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Congressman Mark DeSaulnier

Representing the 11th District of California

Congressman DeSaulnier Calls on Oversight Chairman to Convene Hearing on the Sale and Abuse of Fake Social Media Accounts

February 2, 2018
Press Release

Washington, DC – Following troubling reports by the New York Times and Los Angeles Times that corporations, like Devumi, have sold millions of fake social media accounts that often impersonate real users, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11) called on Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) to convene a hearing on the sale, abuse, and possible influence social media bots could have had in the 2016 Presidential election.

“Bot accounts can spread false information for deceptive purposes, such as altering public opinion to sway elections, with superhuman veracity,” wrote DeSaulnier. “It is essential that we understand how companies like Devumi operate in order to prevent these bot accounts from destabilizing the public’s trust in our nation’s elections and undermining our national security.”

The influence of these fake accounts is far reaching. It is suspected that roughly 48 million active users on Twitter are bots, and in November of 2017, Facebook testified that upwards of 60 million automated accounts have been deployed on its platform alone. This week, Twitter notified 1.4 million Americans that they interacted with or promoted Russian-linked activities during the 2016 Presidential election.


The full text of the letter follows:

 February 1, 2018

The Honorable Trey Gowdy
Chairman
House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
2157 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Gowdy:

Recent reports in the New York Times depict a troubling practice of corporations selling fake social media accounts, often spoofed off of real, unknowing users. I request that you hold a hearing to investigate their possible influence on the 2016 Presidential election, and invite representatives of companies who sell these accounts to testify.

According to the New York Times, companies like Devumi have made millions of dollars selling fake accounts to “social media influencers” looking to spread their reach. Influencers, ranging from celebrity chefs to sports stars, pay thousands of dollars to amass hundreds of thousands of “followers,” the majority of which are now known to be bots.

Although seemingly innocuous, this practice can be dangerous. Bot accounts can spread false information for deceptive purposes, such as altering public opinion to sway elections, with superhuman veracity. It is essential that we understand how companies like Devumi operate in order to prevent these bot accounts from destabilizing the public’s trust in our nation’s elections and undermining our national security.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. I am available to discuss the need for a hearing on this essential topic at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

Mark DeSaulnier
Member of Congress

CC: Rep. Elijah Cummings, Ranking Member, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

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