Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter split on Bloomberg video | Sanders briefed on Russian efforts to help campaign | Barr to meet with Republicans ahead of surveillance fight

Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter split on Bloomberg video | Sanders briefed on Russian efforts to help campaign | Barr to meet with Republicans ahead of surveillance fight
© Getty Images

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. If you don't already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Maggie Miller (@magmill95), and the tech team, Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e) and Chris Mills Rodrigo (@chrisismills).

 

ADVERTISEMENT

CONTROVERSY OVER BLOOMBERG VIDEO: Twitter and Facebook are split on how to address an edited video from Wednesday night's Democratic primary debate that was shared by former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael BloombergDNC books million in fall YouTube ads Former Bloomberg staffer seeks class-action lawsuit over layoffs Bloomberg spent over 0M on presidential campaign MORE's verified Twitter account.

In the video, the billionaire 2020 Democratic hopeful asks the other contenders if they have ever started a business. It is edited to show the other candidates on the stage appear lost for words, with the sound of crickets added to the video.

A spokesperson for Twitter told The Hill on Friday that the video would likely be labeled under the platform's new manipulated media policy set to roll out March 5.

Under the policy announced earlier this month, Twitter may label or even remove media that is "deceptively" altered.

On the other hand, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone confirmed on Twitter that the same video posted on Facebook or Instagram would not be labeled.

Facebook's policy to ban "deepfakes" -- a term to describe videos altered using artificial intelligence, which does not seem to be used in this case -- includes specific exceptions for satire.

The policy "does not extend to content that is parody or satire, or video that has been edited solely to omit or change the order of words," Facebook says.

ADVERTISEMENT

The video from Bloomberg's campaign is yet another test of how social media platforms will respond to manipulated media as the 2020 elections loom.

Read more here.

 

RUSSIANS 4 BERNIE: Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWisconsin Supreme Court blocks governor's effort to delay election The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden, Trump discuss coronavirus response; Wisconsin postpones elections Wisconsin governor postpones Tuesday's election over coronavirus MORE (I-Vt.) was briefed by U.S. intelligence officials this week that Russia is interfering in the 2020 elections to help his presidential campaign, The Washington Post reported on Friday.

The report was published the day after The New York Times reported that House lawmakers were told by U.S. officials last week that Russia was also attempting to interfere in the 2020 elections to help the campaign of President TrumpDonald John TrumpOvernight Health Care: US hits 10,000 coronavirus deaths | Trump touts 'friendly' talk with Biden on response | Trump dismisses report on hospital shortages as 'just wrong' | Cuomo sees possible signs of curve flattening in NY We need to be 'One America,' the polling says — and the politicians should listen Barr tells prosecutors to consider coronavirus risk when determining bail: report MORE

Sanders described Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinTrump considers a cameo role in Saudi-Russia oil price drama Washington fiddles in the Balkans while COVID flames engulf the world Overnight Energy: Oil giants meet with Trump at White House | Interior extends tenure of controversial land management chief | Oil prices tick up on hopes of Russia-Saudi deal MORE as a "thug" in a statement on Friday in response to the report, emphasizing that he stands "firmly against" Russian interference efforts.

"Unlike Donald Trump, I do not consider Vladimir Putin a good friend. He is an autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia," Sanders said. "Let's be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts, and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election."

"I don't care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president," Sanders added. "My message to Putin is clear: stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do."

Sanders noted his concerns around Russian disinformation efforts during the Democratic debate earlier this week.

"All of us remember 2016, and what we remember is efforts by Russians and others to try to interfere in our election and divide us up," Sanders said during the debate. "I'm not saying that's happening, but it would not shock me."

Read more here.

 

SURVEILLANCE DEBATE: Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrBarr tells prosecutors to consider coronavirus risk when determining bail: report Decentralized leadership raises questions about Trump coronavirus response Feds distributing masks, other gear seized in price-gouging investigation to NY, NJ health care workers MORE will attend a closed-door Senate Republican lunch next week as Congress shifts its focus to an upcoming debate on expiring surveillance programs. 

A source familiar with the planning confirmed that Barr will attend the Tuesday caucus lunch. 

