The tech giants went before Senate judiciary committee to explain how and why Russian operatives were given free rein to tamper with 2016 US election
- Russia-backed Facebook posts reached 126m Americans during election
- Mark Warner: senator ready to take tech giants to task
We’re going to wrap up our coverage of a senate panel questioning representatives of Facebook, Google and Twitter.
Here’s what we learned:
The tech reps are done. There’s a second panel featuring Clint Watts of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and terrorism analyst Michael S Smith.
Kennedy is back.
He asks Stretch if FB can generate lists of teenagers who think they’re overweight.
Franken challenges Salgado and they kind of talk past each other.
Franken turns again to Stretch. He asks about ad targeting for the topic “jew hater” on FB. FB has removed the topic from the ad platform. But how could such categories be generated and allowed to exist.
Franken’s back. Can Twitter and Google vow not to take foreign political ads paid for with foreign money?
Twitter’s Edgett: Sure.
Graham: Are any of you in the content business?
Stretch: The vast vast majority of content on the platform is user-generated.
Senator Hirono: Can you say that content on your platform did not have some kind of effect on the election?
Stretch: “We’re not well positioned to judge why any one person or an entire electorate voted as it did.”
Franken: “Can I have a little more time?” Chair: “No.” Stretch’s Inner Monologue: “Oh thank God.”
Senator Al Franken is up. “This is something you guys have to deal with and fix,” he says.
Then he mixes it up pretty good with FB’s Stretch.
Senator Patrick Leahy says “I hear a lot of johnny-come-latelys.” There’s a lot that I think you could have done earlier, he says. He bets that the companies made lots of add dollars.
Senator Ted Cruz accuses Google and Facebook of serving readers a disproportionate amount of “liberal” news stories and of excluding “conservative outlets.”
“It is disconcerting if those political positions become a lens through which American consumers consume news,” Cruz says. “Do you consider your sites to be neutral public fora?”
what a waste of incredibly valuable time w/ under oath reps from companies that rarely EVER have to answer for themselves https://t.co/DN2vQNxu3A
Senator Coons brought a poster-size imposter FB ad targeting Clinton in the name of veterans. He asks Stretch about it.
Senator, that advertisement has no place on Facebook, and we are committed to preventing that sort of behavior… it makes me angry, it makes everyone at our company angry.
this entire hearing:
Senator asks question to Facebook, facebook answers, twitter and google say “yeah us too”
Response to Sen Kennedy here on Twitter suggests just how much bipartisan voter support could be found in dragging tech cos
Senator Klobuchar asks for support for an ad transparency bill… which she doesn’t quite get.
None of the representatives will commit definitively to supporting the Klobuchar/Warner/McCain legislation to increase ad transparency.
Then Kennedy asks Google if they’re a tech platform or a media company. That’s an easy one. Tech platform, says Salgado. But Kennedy, who is on fire, asks Salgado if Google delivers news (and makes decisions about what news people see?) – isn’t that what a newspaper does? Salgado insists that Google is not a media company.
Kennedy further challenges Stretch on what FB knows about the average user. Stretch insists the company is blind to certain details.
Kennedy on FB targeting: “Say I want to know everything about Sen. Graham; the bars he goes to…” (“ooooohs” in hearing room)
Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, says he’s proud these companies are American but “your power sometimes scares me.”
Then he lights this sleeping hearing up.
Here’s senator Dick Durbin. He tells Stretch anti-bias organization have raised the alarm about Russia-backed pages spreading bigoted messages. He accuses Facebook of providing consultant help to an “anti-Muslim effort.”
Stretch says the content they’ve turned over “is vile, and it’s vile for precisely the reason you say. It’s particularly exploitative…. [of] groups that have every reason to expect us to protect the authenticity of the debate on FB… we are reviewing and tightening our ad policies.”
Facebook’s Stretch says they have 10,000 people working on safety and security and they’ll double that number by 2018.
Edgett on how Twitter polices content: “We have a very respected trust and safety team.”
Senator Sasse asks for Twitter numbers. Edgett says 330m monthly active users (guilty!).
Feinstein whispers, did he say 330m! Hot mic.
Edgett thanks Feinstein for asking him what an “impression” on Twitter is. “So we’re all on the same page,” he says.
it’s important to again note that of the three tech companies –Facebook, Google or Twitter– none of them sent their CEOs to testify today.
And none of them seem to be feeling much pressure, either.
Salgado is asked why RT was allowed to participate in a preferred status ads program and he simply blames “algorithms”.
Feinstein asks about Facebook’s custom audiences tool. Can FB explain who was targeted with the tool?
Stretch says the content is “imitative of social causes” which “is what makes the content to vile, so upsetting so cynical, its attempt to aggravate divisions in our society.”
He describes “broad geographic targeting” – 75% targeted USA as a whole, 25% targeted to states. And “they were targeted to interest groups.”
