GOP chairman probes Russian use of Facebook ads to influence US energy market

GOP chairman probes Russian use of Facebook ads to influence US energy market
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The top Republican on the House Science Committee is investigating whether Russia has purchased advertisements on Facebook and other platforms to influence the U.S. energy market.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is pressing Facebook, Twitter, and Google for information and documents on any Russian entities that have purchases anti-fracking or anti-fossil fuel ads. The letters are part of the committee’s broader oversight of “what appears to be a concerted effort by the Russian government to influence the U.S. energy market,” Smith wrote in letters to the tech giants' CEOs this week.

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The request comes after Facebook disclosed to congressional investigators that it sold political advertisements to groups linked to the Kremlin ahead of the presidential election. 

“In light of Facebook’s disclosure of over $100,000 in social media advertising associated with Russian accounts focused on the disruption and influence of U.S. politics through social media, it is likely that Russia undertook a similar effort using social media to influence the U.S. energy market,” Smith wrote. 

The Republican chairman is looking for any and all information “regarding Russian entities purchasing anti-fracking or anti-fossil fuel advertisements or promotions” dating back to 2010.

In the letters, Smith cited the unclassified U.S. intelligence community assessment of Russian inference in the 2016 presidential election, which specifically mentioned anti-fracking programming run on Russian state-run news outlet RT.

"RT runs anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health. This is likely reflective of the Russian Government’s concern about the impact of fracking and U.S. natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to Gazprom’s profitability," the assessment, released in January, said, referring to Moscow's state-owned gas giant. 

The company that runs the U.S. version of RT said earlier this month that it had been compelled by the Justice Department to register as a foreign agent. 

Smith said that his committee is “is concerned that divisive social and political messages conveyed through social media have negatively affected certain energy sectors, which can depress research and development in the fossil-fuel sector and the expanding potential for natural gas.” 

Smith is giving the tech companies until Oct. 10 to respond to his request.