Facebook, Google, And Twitter Have Been Asked To Testify Publicly In The Senate’s Russia Investigation


Stephen Lam / Reuters

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.

Emails Show How An Ivy League Prof Tried To Do Damage Control For His Bogus Food Science

Small Stuff for BuzzFeed News; Getty Images (4); Alamy (2)
The Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, a $22 million federally funded program that pushes healthy-eating strategies in almost 30,000 schools, is partly based on studies that contained flawed — or even missing — data.
The main scientist behind the work, Cornell University professor Brian Wansink, has made headlines for his research into the psychology of eating. His experiments have found, for example, that women who put cereal on their kitchen counters weigh more than those who don’t, and that people will pour more wine if they’re holding the glass than if it's sitting on a table. Over the past two decades he’s written two popular books and more than 100 research papers, and enjoyed widespread media coverage (including on BuzzFeed).
Yet over the past year, Wansink and his “Food and Brand Lab” have come under fire from scientists and statisticians who’ve spotted all sorts of red flags — including data inconsistencies, mathematic.. Continue reading

Amazon Just Launched A Bunch Of New Echo Devices

BuzzFeed News
Today at a surprise event in Seattle, Amazon unveiled five new Echo devices, including two new editions of its now-hallmark product, the voice-enabled Echo speaker.
The baseline Echo will cost $100, which is significantly cheaper than the $180 version currently in stores. The company will also be offering a $150 Echo Plus, which is preprogrammed to be compatible with 100 different devices including smart lights and locks.
With its past devices including its Kindle e-reader, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said that his company's goal is not to make money when the devices are sold, but rather when they're being used. In lowering the price of the Echo, Amazon seems to be taking a similar approach with the device, which features its voice-controlled assistant Alexa.
“My kids and their kids will never know a day they couldn’t talk to [Alexa],” said Amazon Senior Vice President Dave Limp at today's launch event. Limp also revealed that there were more than 5,000 peop.. Continue reading

Here Are All The Big Announcements From Amazon’s Surprise Event

We’re live from Amazon’s big press conference and event in Seattle.
View Entire List › Continue reading

Donald Trump Doesn’t Have Access To Twitter’s New 280-Character Limit

But it turns out Trump wasn't included in the 280-character test group, meaning that for now he's going to have to keep tweeting just like the rest of the haters and losers. Sad!
Trump in Cleveland in July 2016.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
The new 280-character limit isn't for everyone. In a blog post, Twitter wrote that “we want to try it out with a small group of people before we make a decision to launch to everyone.”

But Biz Stone, a cofounder of Twitter, tweeted Tuesday evening that Trump is not in the 280-character test group. A Twitter spokesperson later confirmed to BuzzFeed News that Trump was not included, explaining that the test group was selected at random.
Case in point: Trump has used Twitter this week to sustain his growing feud with NFL players who kneel during the national anthem before games. Since entering politics and winning the president, Trump has similarly used Twitter to lash out at a dizzying array enemies in both politics and popula.. Continue reading

Japan Has Had Longer Tweets Since Day One. It’s Fine!

Twitter / Via Twitter: @jneeley78
US Twitter is freaking out about a planned change to the service that will allow for 280-character tweets, like this one from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey: Are you worried about living in a world where every tweet is that long? Then let me offer you some words of advice, sent from the future — or at least from a place where tweets have always been this long: Japan.
Thanks to the way the Japanese language works, you can sometimes say an entire word with a single character. Think of it like how you can say “pizza” with one emoji. Even if it's not always one word per character, you can definitely say a whole lot more in 140 than you can in English.
Take, for example, this tweet by Misato Nagoya, a lifestyle writer for BuzzFeed Japan:
It's exactly 140 characters, because we've mastered the art of writing things exactly 140 characters long in Japanese too. But here's how you'd translate it to English:
I don't want to go on a trip .. Continue reading

Twitter Tests Doubling Its Character Limit To 280

A 140-character tweet (left) and one with 280 characters (right).
Twitter
Twitter’s 140-character limit could soon be toast.
The company is considering nixing its long-defining constraint in favor a new limit: 280 characters.
The change, which Twitter is currently testing globally with a small group, would apply to tweets in every language except Japanese, Chinese, and Korean — which already allow you to say more with fewer characters.
“We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter, so we're doing something new: we're going to try out a longer limit, 280 characters, in languages impacted by cramming,” Twitter said in a blog post.
The test is sure to provoke a strong reaction among Twitter’s hardcore users, who have a long history of reacting strongly to changes in the service’s fundamentals, such as Twitter’s decision to transform the timeline from reverse chronological order to one that’s algorithmically sorted.
“We understand since many of .. Continue reading

Facebook Can’t Say For Sure Whether Russians Bought Election Ads In France And Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks with Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
Frank Rumpenhorst / AFP / Getty Images
Facebook cannot say for certain whether profiles or pages connected to Russia purchased ads during the French and German election campaigns, a company official told BuzzFeed News.
The official said Facebook has yet to dedicate substantial investigative resources to potential ad buys in those election campaigns because it has been focused on the effort in the United States.
“We've been focused on the look back here in the US given the ongoing investigations by both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, but also because of what the special counsel is looking at as well,” said the official, who spoke on condition that they not be named.

This highlights how much remains unknown about possible Russian efforts to target voters with election ads in the US and elsewhere. Facebook has acknowledged that the more than 3,000 ads run in the US may not c.. Continue reading

Amos Yee, A Troll From Singapore, Has Been Granted Asylum In The US

Teen blogger Amos Yee speaks to reporters next to lawyer Nadarajan Kanagavijayan, after leaving a Singapore court in Sept. 2016.
Staff / Reuters
Amos Yee, a controversial blogger from Singapore who has been held in US detention for 10 months, will be freed on Tuesday after a federal appeals court upheld an immigration judge's decision to grant him asylum.
According to Yee's lawyer Sandra Grossman, the court upheld a judge's earlier ruling on the grounds that he would be persecuted if he returned to his native country, whose laws allow the government to restrict freedom of speech and expression. Yee had previously been jailed twice in Singapore on charges that included spreading obscenity and “wounding racial or religious feelings” before December when he flew to Chicago, where he was detained at O'Hare Airport.
He had been in US custody ever since, despite a March ruling from Chicago immigration judge Samuel Cole, who noted that Yee had “suffered past persecution .. Continue reading

As Facebook Reveals Dark Posts, Twitter Keeps Them Hidden

Brendan Mcdermid / Reuters
Facebook pledged last week to reveal all ads being shown to its users, even those not appearing on advertiser profiles, after it was revealed that the company ran Russian-linked ads meant to influence the election. Twitter, however, will not commit to the same, and appears to have no plans to expose its so-called dark posts to public scrutiny.
Twitter, which had an outsized presence in the 2016 US presidential election thanks largely to then-candidate Donald Trump, currently hides promoted posts that don’t appear publicly on ad buyers’ profiles. And as of this writing it appears to have no plans to do otherwise.

Last Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company intends to make these dark posts public as part of an effort to increase transparency after discovering that Russia-linked ads on Facebook may have interfered with the US presidential election.
Dark ads or posts are commonly purchased on social networks as a way to reach very specific audi.. Continue reading