Silicon Valley can be settling in to get grilled by Washington.
Executives via Facebook (, , Tech30)Twitter ( in addition to also also , Tech30)Google ( testified before Congress Tuesday inside first of three hearings This kind of week into how foreign nationals used social media to meddle inside 2016 presidential election. , Tech30)
At the hearing, held by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime in addition to also also Terrorism, the tech companies were pressed on their ability to prevent bad actors via taking advantage of their platforms through ads in addition to also also regular posts.
“I’m trying to get us down via la la land here. The truth of the matter can be you have 5 million advertisers which change every month, every minute, probably every second,” Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, asked Colin Stretch, Facebook’s general counsel. “You don’t develop the ability to know who every one of those advertisers can be, do you?”
Stretch admitted Facebook had limitations on what the idea could know. “To your question about seeing essentially behind the platform, to understand if there are shell corporations, of course the answer can be no,” he said. “We cannot see behind the activity.”
The heated exchange highlights the difficulties these online companies face in trying to monitor their massive audience of users in addition to also also crack down on foreign election meddling in addition to also also misinformation campaigns.
In prepared testimony for the first hearing, the tech companies revealed the sweeping scale of Russian influence operations on their platforms.
Facebook informed lawmakers which roughly 126 million Americans may have been exposed to content generated on its platform by a Russian government-linked troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency between June 2015 in addition to also also August 2017.
Twitter disclosed which the idea has identified 2,752 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency. the idea found a total of 36,746 accounts which appeared to be associated with Russia, though not necessarily with the Internet Research Agency, which generated automated, election-related content.
Related: Exclusive: Russian-bought Black Lives Matter ad on Facebook targeted Baltimore in addition to also also Ferguson
Multiple Russian-boughts ads were displayed at the hearing, including a Facebook post via a page called Heart of Texas claiming Hillary Clinton had a 69% disapproval rate among veterans in addition to also also another Facebook event called “Miners for Trump.”
In one particularly tense moment, Senator Al Franken repeatedly pressed Stretch on how a sophisticated service like Facebook could possibly miss Russian actors buying these U.S. election ads “with rubles.”
“There were signals we missed,” Stretch said. He stopped short of saying Facebook would certainly commit to stop running political ads inside U.S. paid for by foreign money.
In another exchange, the Twitter in addition to also also Facebook officials admitted which various other countries could take advantage of their platforms. When asked if either North Korea or Turkmenistan may have done so already, Stretch said Facebook was not aware of the idea.
“The bottom line can be these platforms are being used by people who wish us harm in addition to also also wish to undercut our way of life,” Senator Lindsey Graham said.
The tech companies condemned the Russian activity in addition to also also pledged to continue investigating the idea in addition to also also cracking down where necessary.
“This kind of type of activity creates not only a bad user experience, nevertheless also a distrust for the platform,” said Sean Edgett, acting general counsel at Twitter. “So we are committed every single day to getting better at solving This kind of problem.”
The hearings in addition to also also brand-new disclosures cast a harsh spotlight on the immense power of the tech companies at a time when there can be renewed interest in greater regulation for the industry.
“I’m very proud which the three companies you are presenting here today are American companies in addition to also also I think you do enormous not bad, nevertheless your power sometimes scares me,” Sen. Kennedy said at the hearing.
Related: ‘Kill them all’ — Russian-linked Facebook accounts called for violence
This kind of month, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled legislation called the Honest Ads Act to require brand-new disclosures for political ads which appear online on sites like Facebook in addition to also also Twitter.
Both Facebook in addition to also also Twitter have preemptively promised greater transparency for political ads, nevertheless which may not be enough to appease legislators. Senator Mark Warner, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, suggested he would certainly press the issue at one of the hearings scheduled for Wednesday.
“How do they plan to work with Congress to make sure This kind of doesn’t happen again?” Warner wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “Specifically on legislation like the #HonestAds Act.”
nevertheless Warner in addition to also also his colleagues won’t be able to raise those concerns with tech CEOs at the hearings. The three companies will be represented by their general counsels at the hearings This kind of week, in addition to also also not any of their more well-known executives.
sy88pgw (brand-new York) First published October 31, 2017: 2:54 PM ET