Reid Hoffman apologizes for unknowingly backing Alabama disinformation campaign

The Silicon Valley billionaire "categorically" disavows the use of misinformation to sway an election.

Michelle Meyers
Michelle Meyers wrote and edited CNET News stories from 2005 to 2020 and is now a contributor to CNET.
Michelle Meyers
2 min read

LinkedIn founder and Silicon Valley billionaire Reid Hoffman on Wednesday acknowledged that a group he funded was linked to an effort that reportedly misled voters in Alabama's special Senate election last year, but said he knew nothing about it and is sorry for missing it.

In a post on Medium.com, Hoffman, currently a partner at the venture capital firm Greylock Partners, said he regrets that American Engagement Technologies (AET), one of the groups he funded as part of a broader ambition to expand civic engagement, gave money to a group that reportedly conducted a campaign to mislead voters. The New York Times detailed the alleged campaign in a story last week. 

"I find the tactics that have been recently reported highly disturbing," Hoffman wrote. "For that reason, I am embarrassed by my failure to track AET -- the organization I did support --  more diligently as it made its own decisions to perhaps fund projects that I would reject."

The Times reported on a secret project that used Russian-style disinformation tactics carried out on Facebook and Twitter designed to help Democrat Doug Jones, who edged out Republican Roy Moore in the Senate race. It was reportedly led by New Knowledge, a small digital research firm that The Washington Post says was a lead author of one of the reports presented last week at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about Russia's own influence campaigns.

AET provided funding to New Knowledge, said Hoffman. He goes on to explain how counter the project is to his efforts to fund groups that acknowledge technology is changing politics faster than politics is adapting to technology and to address the issue positively.

"I categorically disavow the use of misinformation to sway an election. In fact, I have deliberately funded multiple organizations trying to re-establish civic, truth-focused discourse in the US," he said. "I would not have knowingly funded a project planning to use such tactics, and would have refused to invest in any organization that I knew might conduct such a project."

He also expressed support for a federal investigation looking in to the campaign, as called for last week by now Sen. Jones.

Facebook suspended accounts relating to the campaign, the Post reported Saturday. Hoffman invested $750,000 in AET, the Post reported Wednesday. 

Hoffman has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump since 2016, when he offered to donate up to $5 million to charity if then candidate Trump would release his income tax returns. "After Trump won the electoral vote in November 2016, the threat he posed increased," he said, noting that he has since stepped up his investments in political organizations.

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