Stretch says Facebook is working broadly in questions of authenticity on its platform.
What they’ve learned has helped them create new automated tools, he says.
Chuck Grassley cameo. He has a beef with reporting about a Facebook ads targeting Hillary Clinton.
His staff has reviewed the ads.
Edgett of Twitter says it’s a problem to get to know your client. “Who is running an ad, who is paying?” Who are they targeting?
“We’re working on the best approach to getting to know the clients… who are signing up for advertising.”
Whitehouse asks the witnesses what they’re doing to fix it and what success looks like.
They agree to submit testimony on it.
Whitehouse asks for comments on effectiveness of California’s disclosure law. Model for federal legislation?
Graham sums it up. Russia started interfering in 2015 and continued afterward. During the election they were trying to foment discord, mostly against Clinton. Afterward they attacked the legitimacy of Trump’s election.
Whitehouse: “I take it we can all agree that the Russians did in fact meddle… is that correct?”
Stretch says the activity is focused on hot-button topics inflaming discourse.
“Approximately 90% of the volume we saw on the ad side was issues-based.”
Stretch says FB has been tracking foreign actors since before and after the election.
“Following the election, the activity we’ve seen really continued, in the sense that… this concerted effort to sow division and discord… In the wake.. we saw a lot of activity… fomenting discord about the validity of his election… it continued until we disabled the accounts.”
Edgett, of Twitter, says the accounts come ‘disproportionately’ out of Russia.
Graham starts. Other than Russia, he says, what nations are you concerned about tampering in elections?
Stretch says threat actors tied to nation states around the world. He’s going jargony.
Salgado seeks to draw a line between Google and the other two companies:
“Google’s products don’t lend themselves to the kind of targeting or viral dissemination that the attackers seem to prefer.”
Now it’s Richard Salgado, director of law enforcement and infosec at Google.
He used to be at the justice department, focusing on hacking.
Edgett says they’re working “to make sure the experience of 2016 never happens again.” Holler?
Twitter is up next. “We are troubled by reports that the power of Twitter was misused by a foreign actor…” to tamper in the election,
Edgett calls it “a new challenge for us and one that we are determined to meet.”
Being at the forefront of technology also means being at the forefront… of challenges, Stretch says.
He says he wants to talk about the threat of extremist content and efforts of foreign actors to interfere with the 2016 election.
Stretch of Facebook starts talking. He appreciates the hard work of Congress. “We are deeply concerned about all of these threats,” he says.
Senator Feinstein said she had a briefing last week and saw “really for the first time how Russia has harnessed… the frightening-to-me power of social media” including by using “fake accounts” to manipulate opinion.
“How easily and successfully they turned modern technologies to their advantage,” Feinstein says. She says that’s not widely recognized yet.
Whitehouse says “no serious person can dispute” the hacking and theft of information by Russia.
Now Whitehouse jumps in with both feet.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island is up. He uses the phrase “Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election,” which Graham, who recently became a bosom golfing buddy of Trump, did not.
Really enjoyed a round of golf with President @realDonaldTrump today.
President Trump shot a 73 in windy and wet conditions!
Publicity seeking Lindsey Graham falsely stated that I said there is moral equivalency between the KKK, neo-Nazis & white supremacists……
“To those who wish to undermine American life, they found portals into our society that are intermingled with everyday life,” Graham says. Well put.
Graham says we have to be on our guard as a nation against people who would use this technology against us and calls it the “national security challenge of the 21st century.”
“The purpose of this hearing is to figure out how we can help you,” Graham says.
Graham says Trump said “from his point of view social media was an invaluable tool to help him win an election.”
All politicians and millions of Americans “use your technology,” Graham says. “You’ve enriched America.”
OK the witnesses are in their chairs and Republican Lindsey Graham, who’s running the show along with ranking member Dianne Feinstein, looks ready to begin.
Here’s a live video stream of the proceedings (thx @jbl049):
In this blog we’ll consider how Russian tampering on social platforms in the 2016 election was carried out by online imposters and totally missed by the platform hosts. We’ll see how bad the hosts now feel about it all, if they do.
But another pot in the Trump-Russia affair has been simmering this week, with the announcement Monday that a former senior adviser to Trump had pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI, with whom he is now cooperating. Trump’s former campaign chairman and a deputy were separately charged.
This is off-topic but with a half hour to go till we’re underway and a national holiday to observe, here’s George HW Bush reviewing Halloween costumes from the back of a train:
Hello and welcome to our live coverage as representatives of three American tech giants appear before Congress to explain how and why Russian operatives were given free rein on their networks to tamper with the 2016 presidential election.
Starting at 2.30pm ET, representatives from Facebook, Google and Twitter are scheduled to appear before the Senate judiciary committee. Tomorrow the same three companies are to appear before the Senate and House intelligence committees.