Hillicon Valley: FBI to brief Florida lawmakers on election hacking | Tech giants partner with DEA on anti-opioid efforts | Facebook sues company for selling fake engagement

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Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).


FBI FOLLOWS UP ON MUELLER REPORT: The FBI will brief Florida Sen. Rick Scott (R) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRonald Dion DeSantisFBI to brief Florida governor, senator on election hacking Hispanic grass-roots groups warn 2020 Dems not to overlook them Florida House passes bill banning ‘sanctuary cities’ MORE (R) on election hacking that was detailed in the Mueller report.

Scott spokesman Chris Hartline told The Hill in a statement that “the FBI has reached out and is working on scheduling a briefing with Senator Scott in the next few weeks.”

DeSantis previously expressed frustration that Florida officials don’t know more about the incident.

“They won’t tell us which county it was, are you kidding me?” he said at a Thursday press conference in Miami. “Why would you have not said something immediately?”

Last week, Scott sent a letter to the FBI asking for evidence to corroborate hacking claims made in the Mueller report.

“It is my goal to have free and fair elections with zero fraud, which is why, as Governor, I invested millions of dollars in cyber security, hired additional cyber security staff, and secured election security grants for all 67 counties in Florida,” he said in the letter. “This is a very serious issue that needs the immediate attention of the FBI.”

Scott was serving as Florida’s governor at the time of the election.

The Mueller report, which was released in redacted form last week, said that Russia’s intelligence directorate, known as the GRU, sent “spearphishing” emails that contained malicious software to Florida country officials in charge of administering the 2016 election.

Read more here.


TAKE BACK THE DAY: Silicon Valley giants are partnering with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in its annual effort to combat the opioid epidemic, a campaign known as National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.

Throughout the day on Saturday, participants will be able to use Google and Twitter to identify locations to drop off any prescription drugs they have at home, while Facebook runs advertisements about the effort.

The Take Back Day campaign has seen results before, with the DEA reporting last fall that it was able to collect 914,236 pounds of drugs through its campaign encouraging and facilitating drop-offs across the country.

The DEA has been increasing its engagement with tech companies on the issue over the past several years. Twitter in a blog post earlier this week announced that it has re-launched a custom emoji for Take Back Day, an effort to bring attention to the #TakeBackDay hashtag.

Google, meanwhile, has been partnering with the DEA for several years through advertising campaigns and new features in Google Maps. The tech giant featured the Take Back Day collection site map on its homepage last year and announced two months ago that it had improved its Google Maps and search to account for 3,500 more drug drop-off locations across the country.

Using Google Maps or search, users can look up phrases similar to “drug drop off near me” or “medication disposal near me” and find directions to the nearest permanent disposal locations.

The DEA told The Hill that Facebook last fall ran national newsfeed advertising, which garnered 11 million impressions between Facebook and its image-sharing platform, Instagram.

“With additional newsfeed advertising for the April 2019 campaign, we anticipate surpassing this number,” the DEA said in an emailed statement.

Many lawmakers, including Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinNBC’s Kelly O’Donnell tears up over video celebrating 25 years at network Sanders, Klobuchar among five most popular senators: poll Cain says he withdrew from Fed consideration because of ‘pay cut’ MORE (D-Va.), have said tech companies should potentially be held legally liable for illegal opioid sales on their platforms, a move that would chip away at one of the Internet’s most valued legal protections – Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Read more about Take Back Day here.


QUITE A CONUNDRUM: Twitter on Friday said it has suspended the campaign accounts for two candidates in the European Union that belonged to people who were previously banned from the platform.

Twitter suspended the campaign accounts belonging to far-right anti-Muslim activist Tommy Robinson, who announced his candidacy for the European Parliament on Friday, and Carl Benjamin, a far-right British YouTuber who is running for Parliament.

Twitter told The Hill that the accounts had been suspended for violating the platform’s terms of service.

The suspensions of @trobinsonmep and @CarlUKIP were first reported by BuzzFeed News.

