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House Democrat questions big tech on possible foreign influence in Kavanaugh debate

House Democrat questions big tech on possible foreign influence in Kavanaugh debate
© Greg Nash

House Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHillicon Valley: DNC tech chief finds no midterm hacks | Google ends forced arbitration for sexual harassment | House Dems look to rein in FCC | North Korean hackers become new banking threat | Tesla gets new chair Dems to ramp up oversight of Trump tech regulators Midterm stakes high for Silicon Valley MORE (D-N.J.) is putting pressure on technology companies to examine how their platforms might have been used by Russian trolls to influence discourse on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination battle.

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Pallone sent a letter to Alphabet CEO Larry Page, Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Social media struggles with new forms of misinformation | US, Russia decline to join pledge on fighting cybercrimes | Trump hits Comcast after antitrust complaint | Zuckerberg pressed to testify before global panel Lawmakers from five countries pressure Zuckerberg to testify in front of global panel Ex-Facebook exec ousted from company sparked controversy with pro-Trump views: report MORE and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey saying he believed the rising tensions after Christine Blasey Ford became the first of three women to accuse Kavanaugh of varying degrees of sexual misconduct “appear to raise political and social tensions in ways similar to issues previously exploited.”

U.S. intelligence and lawmakers have said social media misinformation campaigns that started during the 2016 elections and have continued through now seek to misinform and divide the electorate.

Pallone pointed towards a Facebook group defending Kavanaugh that had previously been dedicated to boycotting Nike for its support of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has protested racial injustice in the U.S., as an example of potential foreign efforts to exploit social tensions.

Pallone also cited the German Marshall Fund’s Hamilton 68 project, which analyzes accounts it believes to be Russian bots.

Tweets and posts about Ford and Kavanaugh were among the top subjects being discussed by such accounts at the time of Pallone sending his letter, though some have questioned the validity and value of Hamilton 68’s analysis because of their opacity over the accounts the group culls data from.

Pallone sent the three CEOs a series of questions inquiring about what the reach is of Facebook pages that have recently been transformed into Kavanaugh or Ford groups, if the companies have been working with third-party researchers on the matter and if their efforts to combat foreign influence include sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh.

On Friday, the Senate voted to end debate on Kavanaugh’s nomination and could hold a final vote as early as Saturday.