Executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google received harsh criticism from lawmakers Wednesday, as they were questioned about allowing Russian agents to purchase ads which spread inaccurate news and created social divides.
The hearing included the following representatives:
- Facebook’s Vice President and General Counsel Colin Stretch
- Twitter’s General Counsel Sean Edgett
- Google’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel Kent Walker
Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) accused the three men representing the tech giants of not understanding the severity of the situation, after she says they failed to answer her questions adequately the previous day.
The general counsels for the companies agreed that Russian bad actors had used their platforms during the 2016 presidential election, and admitted that more needed to be done if they hoped to prevent such interference in the future.
According to the New York Post: “Colin Stretch, Facebook’s general counsel, also revealed at the Senate Intelligence Committee that the 126 million of its US users exposed to content from Russian accounts did not include Instagram — where an “additional 16 million people” viewed such content since October 2016.”
“All told, that gets you to approximately a little less than 150 million,” Stretch said.
Feinstein came out swinging when it was her turn to question the groups from Facebook, Google and Twitter, all California-based companies.
“I don’t think you get it,” she said. “What we’re talking about is a cataclysmic change. What we’re talking about is the beginning of cyber warfare.”
“You created these platforms and now they are being misused,” she continued. “And you have to be the ones who do something about it — or we will.”
Feinstein wasn’t the only lawmaker to pounce on the tech giants. Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) told them, “This is whole lot broader than simply the 2016 election.”
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told the representatives that the CEO’s of their companies “need to answer for this.”
The most emotional argument came from Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He opened the proceedings by showing two Facebook groups created by Russians: “Heart of Texas,” which peddled anti-immigrant messages and “United Muslims of America,” which promoted Islamic pride.
Both pages promoted an event at the Houston Islamic center. One was a protest against Muslims and the other celebration of them.
The Post reports: “What was orchestrated in St. Petersburg, Russia for a cost of about $200 in Facebook ads resulted in a real-life clash covered by local news.”
“What neither side could have known is that Russia trolls were encouraging both sides to battle in the streets and create division between real Americans,” Burr said, reminding the tech companies that accepting foreign money paid to fund US electioneering is illegal and telling them to better verify the sources of their ad revenue.
“…You must do better to protect the American people and frankly all of your users from this kind of manipulation.”
“Don’t let nation states disrupt our future,” Burr told them. “You are the front line of defense for it.”
Moment of today’s social media hearing. Feinstein: “I must say I don’t think you get it… We are not going to go away, gentlemen.” (CSPAN) pic.twitter.com/xOwhnJRiEA
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) November 1, 2017
You may watch the hearing HERE.