Cambridge Analytica Tale `Disturbing,' Democratic Lawmaker Says
(Bloomberg) -- House Democrats met with Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Christopher Wylie Tuesday and afterward implored Republicans to help them dig deeper into manipulation of personal information from millions of U.S. Facebook users and other data during the 2016 election.
"We need interviews, documents and hearings without delay," said Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform panel in a joint statement after the closed-door meeting.
The Democrats said their more than two-hour interview with Wylie showed that Congress "must do more to learn how foreign actors collect and weaponize our data against us, and what impact social media has on our democratic processes."
Wylie set off a firestorm last month with his revelation that Cambridge Analytica, a U.K. political research firm hired by President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, accessed tens of millions of Facebook profiles to harvest data of unsuspecting Americans and use it to influence the election.
"He was a very informative witness," Representative David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, said after Tuesday’s meeting with Wylie. "He really described a propaganda operation that involved use of data that was taken from Facebook and other sources to influence voters -- interestingly, a kind of project that was based on a military use of information in the same way you would fight against ISIS, in a military context."
"Very disturbing testimony, in my view, because it really shows how there was a coordinated effort to mislead and to use propaganda in a way to influence an American presidential election," Cicilline said.
Wylie said after the closed-door, transcribed interview that one purpose of his visit was to help spark an congressional investigation. He plans to meet privately on Wednesday with House Democrats from the Intelligence Committee.
Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas said Republicans are "abdicating" a responsibility to hold hearings.
"They don’t believe this stuff. They don’t want to hear anything," added Representative Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat.
There was no immediate comment from spokesmen for Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia or Oversight panel Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, both Republicans.
The Democrats, in their statement, said Judiciary Republicans declined an invitation from the committee’s top Democrat, Jerrold Nadler of New York, to join the Wylie interview. Instead, they complained that Republicans are more focused on a hearing scheduled for Thursday on whether social media companies "are in a plot to silence conservative voices on the Internet."
Over the weekend, Wylie used Twitter to renew his warning that "malicious actors" are using social media to threaten democracies around the world. When he arrived at the Capitol on Tuesday, he told reporters that he would give Democrats answers to "whatever they ask."
Wylie testified publicly in March before a U.K. parliamentary committee, where he described Cambridge Analytica as an organization that dealt with illegal data and hacked material to win elections. He said Trump’s election was one of the reasons he blew the whistle on Cambridge Analytica’s data practices.
"I wouldn’t say it was just because of Donald Trump, but Donald Trump makes it click in your head that this actually has a much wider impact," he told the parliamentary committee. "I don’t think that military-style information operations is conducive for any democratic process."
During the U.K. appearance, some lawmakers questioned Wylie on the links between Cambridge Analytica, its parent company SCL, and work on various political campaigns including Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union. He said that vote might have come out differently "had there not been, in my view, cheating."
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