House, Senate inviting social media giants to testify

FILE - In this April 18, 2017, file photo, conference workers speak in front of a demo booth at Facebook's annual F8 developer conference, in San Jose, Calif. One of the congressional committees investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election has invited the tech giants Facebook, Twitter and the parent company of Google to appear for a public hearing on Nov. 1. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House and Senate intelligence committees are inviting tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet — the parent company of Google — to appear for public hearings as part of their investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, The Associated Press has learned.

The House intelligence committee is planning to hold a hearing in October and the Senate intelligence committee has invited witnesses to appear Nov. 1. The announcements of public hearings come the day before Twitter is scheduled to hold closed-door staff briefings with both panels.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, confirmed the House hearing in an interview with the AP, though he noted a date had not yet been set.

In a joint statement, Schiff and Republican Rep. Mike Conaway from Texas, who is leading the House investigation, said they will hold an open hearing in the coming month “with representatives from tech companies in order to better understand how Russia used online tools and platforms to sow discord in and influence our election.”

They added, “Congress and the American people need to hear this important information directly from these companies.”

The details of the invitation from the Senate intelligence committee were confirmed by two people familiar with the panel’s interactions with the companies. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private invitations.

It’s not yet clear whether the companies will accept the invitations to appear. Facebook and Google confirmed they had received the Senate invitations and Twitter declined to comment.

The hearings come as both panels have been scrutinizing the ways that the social media platforms and online ads were used by Russians to influence the election. The committees are examining the spread of false news stories and propaganda and whether anyone in the United States helped target those stories to specific users on social media platforms.

In the closed-door briefings Thursday, Twitter’s representatives will likely face questions about the spread of false news stories and propaganda through the use of fake accounts and automated bot networks.

In a statement this month, Twitter said it “deeply respects the integrity of the election process,” and it has worked to combat “bots and other forms of manipulation that violate our Terms of Service.”

Lawmakers have also been calling for more information from Facebook, which last week agreed to provide the committee with the content of about 3,000 ads, bought by a Russian agency, that were aimed at stirring up divisive political and social issues. Some of those ads included references to presidential candidates in the 2016 election.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also said the company will work to make political advertising on its platform more transparent. Facebook already has met behind closed doors with both committees’ staff as part of the investigations.

Also Wednesday, a GOP member of the Senate intelligence panel said Russian internet trolls are exploiting the controversy over NFL players kneeling during the national anthem to stir up divisions in the United States.

Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma said paid social media users, or “trolls,” were hashtagging “take a knee” and “boycott NFL” to amplify the issue.

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