Senators Question Facebook Over 'Gravely Concerning' Retaliation Reports

Four Senate Democrats are slamming Facebook over a report this week that the company hired outside firms to undermine its critics.

“Both elected officials and the general public have rightfully questioned whether Facebook is capable of regulating its own conduct,” Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), Mark Warner (D-Virginia), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) write in a letter sent Friday to CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The letter comes two days after The New York Times reported that the company hired the Republican consultancy Definers Public Affairs to link the company's critics to George Soros, in hopes of undermining them. Facebook also reportedly sought to convince the Jewish civil rights group Anti-Defamation League to characterize criticism of the company as anti-Semitic. (On Thursday, Facebook severed ties with the Definers, according to the Times.)

Klobuchar, Warner and the other lawmakers say they are “gravely concerned” by the report. They add that the “staggering amount of data that Facebook has collected” on users as well as people without accounts also raises concerns -- including that the company “could improperly or illegally use its vast financial and data resources against government officials and critics seeking to protect the public and our democracy.”

Facebook confronted a barrage of criticism last year, after it emerged that Russian operatives used the social networking platform during the 2016 election to spread propaganda and stoke discord on political issues. The company reportedly expanded its relationship with Definers in October of 2017, as the extent of Russian interference in the prior year's election was becoming more widely known.

The lawmakers are asking Zuckerberg to answer a series of questions, including whether Facebook hired anyone to spread negative information against elected officials who had criticized it. Other questions include whether Facebook -- or any companies it hired -- attempted to conceal information related to foreign interference with the 2016 U.S. election, and how much Facebook paid outside contractors to collect or spread information about critics.

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