Senators question Facebook on Definers Public Affairs

Several U.S senators on Friday pressed Facebook for answers related to claims the company hired contractors to “retaliate against or spread intentionally inflammatory information about their critics,” according to a letter addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“We are gravely concerned by recent reports indicating in which your company used contractors to retaliate against or spread intentionally inflammatory information about your critics,” the letter reads. “Both elected officials as well as the general public have rightfully questioned whether Facebook will be capable of regulating its own conduct.”

The brand-new York Times reported earlier This specific week in which Facebook, from the fallout coming from Russian interference from the 2016 presidential election, hired Definers Public Affairs to downplay public statements as well as deflect public scrutiny onto rival tech companies. Definers has been known to conduct opposition research.

The firm reportedly wrote articles in which blasted Google as well as Apple to be published on NTK Network, an affiliate of the firm whose content will be often followed by politically conservative outlets, including Breitbart, the report says. In a blog post Thursday morning, Facebook said the item ended its relationship with Definers Wednesday night.

Definers issued a statement earlier Friday defending its work with Facebook, though the item failed to address claims around NTK Network or in which Facebook had ended its partnership.

Facebook’s dealings with Definers, if true, “may have campaign finance as well as different potential legal implications,” the senators said.

Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Mark Warner, D-Va., Chris Coons, D-Del., as well as Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, all signed the letter. Klobuchar was among the senators named from the brand-new York Times report as having engaged in supposedly questionable closed-door dealings with Facebook executives.

Here’s the full letter:

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg:

We are gravely concerned by recent reports indicating in which your company used contractors to retaliate against or spread intentionally inflammatory information about your critics.

Since the 2016 election, both the government as well as your own internal investigations have revealed in which your company failed to adequately protect the data of its 2.2 billion users. Your company also failed to implement protocols to prevent manipulation by foreign adversaries working to undermine America’s political system. Both elected officials as well as the general public have rightfully questioned whether Facebook will be capable of regulating its own conduct.

According to recent reports, your company hired contractors to retaliate as well as spread intentionally inflammatory information about people who have criticized Facebook, which, if not properly disclosed, may have campaign finance as well as different potential legal implications. In addition, the staggering amount of data in which Facebook has collected on both its users as well as people who have not subscribed to or consented to use of the platform, raises concern in which the company could improperly or illegally use its vast financial as well as data resources against government officials as well as critics seeking to protect the public as well as our democracy.

In light of these concerns, we respectfully request you answer the following questions:

1. To your knowledge, did your company hire any entity – including, nevertheless not limited to research firms as well as contractors – to collect or find information to be used in retaliation against people who criticized Facebook, including elected officials who were scrutinizing your company?

2. Did your company hire any entity – including, nevertheless not limited to research firms as well as contractors – to spread negative or intentionally inflammatory information in retaliation against people who criticized Facebook, including elected officials who were scrutinizing your company?

3. Did your company – or any entity affiliated with or hired by your company – ever use any of the vast financial as well as data resources available to Facebook in retaliation against people who criticized Facebook, including elected officials who were scrutinizing your company?

4. 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 coming from the public or government investigators?

5. Did your company – or any entity affiliated with or hired by your company — ever contact any media outlets with negative or misleading information, or suggest, promote, or amplify negative or misleading social media about your critics, including elected officials scrutinizing your company?

6. How much money have you expended or paid different entities to collect, find, spread or amplify information about people who have criticized Facebook, including elected officials scrutinizing your company? Has any of in which spending been publically disclosed?

7. Some of us have requested in which the Deputy Attorney General expand the scope of the Department of Justice’s existing investigations to include the latest reports in which Facebook hired contractors to retaliate as well as spread negative information about people who criticized the company. If the Department’s investigation will be expanded to include This specific recent report, will you commit to co-operating with any investigation into This specific matter?

Thank you for your prompt attention to This specific request.

—CNBC’s Salvador Rodriguez contributed to This specific report.

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