×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Democratic Senators to Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook’s Retaliation Against Critics May Have Legal Implications

Four Democratic U.S. senators called on Facebook to provide info about the social giant’s reported use of third-party firms to spread “intentionally inflammatory information” about critics. The lawmakers said Facebook’s alleged actions may have violated campaign finance laws or have other legal implications — and suggested government regulation may be needed to rein in the company.

In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Friday, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) asked the exec to respond to allegations detailed in an explosive New York Times report this week.

Per the Times report, Facebook in October 2017 enlisted consulting firm Definers Public Affairs, founded by Republican political strategists, as part of its crisis response to dealing with the Russia fallout. Among other activities, Definers launched a campaign linking Facebook critics to liberal billionaire George Soros, a tactic often used by anti-Semitic alt-right groups. On Thursday, Facebook said it terminated its contract with Definers after the Times story was published.

“We are gravely concerned by recent reports indicating that your company used contractors to retaliate against or spread intentionally inflammatory information about your critics,” the senators wrote in the letter. “In addition, the staggering amount of data that Facebook has collected on both its users and people who have not subscribed to or consented to use of the platform, raises concern 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.”

The senators added, “Both elected officials and the general public have rightfully questioned whether Facebook is capable of regulating its own conduct.”

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on the senators’ inquiry.

In statements and press interviews, both Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg have denied having any knowledge about Facebook’s hiring Definers prior to the Times’ publication of the report. At the same time, Facebook had earlier claimed its relationship with Definers was “well known by the media,” because the firm had contacted “hundreds of journalists… on our behalf.”

Facebook said Thursday that Definers “did encourage members of the press to look into the funding” of Freedom From Facebook, an anti-Facebook organization that has called for the company’s breakup. But it said the intent of those efforts was to demonstrate that it was not “simply a spontaneous grassroots campaign, as it claimed, but supported by a well-known critic of our company.”

In their letter, the four senators specifically asked Zuckerberg to answer questions including whether Facebook hired any entity to collect or find information to be used in retaliation against people who criticized Facebook, “including elected officials who were scrutinizing your company.” They also queried about how much money Facebook has spent on such efforts.

In addition, they asked, “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?”

Facebook has denied the allegation in the Times’ report that it knew about Russia’s manipulation of its platform as early as the spring of 2016 but failed to disclose it or further investigate it. The New York Times has said it stands by its reporting, which was based on interviews with more than 50 sources.

The senators also want to know if Zuckerberg would cooperate with an expanded investigation by the Department of Justice to look into the reports that Facebook engaged in a campaign to fund, research and disseminate negative information company critics.

More Politics

  • White House Chief of Staff John

    John Kelly to Depart as White House Chief of Staff, Trump Says

    WASHINGTON — White House Chief of Staff John Kelly will leave his post toward at the end of the year, President Trump told reporters on Saturday. Kelly has long been rumored to be on his way out. At one point, Trump announced that Kelly would stay in his post through 2020, but that didn’t end [...]

  • Paul Manafort

    Manafort Lied About Contacts With Trump Administration, Robert Mueller's Team Says

    WASHINGTON — Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team said Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, lied about his contacts with Trump administration figures, breaching his plea agreement. “Manafort told multiple discernible lies — these were not instances of mere memory lapses,” Mueller’s team said in a filing on Friday. Much of the filing was [...]

  • Michael Cohen (C), President Donald Trump's

    Prosecutors Call for 'Substantial Term' in Prison for Michael Cohen

    WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former lawyer, should get a “substantial term” in prison, even as he has been assisting with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The sentencing recommendations were outlined in a sentencing memorandum filed in U.S. District Court in [...]

  • Sinclair Broadcast Group

    FCC Chairman Announces New Administrative Law Judge

    WASHINGTON — Jane Hinckley Halprin will serve as the FCC’s new administrative law judge, succeeding Richard Sippel, who has been in the post for 32 years. Halprin’s appointment could have an impact on Sinclair Broadcast Group. In July, the FCC referred Sinclair’s proposed merger with Tribune Media to the judge, on the claim that the [...]

  • at&t time warner merger

    Judges Question DOJ's Arguments in Appeal of AT&T Antitrust Decision

    WASHINGTON — AT&T’s merger with Time Warner faced a new round of judicial scrutiny on Thursday as a three-judge panel weighed whether there were clear errors in a district court decision that cleared the way for the transaction. The panel — Judith Rogers, a Clinton appointee; Robert L. Wilkins, an Obama appointee; and David Sentelle, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content