Con­gress asks so­cial me­dia gi­ants to tes­tify

Ripon Bulletin - - Nation -

WASH­ING­TON (AP) — The House and Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees are invit­ing tech gi­ants Face­book, Twit­ter and Al­pha­bet — the par­ent com­pany of Google — to ap­pear for pub­lic hear­ings as part of their in­ves­ti­ga­tions into Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion, The As­so­ci­ated Press has learned.

The House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee is plan­ning to hold a hear­ing in Oc­to­ber and the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee has in­vited wit­nesses to ap­pear Nov. 1. The an­nounce­ments of pub­lic hear­ings come the day be­fore Twit­ter is sched­uled to hold closed-door staff brief­ings with both pan­els.

Rep. Adam Schiff of Cal­i­for­nia, the top Demo­crat on the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, con­firmed the House hear­ing in an in­ter­view with the AP, though he noted a date had not yet been set.

In a joint state­ment, Schiff and Repub­li­can Rep. Mike Con­away from Texas, who is lead­ing the House in­ves­ti­ga­tion, said they will hold an open hear­ing in the com­ing month “with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from tech com­pa­nies in or­der to bet­ter un­der­stand how Rus­sia used on­line tools and plat­forms to sow dis­cord in and in­flu­ence our elec­tion.”

They added, “Con­gress and the Amer­i­can peo­ple need to hear this im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion di­rectly from these com­pa­nies.”

The de­tails of the in­vi­ta­tion from the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee were con­firmed by two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the panel’s in­ter­ac­tions with the com­pa­nies. They spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss the pri­vate in­vi­ta­tions.

It’s not yet clear whether the com­pa­nies will ac­cept the in­vi­ta­tions to ap­pear. Face­book and Google con­firmed they had re­ceived the Se­nate in­vi­ta­tions and Twit­ter de­clined to com­ment.

The hear­ings come as both pan­els have been scru­ti­niz­ing the ways that the so­cial me­dia plat­forms and on­line ads were used by Rus­sians to in­flu­ence the elec­tion. The com­mit­tees are ex­am­in­ing the spread of false news sto­ries and pro­pa­ganda and whether any­one in the United States helped tar­get those sto­ries to spe­cific users on so­cial me­dia plat­forms.

In the closed-door brief­ings Thurs­day, Twit­ter’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives will likely face ques­tions about the spread of false news sto­ries and pro­pa­ganda through the use of fake ac­counts and au­to­mated bot net­works.

In a state­ment this month, Twit­ter said it “deeply re­spects the in­tegrity of the elec­tion process,” and it has worked to com­bat “bots and other forms of ma­nip­u­la­tion that vi­o­late our Terms of Ser­vice.”

Law­mak­ers have also been call­ing for more in­for­ma­tion from Face­book, which last week agreed to pro­vide the com­mit­tee with the con­tent of about 3,000 ads, bought by a Rus­sian agency, that were aimed at stir­ring up di­vi­sive po­lit­i­cal and so­cial is­sues. Some of those ads in­cluded ref­er­ences to pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates in the 2016 elec­tion.

Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg also said the com­pany will work to make po­lit­i­cal ad­ver­tis­ing on its plat­form more trans­par­ent. Face­book al­ready has met be­hind closed doors with both com­mit­tees’ staff as part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Also Wed­nes­day, a GOP mem­ber of the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence panel said Rus­sian in­ter­net trolls are ex­ploit­ing the con­tro­versy over NFL play­ers kneel­ing dur­ing the na­tional an­them to stir up di­vi­sions in the United States.

Sen. James Lank­ford of Ok­la­homa said paid so­cial me­dia users, or “trolls,” were hash­tag­ging “take a knee” and “boy­cott NFL” to am­plify the is­sue.

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