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Pallone to Tech Giants: Are Foreign Agents Using Social Media Platforms to Influence the Kavanaugh Nomination?

Oct 4, 2018
Press Release
Pallone to Tech Giants: Are Foreign Agents Using Social Media Platforms to Influence the Kavanaugh Nomination?

Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) wrote to the CEOs of Alphabet, Facebook and Twitter today following concerning reports of Russia-linked efforts to influence the national debate over the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. In his letters, Pallone requests answers on the companies’ efforts to safeguard the American political system and to combat foreign interference campaigns on their platforms.

“I write to request that your companies answer questions regarding your efforts to safeguard the American political system and society from divisive foreign influence, specifically regarding the debate over Supreme Court Nominee Judge Kavanaugh,” Pallone wrote in his letter to the tech CEOs.  “As Americans discuss critical issues—including the nomination, allegations of sexual assault, and victim’s rights—using your platforms, I urge you to protect our nation from foreign agents sowing discord and promoting tribalism.”

Earlier today, The Washington Post reported that tactics similar to those previously employed by Russia-linked accounts or pages attempting to influence the U.S. political system are now being used to exploit the sexual assault allegations against Judge Kavanaugh.  For example, The Post reported that one leading Facebook group supporting Judge Kavanaugh entitled “Confirm Judge Kavanaugh (Enough is enough)” had previously focused on boycotting Nike and driving GOP election turnout to the polls.  That group has more than 27,000 members, but reports indicate that only approximately 3,500 joined during the pendency of Judge Kavanaugh’s conformation process.

Separately, the German Marshall Fund’s project tracking Russian influence operations on Twitter cited Kavanaugh, Trump, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford as the top four issues discussed by Russia-linked accounts earlier this week.

As part of his inquiry, Pallone is requesting an update on the tech companies’ efforts to combat foreign influence campaigns and answers to a series of questions, including:

  • Have your companies discovered any foreign links to any anomalous behavior related to activities focusing on Judge Kavanaugh or Dr. Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez or Julie Swetnick, including the practice of co-opting unrelated social media groups? 
  • Are your companies working with third-party researchers and firms to identify accounts or pages with foreign links focusing on Judge Kavanaugh or Dr. Blasey Ford, Ramirez or Swetnick?
  • Do your efforts to combat foreign influence include reviewing emerging divisive issues in American political and social life, such as the allegations of sexual assault against Judge Kavanaugh? 

Pallone is requesting responses to his letter no later than October 18, 2018.

Pallone’s letter is available HERE.

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