The Facebook Inc. logo sits on screens ahead of the global launch event of “Workplace” at the Facebook Inc. offices in London. (U.K., Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg)

Facebook Should Say Whether It Attacked Critics, Lawmakers Say

(Bloomberg) -- A group of Democratic senators is demanding that Facebook Inc. chief Mark Zuckerberg respond to news reports that the social media giant used contractors to retaliate against critics of its privacy practices and efforts to combat Russian propaganda on its platform.

Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia are among those asking Zuckerberg to detail the extent to which Facebook may have collected and spread negative information about elected officials and other critics who were examining the company’s practices. The Menlo Park, California-based company has come under intense scrutiny after allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

“Both elected officials and the general public have rightfully questioned whether Facebook is capable of regulating its own conduct,” they wrote in a letter released Friday. The letter was also signed by Democratic Senators Chris Coons of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

The senators pointed to recent reports, including one this week in the New York Times, that said the company hired outside contractors to attack its critics by spreading inflammatory information about them. The lawmakers insist that if that occurred and the funds weren’t disclosed, there could be “campaign finance and other potential legal implications.”

They added that because of the “staggering amount of data” Facebook has gathered on users, there are questions about whether it can “improperly or illegally” use that against government officials and others seeking to enhance consumer protections.

In a separate interview, Coons said Facebook officials should return to Capitol Hill to testify to lawmakers.

In their letter, the lawmakers asked Zuckerberg a series of questions, including whether the company spent funds on contractors to find and spread information about critics, and how much was spent. They also asked him to explain whether the company also tried to conceal information about foreign interference in the 2016 elections from government investigators.

Facebook issued a lengthy rebuttal to the New York Times story, denying that it asked a public relations firm to pay for or write articles on its behalf or that it pushed journalists to spread misinformation.

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