Hillicon Valley: Russian disinformation targeted Mueller | Facebook under fire from civil rights groups | Activists push Facebook boycott | NY cable customers get refund for slow internet service

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig).


SIREN ALERT: RUSSIANS TARGET MUELLER, REPORTS SAY: Russia's online disinformation campaign targeted special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE on multiple social media platforms, posting messages that sought to frame Mueller as corrupt and untrustworthy, according to a new report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Researchers with the firm New Knowledge found that the Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency (IRA) posted images and memes seeking to discredit Mueller as one method of sowing discord in the U.S.


One meme posted on Instagram claimed that Mueller had worked in the past with "radical Islamic groups," as first noted by The Washington Post.

Across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms, Russians sought to amplify negative messages about Mueller.

Mueller earlier this year indicted the St. Petersburg-based IRA, along with other Russian bodies involved in the disinformation campaign, on criminal charges.

The disinformation campaign overall targeted some of the most divisive topics in U.S. politics, including distrust in the media, minority rights, feminism, law enforcement, and more, researchers found.

Russians used Instagram broadly in the first six months after President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem senator says Zelensky was 'feeling the pressure' to probe Bidens 2020 Dems slam Trump decision on West Bank settlements Trump calls latest impeachment hearings 'a great day for Republicans' MORE was elected, according to the New Knowledge researchers. Some anti-Mueller messages circulated on the image-sharing app, which is owned by Facebook.

The New Knowledge analysis was submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee this week alongside another report conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford and the digital analytics firm Graphika.

Both reports concluded that the Internet Research Agency sought to promote Trump and the Republican Party, in part by seeking to suppress African-American voters and spreading conspiracy theories.

Read more on the reports here.


FAC(BOOK)ING MORE HEAT: Facebook is scrambling to reassure civil rights groups after reports prepared for Congress detailed how a Russian troll farm used its platform to try and suppress black voter turnout in the 2016 elections.

The company released a long-promised update on an internal civil rights audit Tuesday as the NAACP called for a boycott of the social network and black lawmakers demanded answers from Facebook's leaders.

"We know we need to do more," Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg wrote in a blog post. "The civil rights audit is deeply important to me, and it's one of my top priorities for 2019. I'm committed to overseeing its progress and making sure that it is a well-resourced, cross-company effort."

The latest controversy for Facebook comes after the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia's influence operations in the 2016 election, released two reports Monday from digital researchers detailing the social media disinformation campaigns.

In addition to accusing Facebook, Google and Twitter of impeding the Senate's Russia probe, one of the reports -- prepared by the research firm New Knowledge -- said ongoing efforts from the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) have emphasized the targeting of black voters.

More here.


CRITICS PUSH USERS TO #LOGMEOUT: Democrats, celebrities and advocates are promoting the #LogOutFacebook movement led by the NAACP to protest reports that Facebook did little to stop Russian disinformation to suppress minority votes during the 2016 election.

"In Solidarity to the [NAACP], I won't be on Instagram tomorrow and won't be on Facebook for a week," actress and activist Amy Schumer tweeted. "Please join me."

The NAACP is encouraging Facebook users to log out of the platform for a week in protest after a Senate report found that Russians exploited Instagram and Facebook to suppress African-American turnout.

"I stand with @NAACP's #LogOutFacebook, expressing our concerns about the privacy mishaps & hate speech incidents Facebook has allowed," Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonTop House Democrats ask for review of DHS appointments Bipartisan bill to secure election tech advances to House floor Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary MORE (D-Miss.) tweeted on Tuesday. "Our hope is this boycott will charge Facebook to do a better job of protecting & supporting communities of color online. Join us!" 

The NAACP said Monday it would lead a week-long protest starting Tuesday encouraging individuals to log out as "a way to signify to Facebook that the data and privacy of its users of color matter more than its corporate interests."

The company's COO Sheryl Sandberg on Tuesday morning responded to the NAACP's boycott, writing in a blog post that Facebook is "committed to working with leading US civil rights organizations to strengthen and advance civil rights on our service."

"They've raised a number of important concerns, and I'm grateful for their candor and guidance," Sandberg wrote. "We know that we need to do more: to listen, look deeper and take action to respect fundamental rights."

More on the boycott here.


CHER DOES NOT BELIEVE IN LIFE ON FACEBOOK: Cher announced Tuesday she will boycott Google and Facebook over what she says are insufficient responses to Russian-led disinformation campaigns on their platforms.

More on that here.


TRUMP ALSO ISN'T A FAN: President Trump early Tuesday went after tech giants Twitter, Facebook and Google, claiming they are "biased" against Republicans and have removed several conservative accounts from their platforms.

"Facebook, Twitter and Google are so biased toward the Dems it is ridiculous! Twitter, in fact, has made it much more difficult for people to join @realDonaldTrump. They have removed many names & greatly slowed the level and speed of increase. They have acknowledged-done NOTHING!" he said in a tweet.

Trump and conservative activists have long claimed that in social media companies' efforts to purge their platforms of fraudulent accounts, including foreign bots, they have also sought to silence conservative voices in a practice they call "shadow banning."

Read more here.


NEW YORK FORCES CHARTER TO PAY UP: Charter Communications/Spectrum Management Holding Company agreed to pay $62.5 million directly to more than 700,000 active customers in New York to compensate for slow internet service.