The normally hourlong meeting will give Barr his first face-to-face with most GOP senators since the Justice Department sparked a political firestorm earlier this month with its handling of the case into Trump associate Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneJuan Williams: Mueller, one year on House Judiciary Committee postpones hearing with Barr amid coronavirus outbreak Trump 'strongly considering' full pardon for Flynn MORE

But the source noted that Barr was invited, and accepted the invitation, weeks ago -- before the current scandal. The topic of discussion is expected to be the upcoming debate over surveillance program reauthorizations. Lawmakers have a mid-March deadline to extend expiring surveillance authorities under the USA Freedom Act.

"Reauthorization of these certain programs is a priority for both Leader [Mitch] McConnell and AG Barr," the source added.  

The sunset provisions include a controversial records program, known as Section 215, that gathers metadata on domestic text messages and phone calls. The Trump administration has urged Congress to reauthorize the program even though the National Security Agency shuttered it, with the White House arguing the authority should be retained in case it's needed at a later date. 

A senior Justice Department official confirmed that Barr will attend the lunch and that the topic is expected to be the surveillance programs. 

The meeting will come as Barr found himself in the middle of a days-long controversy starting with the Justice Department's decision to overrule its frontline prosecutors and ask for a "far less" severe sentence for Stone. Stone was ultimately sentenced this week to 40 months in prison. 

Read more on the meeting here.

ADVERTISEMENT

 

ELECTION SECURITY UPDATE: The administration is gearing up to brief lawmakers on election security as the country wades deeper into the 2020 primaries. 

Both the House and Senate will be briefed, separately, on March 10, according to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiWe need to be 'One America,' the polling says — and the politicians should listen Florida Democrat hits administration over small business loan rollout The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Dybul interview; Boris Johnson update MORE (D-Calif.) and a Senate aide. 

The briefings will come a week after Super Tuesday, when primary voters in more than a dozen states will head to the polls. On March 10, voters in six more states will cast ballots.  

The announcement of the briefings come as President Trump's shake-up of top intelligence community positions has sparked fierce criticism from Democrats and some national security professionals, and after reports that intelligence leaders have told lawmakers that Russia is again seeking to aid Trump's campaign efforts. 

"American voters should decide American elections -- not Vladimir Putin. All Members of Congress should condemn the President's reported efforts to dismiss threats to the integrity of our democracy & to politicize our intel community," Pelosi said in a tweet on Thursday. 

Trump announced earlier this week that he was tapping U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to be the next acting director of national intelligence. Grenell will be Trump's second acting Director of National Intelligence since Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsWe weren't ready for a pandemic — imagine a crippling cyberattack GOP presses for swift Ratcliffe confirmation to intel post Experts report recent increase in Chinese group's cyberattacks MORE stepped down last year. Joseph MaguireJoseph MaguireDemocrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog Trump fires intelligence community watchdog who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint Former intelligence chiefs slam Trump for removing officials MORE has served in the role since August but is required by law to leave the position by March 12.

ADVERTISEMENT

Grenell was immediately panned by top Democrats including Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerDemocratic senator rips Navy head's 'completely inappropriate' speech on ousted carrier captain Democrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog Trump fires intelligence community watchdog who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint MORE (Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Read more here.

 

STEYER GOES BIG ON FACEBOOK: Billionaire businessman Tom SteyerTom SteyerProgressive advocates propose T 'green stimulus' plan Candidates want data privacy rules, except for their own campaigns Budowsky: Biden should pull together a 'dream team of rivals' MORE is leaning on a flood of Facebook advertisements in Nevada and South Carolina to gin up support for his presidential campaign ahead of the states' forthcoming caucus and primary, respectively.

Steyer is far outpacing his 2020 Democratic rivals in Facebook ad spending in both states ahead of Saturday's caucuses in Nevada and South Carolina's primary on Feb. 29, according to data compiled by crowdfunding technology platform Booster that was first shared with The Hill.   

Steyer has dropped more than four times the amount of money on Facebook ads in Nevada in the last 90 days than Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who spent the second-most out of the primary field in the state. Steyer spent $986,471 in Facebook ads in the Silver State in the past three months and $426,328 in the last 30 days alone.

