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Facebook, Twitter, Google called on to meet US intelligence committees

Three social media companies have been asked to testify at two US committees investigating Russian interference in the US election. The request has come as details emerge of an alleged campaign to sow discord in the US.

Symbolbild Soziale Netze (picture-alliance/dpa/Lei)

Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, on Wednesday were invited to public hearings of the US House and Senate Intelligence committees as part of their investigations into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 election campaign that saw the election of US President Donald Trump.

The House Intelligence Committee plans to hold a hearing in October and the Senate Intelligence Committee on November 1. It was unclear whether the companies would accept the invitations.

Read more: Facebook reveals alleged Russia-funded political ad campaign in US

A joint statement from Democrats Representative Adam Schiff and Republican Representative Mike Conaway said the open hearing aimed "to better understand how Russia used online tools and platforms to sow discord in and influence our election."

"Congress and the American people need to hear this important information directly from these companies," the lawmakers added.

Members of the Senate panel confirmed the invitations under the condition of anonymity. 

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Both panels have investigated how Russian groups could have used social media platforms and online ads to influence the 2016 election by spreading fake news and propaganda, and whether they were aided by people in the United States.

Republican Senator James Lankford, who received classified information about Russian meddling as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Wednesday that Russia continued to sow discord in US domestic affairs.

Lankford said over the weekend Russian internet trolls stoked tensions on the issue of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem.

Read more: Donald Trump slams NFL kneeling protest as 'disgraceful'

The Daily Beast, citing unnamed sources, reported on Wednesday that a fake Facebook group named "United Muslims of America" was linked to the Russian government and that it pushed false claims about US politicians, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gestures during a speech with the Facebook logo in the background (picture-alliance/dpa/K. Nietfeld)

Zuckerberg said Facebook did not favor candidates in elections

The group reportedly bought Facebook ads to reach targeted audiences, promoting political rallies aimed at Muslims.

After revelations earlier this month that Facebook sold $100,000 (€€85,000) worth of ads to Russian groups during the election campaign, CNN reported that at least one of those ads referenced Black Lives Matter and was specifically targeted to reach audiences in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, citing unnamed sources.

 

On Wednesday, Facebook's vice president of public policy, Richard Allan, said the company shutdown tens of thousands of fake accounts ahead of Germany's election.

 

"Protecting the integrity of our platforms during elections is a huge focus for us and something we are committed to — particularly in the face of hostile and coordinated interventions," Allan wrote in a Facebook post. "Staying ahead of those who are trying to misuse our service is a constant effort led by our security and integrity teams."

Media are "anti-Trump," says Trump

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company will work to make political advertising on its platform more transparent. The social media giant has already met with both committees' staff as part of their investigations and said it would turn over some 3,000 ads alleged to have been bought by Russian groups during the US election.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump accused Facebook, as well as major television networks and The New York Times and The Washington Post newspapers, of being "anti-Trump."

It's an accusation Zuckerberg rejected in a Facebook post, writing that the platform worked to ensure "free and fair elections" and did not favor particular candidates.

"Trump says Facebook is against him. Liberals say we helped Trump," Zuckerberg said in his post. "Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don't like. That's what running a platform for all ideas looks like."

aw/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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