Facebook, Twitter, and Google officials have been called to testify publicly before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Nov. 1 about Russian attempts to use social media to sway last year’s presidential election after Facebook revealed that a Russian troll operation had purchased more than 3,000 political ads on the platform.
The news, first reported by Recode, was confirmed to BuzzFeed News by a source familiar with the matter.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is leading congressional investigations into Russian election interference, has increased its scrutiny of Facebook, in particular, following its disclosure earlier this month that fake accounts and pages on the site linked to a Russian troll farm spent approximately $100,000 on political ads during the presidential race.
A person familiar with the situation said that Facebook is considering the invitation, but has not decided which executives to send to the hearing. Twitter and Google also confirmed that they have received the invitation.
Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, declined to confirm the invitations to reporters on Wednesday but said he had spoken to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently. Rep. Adam Schiff, the lead Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he had also spoken with Zuckerberg.
Burr said Tuesday members want to hear from someone at Facebook during the public hearing who can speak about “what they need to do to identify foreign money that might come in and what procedures, if any, should be put in law to make sure that elections are not intruded by foreign entities."
“Clearly it's the bigger companies that we think might have been used and we're working with them to acquire the type of data that we need to look at a public hearing,” Burr told reporters.
Schiff and Rep. Mike Conaway, the lead Republican on the House Intelligence Committee's Russia probe, announced Wednesday that they would hold a public hearing "in the coming month ... with representatives from tech companies," but did not specify which companies would be invited.
The plans for public hearings come as Facebook is under fire for allowing advertisers to target anti-Semitic interests and being slow to acknowledge efforts by foreign actors to manipulate the 2016 election using the social media platform. Some Democratic senators are reportedly already working on legislation to require greater ad transparency from Facebook and others.
Facebook announced last week that it would give both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees copies of the more than 3,000 Russia-linked ads. When asked on Tuesday if he had seen the ads, Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the committee, said: "Soon. Really soon. This week soon."
Burr declined to say whether he had viewed the ads, but he said the committee has “traded a lot of documents with Facebook” and that the social media giant has “been incredibly helpful to us.”
Burr added that the committee is in conversation “with everybody in the social platform arena that we think can provide us insight into whether there was any foreign manipulation of their sites.”
“I think their actions just last week indicate that they believe that it's important to get out in front of this and share as much of it as possible," Burr said of Facebook.
Facebook announced last week it would publicly display so-called dark posts, which advertisers buy to promote to specific audiences but that remain concealed from the broader public. “We will work with others to create a new standard for transparency in online political ads,” Zuckerberg said in a live video address announcing the move, among other measures the company is taking in an attempt to increase transparency.
Asked if it, too, would reveal dark posts, Twitter told BuzzFeed News it has nothing new to announce.
The plan to hold an open hearing with Facebook, Twitter, and Google comes as the Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to begin publicly interviewing select high-profile witnesses in October, including Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer.
Emma Loop is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. PGP fingerprint: 4A39 DD99 953C 6CAF D68C 85CD C380 AB23 859B 0611.
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Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on social and communications.
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