largest amplifier of disinformation in the United States,” Mr. Hougland said in a recent statement announcing the PAC’s launch. “People are dying as a result of his political agenda. Trump’s expressions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate how a few words from the President result in real-world damage, again and again. Defeat Disinfo will protect the American people by coordinating emotional topical, visual, and personal narratives in response to the president’s disinformation through Election Day.”

Mr. Hougland previously worked with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to fight terrorist propaganda overseas.

DARPA said the anti-Trump PAC’s online strategy isn’t the product of government-sponsored technology.

Press reports touted the technology at issue in Mr. Hougland’s work with DARPA as foundational to his new anti-Trump political agenda, which DARPA disputed.

“Hougland’s technology does not benefit from agency funding any more than does his use of other DARPA technologies like the internet or mobile phone,” DARPA told The Washington Times.

“Curtis Hougland’s claim that he received initial funding from DARPA to develop the technology at the heart of his political work is very misleading,” said Jared B. Adams, DARPA spokesperson in an email. “Hougland had a tertiary consulting role advising an agency program on how to explore new and better ways to counter America’s adversaries online. He was not consulted for technical expertise to design artificial intelligence or network analysis tools, nor certainly anything remotely political.”

Gen. McChrystal told The Washington Post that his interest in the project was to ensure accurate information for the American people through the election. He said he has not endorsed presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden.

Defeat Disinfo, however, has outlined a three-step process to wipe out Mr. Trump.

First, the group will map the president’s tweets spreading “disinformation on issues such as COVID-19.” Next, the group said it will identify “digital narratives” that prove most effective in combating Mr. Trump’s agenda. Last, the group will seek to amplify its counternarratives through a network of online influencers, including several who are paid.

“Unlike Russians and the Republican Right, Defeat Disinfo will not use bots or sock puppets, falsify media, utilize models, or make up information,” the group said. “Instead, the organization will rely on real stories from real people.”

While Defeat Disinfo’s initial aim will focus squarely on information surrounding coronavirus, the group has said it intends to expand its portfolio to, “develop the largest repository of digital narratives countering Trump’s disinformation for use by any organization invested in protecting our democracy.”

Defeat Disinfo refused to answer questions from The Times, including how much funding it has at its disposal.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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