Senate Panel Likely to Ask Facebook to Publicly Detail Russian Activity on Platform During Election

By Byron Tau and Deepa Seetharaman Features Dow Jones Newswires

The bipartisan leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday they are likely to call representatives from Facebook Inc. to Capitol Hill to publicly detail Russian activity on the company's platform during the 2016 election.

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In separate interviews with reporters, Sens. Richard Burr (R., N.C.) and Mark Warner (D., Va.) said they are in discussions with each other and other committee chairs in Congress about holding a public hearing with representatives from Facebook and other social-media companies on foreign election-related activity in cyberspace.

Mr. Burr, chairman of the panel conducting a probe into Russian activity during last year's election, said he was leaning toward hold such a hearing, but that he was working out issues like scope, jurisdiction and whether to include other social-media companies, such as Twitter Inc., in the final lineup of witnesses.

"Now that we've opened up this avenue of social media, it's of great interest for us to get a full accounting from everyone who operates in the space if in fact foreign money found its way in to finance any of the efforts on social media," said Mr. Burr. He added that no final decision had been made and that he was in negotiations with Mr. Warner and other committee leaders.

Facebook declined to comment, pointing to a blog post last week in which the company said: "We have shared our findings with U.S. authorities investigating these issues, and we will continue to work with them as necessary."

Facebook said last week that it had identified about 500 "inauthentic" accounts responsible for $100,000 in advertising spending that it believes have ties to Russia. The findings mark the first time Facebook has acknowledged that Russian actors may have used its platform during the presidential campaign and raised questions on Capitol Hill about the use of social-media platforms by Moscow to inflame U.S. public opinion and interfere in domestic politics.

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Mr. Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, described social media as the "wild, wild West," suggesting that it could become an issue that Congress may deal with by extending campaign-finance laws to explicitly cover social media.

Mr. Warner also said the committee's investigation into the use of social-media platforms was just beginning and that he had additional questions for Twitter.

Twitter wasn't immediately available for comment. The company is also expected to speak to congressional investigators in the coming weeks about Russian activity on its platform.

"I question whether Facebook has put near the amount of resources they need into getting us all the facts," said Mr. Warner, adding that the committee would have "more to say on that coming" concerning the issue of a public hearing.

The social-media giant said that most of the ads it identified didn't typically reference a particular political candidate. Rather, the company review found the ads focused on "amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum -- touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights."

According to a January report from the U.S. intelligence community, the highest levels of the Russian government were involved in directing the electoral interference to boost Donald Trump at the expense of his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Russia's tactics included efforts to hack state election systems; infiltrating and leaking information from party committees and political strategists; and disseminating through social media and other outlets negative stories about Mrs. Clinton and positive ones about the Mr. Trump, the report said.

Russia denies any interference, while Mr. Trump has called the investigations into election interference a "witch hunt."

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 12, 2017 18:46 ET (22:46 GMT)