The Skoufis smear

Lies, slurs and misrepresentations target assemblyman on social media sites, the Democrat alleges


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  • Provided photo State Assemblyman James Skoufis is charging that he has become the repeat target of an “online smear campaign” in which “outright lies” on multiple anonymous social media sites have misled his constituents and misrepresented his record with a deliberate deluge of misinformation.



“In an era of deliberate misinformation, it is necessary to fight back against falsehoods that only serve to weaken our democracy."
NYS Assemblyman James Skoufis

By Douglas Feiden

— “Fake news” has quickly become part of the national vocabulary. The catchphrase has been bandied about by partisans on both the left and right. It can poison politics, Barack Obama warned. It’s a calling card of the press, Donald Trump tweeted.

Now, the phenomenon has come much closer to home.

State Assemblyman James Skoufis is charging that he has become the repeat target of an “online smear campaign” in which “outright lies” on multiple anonymous social media sites have misled his constituents and misrepresented his record with a deliberate deluge of misinformation.

The Woodbury Democrat said that a maze of web sites — none of which are real entities or registered groups – had posted at least 35 unique attacks ads and generated an array of robocalls “designed to deceive and confuse the public” over an 18-month period starting in December 2015.

Who is behind the fabrications? That remains a mystery. But Skoufis made it clear that the effort is well-funded, estimating that “tens of thousands of dollars” have been expended on false advertisements in Orange and Rockland counties.

Cowardice onlineIn a June 26 press conference at his district office in Chester, he did not mince words in denouncing the unknown online creators: “I am calling on the cowards behind these anonymous ads to reveal themselves,” he said. “The people I represent deserve to know.”

Skoufis cited an anonymous Facebook group operating under the name “My Hudson Valley” which posted numerous attacks ads, including one claiming he’d voted to provide “government-paid fertility services” in the state budget in order to snare the “bloc vote” from Kiryas Joel.

It was a falsehood, albeit one that was well packaged for social media.

The village isn’t even in his district: “I did not receive one single vote from KJ, not one,” he said.

Not only that, Skoufis last year steered to passage a bill, which also cleared the state Senate, that would have given county planning officials oversight and enforcement powers over pending annexations – exactly like the one recently engineered by KJ. Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed the measure.

Several other unregistered groups – the names include “Not Our Tax Dollars” and “I Love Bear Mountain New York – have also been disseminating unsubstantiated online attacks, he said.

The politics of the moment and next yearBorn in 1987 and one of the youngest members of the state Legislature, Skoufis was elected to the Assembly in 2012, reelected twice and would be a heavy favorite for reelection to a fourth term in 2018 if he decides to run again.

But Skoufis, who had mulled a state Senate run in 2016 and registered a campaign committee to raise funds, is seen as an up-and-comer in Albany who has long eyed the seat held by GOP state Senator William J. Larkin Jr., who was born in 1928 and is one of the state’s oldest legislators.

He’s well-positioned for a bid if Larkin retires. And he could be expected to mount a credible challenge if Larkin runs again. One obstacle: There’s no love lost between Skoufis and Cuomo, who have clashed over Kiryas Joel and other issues.

Fighting the anonymous trollsAccordingly, Skoufis fired off a letter to the enforcement division of the state Board of Elections in Albany calling for a formal investigation into “My Hudson Valley” and the other offending groups. He noted that expenditures for such ads must legally be disclosed.

“I have been unable to determine the parties responsible for these advertisements despite the fact that these are clearly expenditures advocating against an officeholder to affect his future candidacy and thus are subject to disclosure requirements,” Skoufis wrote.

The assemblyman also wrote executives at Facebook in Menlo Park, California, and Instagram in San Francisco, requesting that they take “appropriate action” to “remove these slanderous posts or, at the very least, let my constituents know who is behind the ads.”

“In an era of deliberate misinformation, it is necessary to fight back against falsehoods that only serve to weaken our democracy,” Skoufis said.


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