Top Dems call on Twitter, Facebook to investigate Russian bot campaign
Top-ranking Democrats in the House and the Senate are calling on Twitter and Facebook to launch investigations of potential Russian-linked accounts pushing for the release of a controversial congressional memo.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), and the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey asking that they “provide a public report to Congress and the American public by January 26” on the matter.
Facebook and Twitter confirmed receipt of the letter.
“Twitter is committed to addressing malicious activity on our platform, and we take any assertions of such activity very seriously. We look forward to working closely with Senator Feinstein and Congressman Schiff to address their questions,” a Twitter spokesperson said.
The memo in question was drafted by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and is believed by some Republicans to show political bias in the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ) probe of potential links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Schiff and Feinstein in their letter cited data by the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy, which found that Russian bots on Twitter were advocating for legislators to make the memo public.
A source familiar with Twitter’s analytics said “the hashtags appear to be organically trending,” and seem to not be the result of a Russian led influence campaign.
The senators expressed concern that attempts by Russian actors to influence the release of the memo “are intended to influence congressional action and undermine Special Counsel [Robert] Mueller’s investigation,” of the possible Trump campaign ties to Russia.
“It is critically important that the Special Counsel’s investigation be allowed to proceed without interference from inside or outside the United States,” the California lawmakers wrote. “That is why we seek your assistance in our efforts to counter Russia’s continuing efforts to manipulate public opinion and undermine American democracy and the rule of law.”
Some GOP lawmakers have called for the House Intelligence Committee to release the memo, claiming it reveals important information about the investigation and highlights surveillance abuses. Other lawmakers, like Schiff, have characterized it as a set of “distorted talking points” which are “completely misleading.”
On Friday, Hamilton 68, a website affiliated with the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy that tracks accounts that it believes to be linked to the Kremlin, found that such accounts were aggressively pushing for the memo’s release.
#ReleaseTheMemo was overwhelmingly the top hashtag tweeted from those accounts for multiple days last week, and the top tweeted link among those Twitter accounts was to a WikiLeaks page soliciting the document from anyone who has access to it.
“If these reports are accurate, we are witnessing an ongoing attack by the Russian government through Kremlin-linked social media actors directly acting to intervene and influence our democratic process,” Schiff and Feinstein wrote to Twitter and Facebook.
“This should be disconcerting to all Americans, but especially your companies as, once again, it appears the vast majority of their efforts are concentrated on your platforms.”
Updated at 12:49 p.m.
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