The deal with the New York Attorney General's office was first reported by the New York Daily News Tuesday.

The cable company is accused of lying to its internet subscribers about internet speeds. The attorney general's office brought a civil suit against Charter Communication last year, claiming the company knowingly gave customers slower internet speeds than was promised.

The suit, filed in state Supreme Court, included emails between company executives that showed they knew the company could not meet speeds it promised to customers. More on the settlement here.


30 SECONDS: A new study found that female politicians and journalists were the subject of "problematic" or "abusive" tweets in the social media platform every 30 seconds in 2017.

Researchers from human rights watchdog Amnesty International and Element AI, an intelligence software start-up, sorted through thousands of tweets regarding 778 female politicians and journalists in the U.K. and U.S. in 2017.

The study said that an estimated 7.1 percent of tweets sent to these women were abusive or problematic, amounting to 1.1 million tweets, or one every 30 seconds.

The list included female politicians in the U.K. Parliament and U.S. Congress as well as women journalists at the Daily Mail, The Guardian, Breitbart and The New York Times.

The study did not include tweets aimed at or targeting men.

Women of color were disproportionately targeted on Twitter and were 34 percent more likely to be mentioned in an abusive or problematic tweet than white women.

Black women are 84 percent more likely than white women to be mentioned in abusive tweets, according to the study.

Amnesty International said in a statement that it has repeatedly asked Twitter to release "meaningful and comprehensive" data regarding the scale and nature of abuse on the platform, as well as steps to address it.

More on the study here.


BAD SIGNAL? The Communications Workers of America (CWA) wants likely incoming House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealOn The Money: House passes monthlong stopgap | Broader spending talks stall | Judge orders Democrats to give notice if they request Trump's NY tax returns | Progressives ramp up attacks on private equity Overnight Energy: Mark Ruffalo pushes Congress on 'forever chemicals' | Lawmakers spar over actor's testimony | House Dems unveil renewable energy tax plan | Funding for conservation program passes Senate hurdle House Democrats release renewable energy tax proposal MORE (D-Mass.) to investigate how AT&T and other large companies are using the tax savings they've received from President Trump's tax-cut law.

In a letter to Neal, the labor group said that such an investigation is needed "following unfulfilled promises to American workers on wages and jobs."

The tax law that Trump signed in December 2017 received no votes from Democrats in Congress. Neal said that he wants to hold hearings on the tax law next year, when Democrats will control the House.

CWA's letter marks the latest effort from the union to try to get more information from AT&T about how it's using its tax savings. Two of CWA's bargaining units are currently bargaining with AT&T for new contracts.

Earlier this year, CWA filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against AT&T because the company didn't provide the union with information it requested about how it's using the tax savings. But an NLRB regional director dismissed a charge, and earlier this month the NRLB's general counsel denied an appeal of the dismissal.

More here.


BIBI'S BOY BLOCKED:  Facebook blocked Yair Netanyahu, the eldest son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for sharing what the social media giant called "hate speech" about Muslims and Palestinians.

The social media site suspended Yair Netanyahu's account for 24 hours on Sunday after he shared a series of posts that many online complained were violating the platform's community standards.

In one post, he reportedly said he was hopeful that the deaths of two Israeli soldiers who were killed by a Palestinian gunman would be "avenged," saying: "There will never be peace with the monsters in human form known since 1964 as 'Palestinians.'"

He also said in another post that he would prefer to live in an Israel where there weren't any Muslims and added that no attacks occurred "in Iceland and Japan where coincidentally there are no Muslims."

Shortly after his account was suspended on Facebook, Yair Netanyahu reportedly took to Twitter to blast the tech giant, labeling them the "thought police," and accusing the company of hosting "endless pages that call for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews" by contrast.

A spokesperson for Facebook later rejected his claims in a statement to The Hill and said it removed posts from his page as it would have also done for "anyone posting similar content about any protected characteristic."

More on the controversy here.


NEW ELECTION SECURITY POLL: A majority of Americans believe this year's midterm elections were secure from hacking, according to a new poll released Tuesday.

The Pew Research Center found that 64 percent of Americans trusted that elections were secure, while 35 percent had little or no confidence in that statement.

That's a rise in confidence in election security compared to another poll conducted by Pew ahead of November's midterms, during which only 45 percent of Americans thought the elections would be secure from threats like hacking.

Majorities of Americans also believed that local and state officials did a good job in administering the elections. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said community poll workers and local election officials did a very good job, while 55 percent gave the same marks to state election officials.

The poll also found that a majority – 61 percent – of Americans who did not vote wish they had voted during the midterms. And 76 percent of those who did vote called the process "very easy."

Officials initially said there were no signs of a hack on Election Day but have warned that a cyberattack could emerge over time.

More form the poll here.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON:  Are we safer a year after Washington Amtrak derailment?


A LIGHTER CLICK: Just phoning it in.



Schiff calls on Flynn to testify before House Intelligence Committee. (The Hill)

Huawei's 'wolf culture' helped it grow and got it into trouble. (The New York Times)

Start a post, then delete it? Many websites save it anyway. (The Washington Post)

How computers got shockingly good at recognizing images. (Ars Technica)