House panel dials up focus on role of social media in insurrection
In recent months, the panel has asked an array of top social media researchers and experts on misinformation and online extremism to submit briefs and official statements analyzing how the attack unfolded on platforms and looking into the role of the key instigators, according to three people with knowledge of the outreach who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.
The panel has also brought on a prominent disinformation scholar, Dean Jackson of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as a lead analyst, a signal that it is dialing up its social media expertise, according to one of the people.
The previously unreported moves are the latest indication that social media is a significant focus for the committee as it wraps up its closely watched probe.
The panel dramatically escalated its investigation into how social media factored into the Jan. 6 attack earlier this year, issuing subpoenas for information to Twitter, Reddit and the parent companies of Facebook and YouTube.
Since then, the panel has asked outside experts to provide takeaways from their independent findings about social media activity before and during the attack, the people said, and in some cases has asked for input on potential lines of questioning for technology executives, one of the people said. It is unclear what the panel intends to do with the information.
Jackson brings deep research bona fides to the panel. At Carnegie, he has served as the project manager for its Influence Operations Researchers Guild, which investigates disinformation campaigns. Previously, he oversaw projects related to disinformation at the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit that promotes democratic ideals, and worked on external relations at the Atlantic Council, a prominent international affairs think tank.
According to his LinkedIn page, Jackson began a contract position in March as an “investigative analyst” for the House of Representatives, though it does not specify for whom. Carnegie spokesperson Clarissa Guerrero said Jackson is on leave at the organization but will return at the end of May. Jackson and a spokesperson for the committee declined to comment.
The moves arrive as the panel prepares for the two most visible portions of its investigation, which are the public hearings and final report outlining its findings.
It is unclear to what extent the final report or public hearings may explicitly focus on social media. But part of what Jackson is doing, according to one person, is crafting potential questions for technology executives and identifying targets at the companies to press for more information.
Lawmakers are turning to external researchers after spending months battling with technology companies to fork over more data related to the attack.
In January, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), who chairs the Jan. 6 committee, said they opted to issue subpoenas after receiving “inadequate responses” from social media companies to their informational requests. “We cannot allow our work to be delayed any longer,” Thompson said.
He added, “Two key questions for the Select Committee are how the spread of misinformation and violent extremism contributed to the violent attack on our democracy and what steps, if any, social media companies took to prevent their platforms from being breeding grounds to radicalizing people to violence.”
It remains unclear whether technology companies have complied with the subpoenas and what data the panel was able to obtain. The committee had set its sights on the role of social media in the attack from the start.
According to the legislation that created the special committee, the panel is mandated to investigate “influencing factors that contributed to the domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol and how technology including online platforms” may have “factored into the motivation, organization, and execution.”
Silicon Valley companies have also been accused of helping to foment the violence that took place on Jan. 6 by a several prominent Democratic lawmakers. By continuing to zero in on the issue, the panel is creating yet another avenue to scrutinize the actions of technology companies related to the attack.
Biden seemingly backs Amazon union push
Speaking at a union event Wednesday, President Biden appeared to throw his support behind the Amazon unionization efforts that recently notched a major win, my colleague Jeff Stein reports.
“The president did not directly call on Amazon workers to form a union but gave his most explicit endorsement to date of the attempts to unionize the company’s massive workforce,” Jeff writes. “Biden had previously called on Amazon to respect workers’ choice during a union vote in Alabama, and White House officials had spoken positively of the result of the vote in Staten Island.”
“Unions are about providing dignity and respect. … That’s why I created the White House task force to make sure the choice belongs to workers alone,” Biden said, before lowering his voice and adding: “By the way, Amazon here we come. … Watch. Watch.”
Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island became the first to mount a successful unionization vote on Friday, marking a huge victory for the U.S. labor movement. An Amazon spokesman declined to comment on Biden’s remarks. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Google removed dozens of data-harvesting apps from its app store
Researchers say the apps were installed on millions of Android devices, the Wall Street Journal’s Byron Tau and Robert McMillan report. They contained a Panamanian company’s code that harvested location data and personally identifiable information. The code also had the ability to scan — but not necessarily view the contents of — users’ WhatsApp downloads folders.
The researchers shared their findings with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Google, which said it removed the apps as of March 25. The apps can be relisted if they remove the code that collects the data, Google spokesman Scott Westover told the Journal. Some of the apps are already back on the app store.
The FTC declined to comment to the Journal on whether it was investigating, because its investigations are nonpublic. Measurement Systems, the Panamanian company, told the outlet that “the allegations you make about the company’s activities are false.”
SEC probing Amazon’s use of third-party-seller data
“Federal securities regulators are investigating how Amazon.com Inc. has disclosed certain details of its business practices, including how it uses third-party-seller data for its private-label business,” the Wall Street Journal’s Dana Mattioli and Dave Michaels report.
According to the report, “The Securities and Exchange Commission is probing how the technology giant — the largest U.S. e-commerce retailer and cloud-computing company — handled disclosures of its employees’ use of data from sellers on its e-commerce platform.” A spokesman for Amazon declined to comment.
Amazon’s use of third-party-seller data has also been subject to intense scrutiny from congressional investigators, who have accused the company of misleading Congress about its practices. Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee last month issued a criminal referral to the Justice Department for Amazon and its senior executives for allegedly engaging in misleading and obstructive conduct.
Apple restores opposition app to its App Store in Russia (Joseph Menn and Greg Miller)
A month into the war, these companies still struggle to exit Russia (Aaron Gregg and Douglas MacMillan)
Will Smith’s slap became crypto. Inside the wild world of memecoins. (Pranshu Verma)
- The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts an event on the national defense implications of commercial wireless networks on Thursday at 9:30 a.m.
- Microsoft President Brad Smith and Accenture CEO Julie Sweet speak at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event on responsible AI on Friday at 8:30 a.m.
- The American Enterprise Institute hosts an event on content moderation and Section 230 on Monday at 9:30 a.m.
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