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 PalloneLawmakers set to host fundraisers focused on Nats' World Series trip CBO: Pelosi bill to lower drug prices saves Medicare 5 billion Trump official declines to testify on trade protections for tech platforms 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 ZuckerbergZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Combatting fake news on social media will take a village On The Money: Supreme Court takes up challenge to CFPB | Warren's surge brings scrutiny to wealth tax | Senators eye curbs on Trump emergency powers 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.