WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, wrote to committee leadership calling for a hearing about extremely concerning news reports of Russian actors exploiting Twitter to spread political and social unrest in Wisconsin and other states during the 2016 election, as well as media reports regarding Cambridge Analytica’s unauthorized use of millions of Facebook users’ personal information.
Senator Baldwin wrote, “I am troubled by these companies’ failure both to protect their users’ data and to prevent their platforms from being used to disseminate false information pushed by a foreign power and designed to interfere with our elections and undermine our institutions. The Committee has an obligation to assess the threat to consumers and their privacy as they utilize social media platforms that have become central to everyday life and the exchange of information and ideas.”
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently reported that Russia-linked Twitter accounts, including one recently named in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of Russian nationals engaged in election interference, sought to spread racism and political attacks during the August 2016 civil unrest following a police-involved shooting in Milwaukee.
Media reports have also revealed that Cambridge Analytica obtained the private data of more than 50 million Facebook users in order to sell voter information to political campaigns without the consent of these users. While this action has already prompted the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether Facebook made this information available to Cambridge Analytica, Senator Baldwin believes more needs to be done to better understand Cambridge Analytica and Facebook’s actions.
In a January Commerce Committee hearing on social media and terrorism, Senator Baldwin questioned representatives of social media companies on how domestic and international terrorist organizations, as well as adversarial nation-states like Russia, have exploited these platforms. While the companies’ responses at that time demonstrated positive steps, they also revealed an overly optimistic assessment of the effectiveness of their policies and a concerning inability to grasp the true magnitude of the problem.
The full letter is available here.