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Did Russian Trolls Try To Meddle In Energy Markets? Congress Wants To Look Into It

The House science committee has specifically requested information on the source of ads related to “so-called green initiatives,” the source of advertisements on Facebook related renewable and nonrenewable energy, and all information related to any activity from a foreign entity involvement in the US energy sector.

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Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch, Twitter acting general counsel Sean Edgett, and Google law enforcement and information security director Richard Salgado testifying last month on Capitol Hill.

Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet (the parent company of Google) are in talks to provide information to the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee for another investigation on Russian meddling in US politics, according to a spokesperson for the committee.

The chairman of the committee, Representative Lamar Smith, sent letters to the companies in September requesting information related to Russian entities purchasing anti-fracking and anti-fossil fuel advertisements on the social media platforms.

It's a complicated issue in terms of the U.S. dynamics: American progressives largely oppose fracking and have protested against it, while conservatives have championed it. Many of the accounts believed to be associated with the troll farm, first exposed by Russian outlet RBC in a major investigation, seized on existing and vibrant social or political movements in the United States, from protests against police brutality to Trump-friendly memes on Twitter. Many real Americans, for instance, protested the construction of pipelines last year.

The committee specifically requested information on the source of ads related to “so-called green initiatives,” the source of advertisements on Facebook related renewable and nonrenewable energy, and all information related to any activity from a foreign entity involvement in the US energy sector.

A spokesperson for the committee told BuzzFeed News that “the companies have each actively and regularly engaged with committee staff in providing the information we’ve requested.”

The September letter cites the $100,000 spent by Russians on Facebook advertisements as a reason for the probe into whether the sites were used to meddle with public opinion on fracking and fossil fuels in the US.

A follow-up letter, sent to the companies on Oct. 31, pointed to a BuzzFeed News report on an Instagram account believed to be operated by an infamous St. Petersburg-based troll farm. The account posted content targeted toward Native Americans and in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, a recent flashpoint in the US fracking debate, as an example of the types of Russian-produced content used to influence public opinion that the committee is interested in.

A spokesperson for the committee told BuzzFeed News that “the companies have each actively and regularly engaged with committee staff in providing the information we’ve requested.”

A Facebook official confirmed that they were in talks with the committee staff to provide information and a Google official confirmed that the company had been contacted by the committee.

Contact Ryan C. Brooks at ryan.brooks@buzzfeed.com.

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