Attention screenwriters, please take the following and run with it: Two USA Today journalists, Tom Vanden Brook and Ray Locker, claim that they have been the target of an extensive online smear campaign as they were investigating government propaganda contractors.
According to The Washington Post, the two men were busy preparing a special report on the Pentagon’s “information operations” program, which spent millions on marketing efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, when they noticed that damaging fake Twitter accounts, websites and more were popping up:
In an interview Thursday night, Locker said that the campaign was ‘something I’ve never experienced in 30 years’ in this business. The sites launched in the names of the USA Today colleagues, suggests Locker, were insidious samples of infocrafting. They contained links to work that the journalists had done, plus a space for comments on the stories. In that space, says Locker, there were ‘nasty, untrue’ remarks from commenters who didn’t appear to be real people.
The slanderous sites — which paid a fee to have their origins hidden — have since been taken down, and the Pentagon is denying having anything to do with the situation. “We’re not aware of any participation in such activities, nor would it be acceptable,” a spokesman told USA Today.
As for Vanden Brook and Locker, they might be even more determined now. “If they thought it would deter me from writing about this, they’re wrong,” said Vanden Brook. “This is a clear attempt at intimidation that has failed,” added Locker.