Robinson’s and Benjamin’s candidacies pose a conundrum for Twitter, as well as other social media platforms, which are important tools for political candidates during election cycles.

Twitter and Facebook both typically leave up accounts and posts from political figures, even when they violate their community guidelines, citing the “newsworthiness” of their comments.

But Facebook during a phone call with reporters earlier in the day said it was keeping its ban on Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, BuzzFeed reported.

YouTube recently placed restrictions on Robinson’s account after the far-right figure was banned from Facebook and Instagram for violating their anti-hate speech policies.

Robinson founded the anti-Islamic English Defense League, which has previously organized violent protests against Muslims in the United Kingdom.

Benjamin, who goes by the name “Sargon of Akkad,” was suspended from Twitter and the crowdfunding site Patreon.   

Read more here on the suspensions here.


BOTS FOR SALE: Facebook this week sued a New Zealand company and three individuals for selling fake engagement — including likes, views and followers — on Instagram.

This is the second lawsuit the tech giant has filed against a company selling fake likes and accounts on social media.

Facebook, in the Thursday filing with a Northern California federal district court, accused the defendants of operating an “unlawful business” using the website Likesocial.co, which “artificially inflates the ‘likes,’ ‘views,’ and ‘followers’ of Instagram accounts” using networks of bots.

“Through their business, Defendants interfered and continue to interfere with Instagram’s service, create an inauthentic experience for Instagram users, and attempt to fraudulently influence Instagram users for their own enrichment,” Facebook, which owns Instagram, said in the filing.

Facebook is alleging that a company called Social Media Series Limited, run by Arend Nollen, Leon Hedges and David Pasanen, violated Instagram’s guidelines and California law with its business.

Likesocial.co’s website is currently blank, with a notice that it is “currently running maintenance on our services.” A cached version of its page from the beginning of April advertises its business using the banner, “Buy Instagram Likes. Delivered Automatically.”

“Get Instagram likes on every new post and get Instagram Followers,” the company’s cached home page reads. “Our service detects new uploads within seconds then sends you real Instagram likes and views automatically.”

Facebook has been seeking to clamp down on the cottage industry of companies that sell fake engagement for users seeking to bolster their brands.

Facebook in a blog post on Thursday said it has “previously suspended accounts associated” with Nollen, Hedges and Pasanen. According to the court filing, the company sent the trio cease and desist letters as they continued the like-selling business under different names for years. 

Read more on Facebook’s lawsuit here.


THAT’S NOT VERY NICE: The new Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Civility Poll released Thursday finds an overwhelming number of Americans are frustrated by what they see as “uncivil” behavior in political life, reports The Hill’s Darcy Palder. And many of those Americans are blaming social media.

The poll found that 90 percent are concerned about “uncivil and rude behavior” from political figures. Seventy-eight percent find President TrumpDonald John TrumpPresenting the 2020 Democratic bracket The time has come for the Democrats to act, finally DHS expedites border wall replacement in Arizona, Texas MORE responsible for the lack of civility, with more holding special interest groups (at 81 percent) and social media (also 81 percent) “very or somewhat” responsible.

Six percent said social media was only responsible a little bit, with 7 percent saying it was not responsible at all and 6 percent unsure.

Republicans were more likely to blame social media. Eighty-eight percent of self-identified Republicans found social media “very” or “somewhat” responsible for bad political behavior, with 73 percent of Democrats saying the same and 80 percent of independents.


AN OP-ED TO CHEW ON: Evidence contradicts right-wing narrative of tech censorship and bias.


A LIGHTER CLICK: Joe-mentum.



Regulators around the world are circling Facebook. (The New York Times)

Slack posts $141 million annual loss as it files to go public. (Reuters)

Major tech companies want to remain anonymous while criticizing the automation of criminal justice. (Quartz)

Oracle policy chief pledges to keep up fight on JEDI cloud bid. (Bloomberg News)

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