3 tech giants invited to public hearing part of Russia investigation

Facebook and Russia probe

WASHINGTON -- The House and Senate intelligence committees have invited tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet -- the parent company of Google -- to appear for public hearings as part of their investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 election, The Associated Press learned.

The companies were invited to appear before the House intelligence committee in October and before the Senate intelligence committee on Nov. 1.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, confirmed the House invitation in an interview with the AP, though he noted a date was not yet set. The details of the invitation from the Senate intelligence committee were confirmed by two people familiar with the panel's interactions with the companies. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private invitations.

It's not yet clear whether the companies have agreed to accept the invitations for the public hearings. Facebook confirmed it received the Senate invitation, Twitter declined to comment and Google did not respond to a request for comment.

The hearings come as both panels are scrutinizing the ways that the social media platforms and online ads were used by Russians to influence the election. The committees are particularly examining the spread of false news stories and propaganda and whether anyone in the United States helped target those stories to specific users on social media platforms.

On Thursday, Twitter is scheduled to meet behind closed doors with staff on both the Senate and the House intelligence committees. The company's representatives will likely face questions about the spread of false news stories and propaganda through the use of fake accounts and automated bot networks.

In a statement this month, Twitter said it "deeply respects the integrity of the election process," and it has worked to combat "bots and other forms of manipulation that violate our Terms of Service."

A report by The New York Times says Russia may have kicked up more political fights as recently as this week.

On Wednesday, the Times reported that a network of Twitter accounts linked to Russia were sending out divisive messages on both sides of the national anthem protest debate that grew in scope in the last few days.

Hashtags like "stand for our anthem" and "take a knee," were reportedly used.

Facebook promises to turn over political ads with Russia links

Lawmakers are also calling for more information from Facebook, which last week agreed to provide the committee with the content of about 3,000 ads, bought by a Russian agency, that were aimed at stirring up divisive political and social issues. Some of those ads included references to presidential candidates in the 2016 election.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also said the company will work to make political advertising on its platform more transparent. Facebook already has met behind closed doors with both committees' staff as part of the investigations.

Meanwhile, Monday evening a CBS News source confirms that at least one of the advertisements that Russian agents bought on Facebook specifically mentioned Black Lives Matter and was targeted to reach Ferguson and Baltimore.

"The apparent goal of the Russian buyers was to amplify political discord and fuel an atmosphere of incivility and chaos," according to the report.