Rep. Adam Schiff and Sen. Dianne Feinstein want them to respond to more questions.
Top Democratic lawmakers slammed Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday for dodging new questions about Russian efforts to spread propaganda on their platforms.
For Rep. Adam Schiff and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, their continued concerns center on the #ReleaseTheMemo campaign. The hashtag, popular at times on Twitter, calls attention a still-secret report produced by congressional Republicans that its leaders say shows abuse of power at the FBI.
Beyond doubting its credibility, Democrats remain fearful that Kremlin-aligned bots and trolls on major social media platforms have sought to amplify and spread #ReleaseTheMemo — all in a bid to discredit the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Earlier this month, Schiff and Feinstein wrote to demand Facebook and Twitter conduct a full investigation. On Wednesday, though, the lawmakers said they are dissatisfied with the tech giants’ replies — and demanded that they look more closely.
“As the 2018 election season begins in earnest, we cannot allow Russia or any other outside power to manipulate U.S. public opinion or degrade Americans’ trust in the authenticity of domestic political and policy debates,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote in their new letter.
For the moment, Republican leaders are barreling toward releasing their memo, despite the objections of FBI Director Christopher Wray, who reportedly has questioned its accuracy. President Donald Trump, for his part, appears to want to see the document made public. Democrats don’t agree.
And some Democratic lawmakers have taken particular interest in a study produced by the German Marshall Fund, which found that #ReleaseTheMemo had been trending among the suspected Russian troll accounts that the organization tracks. For lawmakers like Schiff and Feinstein, it was reason enough to write Facebook and Twitter, months after the tech giants testified on Capitol Hill that millions of their users had fallen victim to Russian propaganda.
In their initial Jan. 22 letter, Schiff and Feinstein asked the tech giants to detail how many accounts tied to “Russian influence operations are involved in the campaign.” And they requested that Facebook and Twitter detail the total number of users who may have been affected.
In their replies, however, the two social media giants offered few specifics.
Facebook’s short response merely said that it is “committed to protecting our platform from bad actors who try to undermine our democracy,” while suggesting that #ReleaseTheMemo largely proliferated on Twitter.
That didn’t sit well with Schiff and Feinstein, who charged on Wednesday that Facebook had failed “to indicate whether the company has conducted any analysis of the issue we raised concerning possible Russian-affiliated attempts to amplify calls to release a misleading, classified memo written by Republican staff.”
Twitter, meanwhile, offered a more lengthy reply, stressing that its “initial inquiry, based on available data, has not identified any significant activity connected to Russia with respect to tweets posting original content to this hashtag.” It also pointed to the fact that #ReleaseTheMemo had been spread by “several prominent, verified U.S. accounts” — including President Donald Trump’s own son, though the company didn’t name him.
Twitter further questioned the methodology behind the German Marshall Fund’s work, noting that the organization does not publish the list of accounts it tracks — so it can’t review them as part of an investigation.
Still, Twitter’s reply disappointed congressional investigators, too. Schiff and Feinstein slammed the company because it “inexplicably confined its response to ‘original content’ and neglected to answer the question of whether Russian sources were actively engaged in promoting the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag, as illuminated by the Hamilton 68 dashboard of the German Marshall Fund.”
As a result, the two top Democrats asked again for specifics — everything from the geographical breakdown of posts about Republicans’ memo to the accounts that had reposted or retweeted it. They again demanded that companies detail the total number of affected users and commit to informing them, much as the tech giants had pledged to do in response to disinformation shared during the 2016 election.
And lawmakers appeared to expand their inquiry, citing an investigation from The New York Times this weekend that illustrated the extent to which celebrities and political campaigns purchase fake followers to amplify their presence on Twitter. Without mentioning either the publication or company by name, Schiff and Feinstein asked if the tech giants had analyzed whether Russia employed such a tactic.
Lawmakers demanded another round of responses by Feb. 7.
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