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Rep. Pallone asks Google, Facebook, Twitter about foreign influence in Kavanaugh debate

In a letter, the congressman urges the tech giants to "protect our nation from foreign agents sowing discord."

Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh
Rep. Frank Pallone wants answers from tech giants about potential foreign influence on debates about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. 
Win McNamee / Getty Images

US Rep. Frank Pallone wrote a letter to Google, Facebook and Twitter on Thursday requesting they answer questions about how they're protecting Americans from foreign influence as debates continue about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. 

"As Americans discuss critical issues -- including the nomination, allegations of sexual assault, and victim's rights -- using your platforms, I urge you to protect our nation from foreign agents sowing discord and promoting tribalism," Pallone wrote. He's the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and a Democrat from New Jersey. 

Kavanaugh's hearing introduces a new controversy for nation-state trolls to potentially capitalize on. The Supreme Court nominee's hearing was the top trending topic on Twitter last Thursday, as arguments heat up on social media over whether Kavanaugh should serve on the highest court in the US after multiple women accused the judge of sexual misconduct. President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement from the court in June. Pallone's letter comes as the FBI conducted interviews this week regarding the sexual misconduct allegations.  

Pallone is concerned over disinformation campaigns on social media where nation-state actors pose as concerned Americans on divisive issues. This happened multiple times in the last two years, with Russian-sponsored trolls taking to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube on hot-button topics like gun control, Colin Kaepernick's protests in the NFL, and net neutrality.

During Russia's propaganda campaign against the US presidential election in 2016, the country's trolling organization, the Internet Research Agency, posed as multiple groups on issues, including pages like Secured Borders and Blacktivist. They would go so far as to create Facebook events from two opposing sides of the argument, hoping that people would attend and be enraged enough to bring the arguments into real life.

"The growing influence of the internet and consolidation among social media platforms has allowed a few companies to take on a quasi-governmental role policing content," Pallone wrote. "In light of this dynamic, an update on your efforts to combat foreign influence, including efforts focusing on Judge Kavanaugh, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick, is timely and important to our democracy."

Pallone asks that the companies answer questions such as whether they're working with third-party researchers and firms to find accounts or pages with foreign links related to Kavanaugh, Ford, Ramirez or Swetnick.

Pallone requests answers by Oct. 18.

Google didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. A representative for Facebook confirmed the company has received and is reviewing the letter. Twitter declined to comment.

First published Oct. 4, 1:39 p.m. PT.
Update, 1:47 p.m.: Adds that Twitter declined to comment. 
Update, 2:32 p.m.: Adds comment from Facebook.