At first glance, the posts appeared to have nothing in common. A Philadelphia-area attorney who proffers financial advice urged her 1,700 Twitter followers to sign up for a credit union. A 23-year-old climate activist in Texas rallied her 49,000 fans on TikTok and Instagram to join a mailing list promoting Democrats in statewide offices. A physical therapist for the elderly in Florida prodded her 3,900 Instagram followers to sign a petition demanding that Congress pass paid medical leave, sharing the story of her grandmother's battle with dementia. Each of these posts was funded by a well-heeled advocacy organization: the Credit Union National Association, the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State and UsAgainstAlzheimer's Action.
Even though none of the people reading these posts knew it, however, they were all made possible by the same company: Urban Legend, a small ad-tech startup operating out of a loft in Alexandria, Virginia.
Launched in 2020 by a pair of former Trump administration staffers, Urban Legend pledges on its website to "help brands run accountable and impactful influencer campaigns." Its more comprehensive mission, one rarely articulated in public, is slightly more ambitious.
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