The chairman of a congressional committee is asking Facebook, Twitter and Google’s parent company for documents on how much Russian interests spent on ads vilifying the U.S. energy industry.
It’s the latest twist in Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith’s investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. energy policy, including Russian links to environmental groups.
“Social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, have the ability to serve as an effective propaganda arm conveying specific messages to geographically targeted audiences,” Smith wrote in letters sent to Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet Inc. executives.
Facebook recently turned over information on more than $100,000 worth of ads bought by Russian-linked accounts to influence American voters. Smith thinks Russia may have made similar ad buys to vilify U.S. energy producers.
“The Committee is concerned that divisive social and political messages conveyed through social media have negatively affected certain energy sectors, which can depress research and development in the fossil-fuel sector and the expanding potential for natural gas,” Smith wrote.
Smith chairs the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, which has the power to issue subpoenas.
In July, Smith asked Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin to investigate whether or not Russian interests funneled money to environmental groups opposed to oil and gas drilling through a Bermuda-based shell company.
Energy and security experts have for years speculated Russia funneled money to stymie hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas drilling in the U.S. and Europe.
Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Russian oligarchs were propping up “phony environmental groups” opposed to pipelines and fracking.
U.S. intelligence officials confirmed in a declassified report released in early 2017 the state-owned media outlet Russia Today, or RT, ran “anti-fracking programming, highlighting environmental issues and the impacts on public health.”
The report claimed the campaign “is likely reflective of the Russian Government’s concern about the impact of fracking and US natural gas production on the global energy market and the potential challenges to Gazprom’s profitability.”
“The American people have a right to know whether the information they are hearing, seeing, and reading is being presented on behalf of a foreign government,” Smith wrote.
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