The heavy spending comes as Steyer hopes for a strong finish in Nevada, the first nominating state to have a diverse electorate. However, despite his heavy expenditures, he finds himself stuck in the primary field's middle tier in the state behind Sanders, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenOvernight Health Care: US hits 10,000 coronavirus deaths | Trump touts 'friendly' talk with Biden on response | Trump dismisses report on hospital shortages as 'just wrong' | Cuomo sees possible signs of curve flattening in NY We need to be 'One America,' the polling says — and the politicians should listen 16 things to know today about coronavirus MORE and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenOn The Money: Trump officials struggle to get relief loans out the door | Dow soars more than 1600 points | Kudlow says officials 'looking at' offering coronavirus bonds Overnight Energy: Trump floats oil tariffs amid Russia-Saudi dispute | Warren knocks EPA over 'highly dangerous' enforcement rollback | 2019 sees big increase in methane levels in air Ex-CFPB director urges agency to 'act immediately' to help consumers during pandemic MORE (D-Mass.). 

Steyer was also left out of this week's debate in Las Vegas after failing to reach the Democratic National Committee's polling threshold.

The philanthropist is also opening up his deep war chest in South Carolina, far surpassing his Democratic rivals.

Steyer has spent over $1.5 million on Facebook ads in the Palmetto State in the past three months and $643,949 in the last 30 days. The spending has accounted for 68 percent of all dollars spent on the ads in South Carolina in the last 30 days among Democratic presidential contenders, according to Booster.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has spent the second most on Facebook ads in South Carolina, dishing out $179,182 in the past 90 days and $73,046 in the last 30 days.

Steyer's campaign has cast South Carolina as a prime opportunity for him to break out, investing heavily on advertising on other platforms and filling his campaign staff there with a diverse set of local South Carolinians. 

"Steyer has been laser focused on performing well in Nevada and South Carolina throughout this election as he captured 59% of Facebook ad spending in South Carolina and 56% in Nevada in Q4 according to our analysis," said Booster co-founder Aaron Earls. "His polling in these states continued to increase late last year through to today according to Five Thirty Eight so his commitment to investing in these states seems to be paying off." 

Read more on the ad buys here.

 

MORE ON THE TEXAS GOOGLE CASE: Google is declining to hand over certain documents and raising concerns about anti-Google bias amid the multistate antitrust investigation into its digital advertising practices, according to a new Wall Street Journal report

Google lawyers have been pushing back on the scope and scale of some document requests from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), who has been leading the 48-state investigation, the Journal reported. And Google is continuing to raise concerns about some of the experts that Paxton's office has tapped to help with the antitrust investigation, pointing out several of those consultants have worked with Google rivals or critics.

A Google spokeswoman said the back-and-forth with Texas over particular documents is a standard part of any legal inquiry. She said Google has had similar discussions about the scope of document requests with regulatory bodies around the world.

"It's standard practice to discuss the scope of document requests. To date, Texas has requested, and we have provided, over 100,000 pages of information," a Google spokeswoman said. "We have a strong track record of constructive cooperation with regulators around the world. But we're also concerned with the irregular way this investigation is proceeding, including unusual arrangements with advisers who work with our competitors and vocal complainants." 

Paxton, meanwhile, told the Journal, "Every indication right now is they don't believe that they're clean because they don't act in any way like they are." 

According to documents reviewed by the Journal, Google has been reluctant to hand over personal communications from executives at the company and private messages among particular Google employees. 

A source familiar told The Hill that the team looking into Google in Texas changed over the course of their correspondence, creating delays, and Google is planning to produce more documents on key topics.

Read more on the conflict here.

  

A LIGHTER CLICK: Dogs are done with the news 

 

AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Now is the time for a US data protection agency 

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Online forums on birth led to tragedy for one mother (NBC News / Brandy Zadrozny)

Google's education tech has a privacy problem (Recode / Sara Morrison)

In Nevada, a last-minute scramble to make voting tech work (Washington Post / Reed Albergotti) 

Google Is Letting People Find Invites to Some Private WhatsApp Groups (Motherboard / Joseph Cox)