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 TrumpPelosi arrives in Jordan with bipartisan congressional delegation Trump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash CNN's Anderson Cooper mocks WH press secretary over Fox News interview 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) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE's investigation into Russian election meddling, solicited Psy-Group for assistance in conducting a social media manipulation campaign against Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonJill Stein: 'I am not a Russian spy' Trump criticizes Clinton for suggesting Jill Stein was Russian asset Graham: I'm seeking to make Trump successful 'but not at all costs' 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 ZuckerbergOn The Money: Supreme Court takes up challenge to CFPB | Warren's surge brings scrutiny to wealth tax | Senators eye curbs on Trump emergency powers Warren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump 'and profit off of it' Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter knocks Zuckerberg for invoking her father while defending Facebook 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.