Senate Dem asks tech companies to look into Saudi propaganda efforts

Senate Dem asks tech companies to look into Saudi propaganda efforts
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A Senate Democrat is asking major tech companies to investigate Saudi propaganda efforts on their platforms following reports of social media operations promoting the country’s talking points in the wake of the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) sent letters to Facebook, Google, Reddit and Twitter on Monday asking them to look into the matter as well as asking them to look into whether Saudi Arabia had employed social media tactics to boost then-candidate Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGillibrand backs federal classification of third gender: report Former Carter pollster, Bannon ally Patrick Caddell dies at 68 Heather Nauert withdraws her name from consideration for UN Ambassador job MORE’s vigorous defense of the Saudi government following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi raises questions about his ties, financial and otherwise, to Saudi Arabia,” Blumenthal wrote in his letters. “One such question is to what extent the Saudis provided assistance to the Trump campaign, including previously-reported proposals to manipulate voters through social media and online platforms.”

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The senator pointed to media reports tying both the Trump campaign and the Saudi government to the Psy-Group, an Israeli firm specializing in intelligence and public influence campaigns.

The New York Times has reported that Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign official who is cooperating under a plea agreement with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE's investigation into Russian election meddling, solicited Psy-Group for assistance in conducting a social media manipulation campaign against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonSanders expected to announce exploratory committee next week Bernie Sanders records announcement video ahead of possible 2020 bid Overnight Defense: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants MORE.

According to an earlier Times report, Saudi Arabia paid the firm’s founder up to $2 million following the 2016 election for unknown reasons.

Blumenthal asked each company about the Psy-Group and other firms affiliated with its founder, Joel Zamel, and if they had purchased advertisements or used fake accounts on their platforms.

He also asked the companies if they had noticed any influence operations surrounding the death of Khashoggi, which the Saudis say happened during a fight within the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

“Has Facebook investigated reports of inauthentic accounts, “fake news,” or other fraudulent activities promoting pro-Saudi positions, including with respect to the murder of Khashoggi?” Blumenthal wrote to Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: New York says goodbye to Amazon's HQ2 | AOC reacts: 'Anything is possible' | FTC pushes for record Facebook fine | Cyber threats to utilities on the rise Schiff calls out Facebook, Google over anti-vaccination information Senators demand answers from Facebook on paying teens for data MORE. “If so, has it made a determination regarding the source and nature of these influence campaigns, and will it disclose such findings?”

A Facebook spokesman said the company has received Blumenthal’s letter and is reviewing it. Twitter, Reddit and Google did not immediately respond when asked for comment.