Lawmakers seek Facebook data on Russian meddling in US election

FILE PHOTO - A 3D plastic representation of the Facebook logo is seen in this illustration photo May 13, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
FILE PHOTO - A 3D plastic representation of the Facebook logo is seen in this illustration photo May 13, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Congress needs more information on Russia’s use of social media to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election, including from Facebook and Twitter, the top Democrats on the Senate and House Intelligence committees said Tuesday.

“We are just at the beginning,” the Senate panel’s top Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia told reporters in Washington. “I question also whether Facebook has put near the resources they need into getting us all the facts.”

Facebook said last week it found about $100,000 in ad spending connected to fake accounts probably run from Russia. Facebook and other social-media companies aren’t subject to the regulations on political advertising developed long ago for broadcasters.

“This is the Wild Wild West. I’m disappointed that Facebook didn’t come forward with this information about the Russians pushing people to anti-immigration rallies,” Warner said. “They didn’t think that was relevant. But this was the tip of the iceberg. I think there’s going to be much more.”

The top House Intelligence panel Democrat, Adam Schiff of California, said the committee “certainly has been in discussions with the technology companies, including Facebook” and is seeking additional information.

Warner said Facebook revealed a “troll” factory used in St. Petersburg, Russia, to post on U.S. social media. But the company hasn’t examined Moldova and other countries where there were indications of similar activity, so Facebook and other social media firms need to provide more information, he said.

Twitter hasn’t briefed the Senate committee yet, Warner said. He said he expects to talk with Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, about whether to hold a public hearing on social media and Russian election-meddling.


“You have at least a lack of understanding on disclosure about foreign-based influences. That’s already illegal,” Warner said. “But the idea that somehow social media companies can in effect hide their content” leaves the sources undisclosed, he said.

Outside groups, including the advocacy group Common Cause, filed a complaint with the Justice Department and the Federal Election Commission last week alleging that the Facebook disclosures mean unknown foreign nationals made campaign ad expenditures in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Schiff said one angle the House committee is pursuing is “whether there was any effort at coordinating with the Trump team” in the targeting of voters through social media and in pushing out fake news stories.

“That is an open question,” said Schiff, adding the committee so far hasn’t reached conclusions.



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