Points to story that social media company was undercutting critics

Some high-profile Senate Democrats are pressuring Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for answers following reports that the company used outside contractors to retaliate against its critics, including spreading false and inflammatory information about them.

Related: Sen. Warner Ticked Off by Edge Arrogance

Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said that if Facebook did not properly disclose that activity it could have campaign finance issues. Warner is vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee that has been investigating Russian election influence, including its use of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and search giant Google.They told Zuckerberg they are "gravely concerned" about the allegations of quelling critics.

Related: Facebook Faces Hill Ire Over Political Ad Transparency

Facebook has been under some withering criticism inside the Beltway since the 2016 election after it "failed to implement protocols to prevent manipulation by foreign adversaries working to undermine America’s political system," they wrote to the Facebook founder, as well as revelations about how it did or did not protect the information of its 2.2 billion users. They said both public officials and members of the public are rightfully concerned, and suggested Facebook may have wrongfully tried to marginalize those critiques.

They cited a New York Times story alleging the company had taken "significant steps to undermine critics," including hiring political consultants to engineer the retaliation. They want answers to the following questions:

1. "To your knowledge, did your company hire any entity – including, but not limited to research firms and contractors – to collect or find information to be used in retaliation against people who criticized Facebook, including elected officials who were scrutinizing your company?

2. "Did your company hire any entity – including, but not limited to research firms and contractors – to spread negative or intentionally inflammatory information in retaliation against people who criticized Facebook, including elected officials who were scrutinizing your company?

3. "Did your company – or any entity affiliated with or hired by your company – ever use any of the vast financial and data resources available to Facebook in retaliation against people who criticized Facebook, including elected officials who were scrutinizing your company?

4. "Did your company – or any entity affiliated with or hired by your company – ever seek to conceal information related to foreign interference with the 2016 U.S. election from the public or government investigators?

5. "Did your company – or any entity affiliated with or hired by your company — ever contact any media outlets with negative or misleading information, or suggest, promote, or amplify negative or misleading social media about your critics, including elected officials scrutinizing your company?

6. "How much money have you expended or paid other entities to collect, find, spread or amplify information about people who have criticized Facebook, including elected officials scrutinizing your company? Has any of that spending been publicly disclosed? 

7. "Some of us have requested that the Deputy Attorney General expand the scope of the Department of Justice’s existing investigations to include the latest reports that Facebook hired contractors to retaliate and spread negative information about people who criticized the company. If the Department’s investigation is expanded to include this recent report, will you commit to co-operating with any investigation into this matter?"

Related