Senators probe Facebook's use of opposition research firm

Democratic senators want to know more about the social network's ties to Definers Public Affairs.

Sean Keane Former Senior Writer
Sean knows far too much about Marvel, DC and Star Wars, and poured this knowledge into recaps and explainers on CNET. He also worked on breaking news, with a passion for tech, video game and culture.
Expertise Culture, Video Games, Breaking News
Sean Keane
2 min read
Senator Amy Klobuchar

Sen. Amy Klobuchar wants to know more about Facebook's relationship with Definers Public Affairs.

Andrew Harnik/Getty Images

A group of US senators is looking into Facebook's reported use of a Republican opposition-research firm to battle its critics. 

Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Mark Warner, Chris Coons and Richard Blumenthal sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Friday to press the social network for more details about its relationship with Definers Public Affairs after The New York Times reported the connection on Wednesday.

"We are gravely concerned by recent reports indicating that your company used contractors to retaliate against or spread intentionally inflammatory information about your critics," reads the letter. 

Klobuchar told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday that the use of such a firm could raise campaign finance issues.

"I would like to know what was going on with elected officials," Klobuchar said, according to Reuters. "It could also have other legal ramifications."

Watch this: Zuckerberg defends actions after New York Times investigation

Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono also joined Klobuchar, Blumenthal and Coons in asking the Justice Department to "expand any investigation into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to include whether Facebook -- or any other entity affiliated with or hired by Facebook -- retaliated against critics or public officials seeking to regulate the platform, or hid vital information from the public."

Definers reportedly targeted Klobuchar over her support for the proposed Honest Ads Act, which would require Facebook and other tech companies to disclose who purchased political ads online.

Klobuchar's office didn't respond to a request for comment.

On Wednesday, the Times published a bombshell report about how Facebook's leaders struggled to deal with a series of crises, including Russian election interference and the mishandling of Facebook user data by Cambridge Analytica. The report says CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg ignored warnings, deflected blame and got distracted by other projects as problems mounted over the past three years.

Zuckerberg said Thursday that he and Sandberg were unaware of Facebook's use of Definers prior to the Times report, and that the relationship was terminated as soon as they found out about it.

Definers didn't respond to a request for comment but said in a statement Friday that it wasn't hired by Facebook as an opposition-research firm.

Facebook didn't respond to a request for comment.

First published Nov 16, 5:48 a.m. PT.
Update, 12 p.m.: Adds information from the senators' letter to Facebook.

The best tech Christmas gifts for 2018

See all photos

CNET's Holiday Gift Guide: The place to find the best tech gifts for 2018.

Best Black Friday 2018 deals: The best discounts we've found so far.