US Social Media Companies Grilled on Russian
November 01, 2017
Tempers flared as U.S. senators grilled
Facebook, Twitter, and Google
representatives about Russia's use of their
platforms to spread disinformation in the
2016 presidential campaign, as well as the
companies' efforts to prevent a repeat.
"You must do better to protect the American
people and, frankly, all of your users from
this kind of manipulation," Senate
Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr
(R-NC) told attorneys for the tech giants at
a hearing on Wednesday.
"I don't think you get it," said Senator
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). "What we're talking
about is a cataclysmic change… What we're
talking about is a major foreign power with
the sophistication and ability to involve
themselves in a [U.S.] presidential election
and sow conflict and discord all over this
Feinstein stressed that social media
companies bear ultimate responsibility for
the material that gets posted on their
"You've created these platforms, and now
they are being misused. And you have to be
the ones to do something about it -- or we
[Congress] will," she said.
Facebook, Twitter, and Google have
acknowledged that entities traced to Russia
used phony accounts and other tactics to
spread inflammatory messages and fake
advertising that reached millions of
Americans in 2015 and 2016. Lawyers for the
companies stressed they take the problem
seriously and are aggressively combating it.
"All of these [phony foreign] accounts and
pages violated our policies, and we removed
them," said Facebook General Counsel Colin
Stretch. "Going forward, we are making
significant investments. We're hiring more
ad reviewers, doubling or more our security
engineering efforts, putting in place
tighter ad content restrictions, launching
new tools to improve ad transparency, and
requiring documentation from political ad
Stretch added that fake ads "were a very
small fraction of the overall content on
Facebook, but any amount is too much."
Republicans on the committee zeroed in on
data from social media platforms showing
Russia's disinformation campaign predated
the Republican Party's nomination of Donald
Trump last year, suggesting Moscow's
overarching aim was to undermine American
democracy, not to elect Trump as president.
"This is a whole lot broader than simply the
2016 election," said Senator James Risch
Burr said, "I'm here to tell you, this story
does not simplify that easily."
The witnesses concurred.
From left, Facebook general counsel Colin
Stretch, Twitter acting general counsel Sean
Edgett and Google information security
director Richard Salgado arrive for a Senate
panel's hearing on Capitol Hill in
Washington, Oct. 31, 2017, on Russian
meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
"The large majority of the material we saw
was socially-divisive rather than direct
electoral advocacy," said Google's general
counsel, Kent Walker.
meanwhile, accused tech giants of being slow
to recognize and combat the threat from
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) said the
committee's concerns, stretching back to the
beginning of the year, "were, frankly, blown
off by the leaderships of your companies.
"Candidly, you companies know more about
Americans, in many ways, than the United
States government does. And the idea that
you had no idea that any of this [foreign
influence campaign] was happening strains my
credibility," Warner added.
Twitter's acting general counsel, Sean
Edgett, said the company has taken action
against suspected Russian trolls, suspending
2,752 accounts. Similar efforts were
announced by Facebook and Google, the parent
company of YouTube.