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Lawmakers Warn Twitter CEO: 'Eliminate Racially Divisive Communications' or Face New Regs, Government Oversight

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WASHINGTON -- Two House lawmakers have asked the CEO of Twitter to "take immediate action to identify and suspend Twitter accounts and automated bots that are being used to spread racist and violent behavior," stressing it's "incumbent" for the social-media platform "to combat the racial animus that is being spread" there.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), the first African-American woman to serve in Congress from her home state, and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, sent the letter Tuesday to Twitter chief Jack Dorsey, also highlighting Russian accounts utilizing social media for campaign influence operations and Twitter's "responsibility to help guard against actions of foreign governments to undermine our democracy and cause cultural divisions in our country"; Twitter Vice President for Public Policy Colin Crowell met with staff from the Senate and House Intelligence committees last week to discuss the problem.

"It is also troubling to learn that Twitter has become a platform where people feel comfortable sharing racist ideologies, ultimately contributing to the type of violence that we witnessed in August 2017 at the 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville," the lawmakers wrote.

They acknowledged Twitter's power for good as a tool to "galvanize social movements," but added that "as a result of the far-reaching nature of Twitter's technology, we have seen an effort to undermine our democracy, create or fan flames of racial divisions, and spread hate speech that can ultimately culminate into violence."

"We are disturbed by the ease in which foreign actors were able to manipulate your platform to advance anti-American sentiments that both exacerbate racial tension and ultimately threatens our democracy," Watson Coleman and Cleaver continued. "More importantly, we are disappointed by the silence from you and others in your industry on ways to counter such blatant manipulation of this medium to build racial animosity, the consequences of which are quite literally life threatening."

The Congress members asked the Twitter CEO to detail any efforts the company has exerted to detect and "eliminate racially divisive communications from your networks," as well as what security measures have been put in place to counter Russian influence accounts and bots.

"We are concerned that insufficient government oversight over your firm is inadvertently leading to deeper racial divisions and threats to our democracy," Cleaver and Watson Coleman added. "If Twitter continues to prove unable or hesitant to grasp the seriousness of this threat and combat the racialized climate that is being stimulated on your platforms, we, as members of Congress, will be left with little option but to demand for increased regulations and government oversight of this industry to address these problems."

Responding to the Russia investigation on Thursday, Twitter said in a statement that "due to the nature of these inquiries, we may not always be able to publicly share what we discuss with investigators."

"And there will always be tools or methods we cannot talk about, because doing so would only help bad actors circumvent them," Twitter added. "But we know there is a huge appetite for more transparency into how Twitter fights bots and manipulative networks. That’s why we’ll do our best to keep you informed of both our findings on these specific issues and, more broadly, our efforts to fight bots, spam, and malicious information networks on Twitter."

"It’s important to note our work to fight both malicious bots and misinformation goes beyond any one specific election, event, or time period. We’ve spent years working to identify and remove spammy or malicious accounts and applications on Twitter. And we continue to improve our internal systems to detect and prevent new forms of spam and malicious automation, in real time, while also expanding our efforts to educate the public on how to identify and use quality content on Twitter."