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 TrumpDeWine tests negative for coronavirus a second time Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Beirut aftermath poses test for US aid to frustrating ally 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 (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE's investigation into Russian election meddling, solicited Psy-Group for assistance in conducting a social media manipulation campaign against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBlumenthal calls for declassification of materials detailing Russian threat to US elections Hillary Clinton roasts NYT's Maureen Dowd over column Hillary Clinton touts student suspended over crowded hallway photo: 'John Lewis would be proud' 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: Trump order targets TikTok, WeChat | TikTok fires back | Chinese firms hit hard in aftermath Female lawmakers pressure Facebook to crack down on disinformation targeting women leaders Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns 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.