Sen Klobuchar and others Urge Department of Justice to Investigate Claims that Facebook Retaliated Against Critics

From Senator Klobuchar’s website

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) led a letter with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) to the Department of Justice today urging Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to expand any investigation into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to include whether Facebook—or any other entity affiliated with or hired by Facebook—hid information and retaliated against critics or public officials seeking to regulate the platform. Recent reports—including one from the New York Times—allege that Facebook has taken significant steps to undermine critics, including hiring partisan political consultants to retaliate and spread disinformation about people who have criticized Facebook, which, if not properly disclosed, may have campaign finance implications.

“Since the 2016 election, both the government and Facebook’s own internal investigations have revealed that the company failed to adequately protect the data and trust of its 2.2 billion users. Facebook also failed to implement basic protocols to prevent manipulation by foreign adversaries working to undermine America’s political system,” the senators wrote.

“Given the staggering amount of data that Facebook has collected on both its users – even people who have not consented to use of the platform – these allegations raise profound concerns about the company’s willingness to protect the public and our democracy,” they continued.

Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election by buying and placing political ads on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google. The content and purchaser(s) of those online advertisements are a mystery to the public because of outdated laws that have failed to keep up with evolving technology. The Honest Ads Act, which is also sponsored by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and cosponsored by Senators Blumenthal, Coons and Hirono would regulate social media companies like Facebook to prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections by ensuring that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio, and print.

The Honest Ads Act would enhance the integrity of our democracy by improving disclosure requirements for online political advertisements by:

  • Amending the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002’s definition of electioneering communication to include paid Internet and digital advertisements and requiring proper disclaimers on both electioneering communications and issue ads.
  • Requiring digital platforms with at least 50,000,000 monthly viewers to maintain a public file of all electioneering communications purchased by a person or group who spends more than $500.00 total on ads published on their platform. The file would contain a digital copy of the advertisement, a description of the audience the advertisement targets, the number of views generated, the dates and times of publication, the rates charged, and the contact information of the purchaser.
  • Requiring online platforms to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate.

The full text of the letter can be found below:

Dear Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein:

We write to urge that you expand any investigation into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to include whether Facebook – or any other entity affiliated with or hired by Facebook – retaliated against critics or public officials seeking to regulate the platform, or hid vital information from the public.

Reports indicate that the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are conducting an investigation into Facebook’s failure to prevent and provide notice regarding the compromise of user data and the misuse of the platform by foreign governments. As the Department and other agencies proceed with the investigation, we urge you to consider new information that has come to light regarding Facebook’s behavior and to expand the scope of your inquiry accordingly.

Since the 2016 election, both the government and Facebook’s own internal investigations have revealed that the company failed to adequately protect the data and trust of its 2.2 billion users. Facebook also failed to implement basic protocols to prevent manipulation by foreign adversaries working to undermine America’s political system.

In addition to the Department of Justice’s investigation, elected officials have investigated, held hearings, and proposed legislation to significantly increase regulations on Facebook and similar online platforms. Scrutiny by Congress and the media ultimately forced Facebook to acknowledge Russia’s manipulation of the platform. However, disturbing recent reports allege that Facebook took significant steps to undermine efforts to hold them responsible, including hiring partisan political consultants to spread disinformation about people who have criticized Facebook. If not properly disclosed, such steps may have implications for securities and campaign finance law.

Given the staggering amount of data that Facebook has collected on both its users – even people who have not consented to use of the platform – these allegations raise profound concerns about the company’s willingness to protect the public and our democracy.

We strongly urge you to expand the Department’s investigation to include actions the company and its executives took to withhold significant information regarding the abuse of Facebook and its managerial response to the matter.

Sincerely,

###

This entry was posted in MN, Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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