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Facebook, Google, and Twitter Testify Before Congress

by Countable | 11.1.17

What’s the story?

Twitter, Facebook, and Google appeared before Congress on Tuesday for the first of three public hearings about how Russia used the social media platforms to spread misinformation during last year’s presidential election.

Here are some of the highlights of their testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee:

  • The panel’s GOP chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Congress finds social media "invaluable to communicating with our constituents and getting our message out" but that it can “also be used to undermine democracy and put our nation at risk.” Political ads, he said, had been used to instigate social and political unrest. “Like we don’t have enough to fight about,” Graham quipped.

  • Here’s who represented the tech giants: Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, Twitter Acting General Counsel Sean Edgett, and Google Law Enforcement and Information Security Director Richard Salgado. (Hyperlinks above are to each company’s opening statement).

  • During the opening remarks, Facebook confirmed previous reporting that Kremlin-sponsored posts reached as many as 126 million Americans over two years. Twitter found 2,752 accounts controlled by Russians, and that over 36,000 Russians bots tweeted 1.4 million times during the election. Google discovered 1,108 videos with 43 hours of content.

  • Facebook explained how the ads targeted users: 75 percent were targeted to U.S. users on the whole, with the remaining 25 percent targeted users in specific states To combat these ads, Facebook is testing a new transparency tool that will allow people to see who bought the ads they’re viewing. It also plans to double the team involved in removing objectionable content to 20,000 employees. Twitter, meanwhile, has banned Russian media organization RT, and said it’s increasing investments in its Trust and Safety team.

  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) accused the social media companies of having a liberal bias. He cited studies and examples, including one that was personal: a study of how Google showed users searching for Democrats more positive stories than those searching for Republicans — including Cruz himself. "The prospect of Silicon Valley companies actively censoring speech, or the news content, is troubling to anyone who cares about a democratic process with a robust First Amendment," Cruz said.

  • Facebook, Google, and Twitter were asked if they’d support the Honest Ads Act, a Senate bill that would require the tech companies to create a public database of political ads that would, as summarized by The Washington Post, "include the ad, a description of the targeted audience, the number of views, when and how long it ran, and the price and contact information of the purchaser." None of the companies would commit to supporting the bill.

  • Some of the most tense exchanges occurred during the final thirty minutes of the hearing. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) asked, "How does Facebook, which prides itself on being able to process billions of data points and instantly transform them into personal connections for its users, somehow not make the connection that electoral ads, paid for in rubles, were coming from Russia?" Stretch admitted Facebook should have had “a broader lens,” but said rejecting foreign currency wouldn’t solve the problem. “The reason I’m hesitating on foreign currency is it’s relatively easy for bad actors to switch currencies,” Stretch said. “So it’s a signal but not enough.”

  • Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) asked Facebook what many have wondered: "In an election where a total of about 115,000 votes would have changed the outcome, can you say that the false and misleading propaganda people saw on your Facebook didn’t have an impact on the election?" Facebook’s Stretch responded, “Senator, we’re not well positioned to judge why any one person or an entire electorate voted as it did.”

What do you think?

Google, Twitter, and Facebook will field two more rounds of questions. What would you like them to be asked? What questions do you still have? Would you like to see the Honest Ads Act passed? Hit Take Action, tell your reps, then share your thoughts below.

— Josh Herman

Related Reading

(Photo Credit: alexsl/ iStockphoto)

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Written by Countable

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(11)
  • RadicalModerate
    11/01/2017
    ···

    Walmart Americans will claim they voted for trump based on his leadership qualities, strength of character, and understanding of foreign policy, before they’ll ever admit they got tricked by those Russian communist bastards.

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  • NoHedges
    11/03/2017
    ···

    ☕️This is a repeat of the ridiculous McDonalds Hot coffee suit all over again. 🚑 🏃🏼‍♀️🏃🏼‍♀️🏃🏼‍♀️Likewise, it is a blatant misuse of our legal system surrounding torts and strict liability claims, 🚧 postulating that these “evil tech giants” should be view as a general insurer of a product; rather than a service provider. ⚔️This is an attempt to sanitize/control our press accordingly to political policies. 🎢 Similarly, the ruling could guide public policy towards weeding out any political campaigning other than that which can be purchased by agencies such as super pacs. 🎲 The federal government could also use new policies to 🕹 nudge voters political decisions and as a precedent to reduce liability for big pharmaceutical corporations. 🚥 While laying a foundation to impose high regulatory fees on any consumer who elect for unsanitized access to social media outlets including Countable.

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  • Luke
    11/01/2017
    ···

    This is kind of ridiculous and goes to show how reliant our human race has become on technology. Technology’s biggest drawback is anonymity, you can’t tell who or where an article is coming from any more than you can know that I am not the Lincoln Memorial Statue in my profile picture. With answers just a few screen taps away, being able to discern the truth needs to come down to the consumer.

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  • Walter
    11/01/2017
    ···

    I’d like to see some factual polling data regarding an issue that’s hotly and incessantly debated. Would everyone that cast their personal ballot based on Russian ads please raise their hand? Ah ha ... I thought so.

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  • Megan
    11/01/2017
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    You'd be surprised how people are influenced by the stupidest things. Hillary hates dogs! Boom, vote for Trump, thanks Vlad.

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  • Norm
    11/01/2017
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    Let’s have the people who were Hoodwinked on social media testify as well. Also, don’t let these companies monitor themselves. They’re like a child needing a parents guidance.

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  • Shane
    11/01/2017
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    I support the honest ads act. It's a step in the right direction. They should have had this in place already. The social media companies unfortunately rely on automated systems that are vulnerable to these types of attacks. It is also against the nature of these companies to impede content. They take an after the fact approach mainly for this reason. Welcome to the war on truth. While we are busy fighting with each other the real masters have a dark future planned for us all. Time to grow some clean food and make friends with your neighbors. Well, it wouldn't hurt anyway.

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  • Yragenorc
    11/01/2017
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    With conservative tv and radio pundits, GOP politicians, Sinclair broadcasting, Rupert Murdock, and orange himself spreading flat out lies its impossible for us to be united! Misleading the American public should be illegal. It's nothing but a con and America has fallen for it. Social media needs to be more responsible for what goes on their feeds! News originations that lie should be held accountable! We're only humans and it's easy to manipulate the truth to move a majority a certain way. Face it we are not collectively intelligent enough to distinguish truth from lies. With only a two party system and the lying coming from everywhere no wonder we're divided. Everyone has a safe place where they get information and they will believe no other. Sad America. I'd really like to know the moral integrity of a pundit or politician that knowingly misleads us for personal or political gain. How do they live with themselves man Have a Conscience.

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  • Kitkit.kitkit
    11/20/2017
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    Countable is terrific...Every American should take responsibility for their FREEDOM. For years we have not had a very good way of showing our responsibility. Countable has changed that hopefully. For a long time the GOP has slipped changes in our freedoms and our ability to earn a fair wage for our family. It gets worse by the year. #Now at least the playing field is more level. Please take the Countable app. We need to protect the future of our American Freedoms. Get our heads out of the sand and pay attention to what "BILLS" are being passed in Washington. I am learning, if I can learn, you can too. Take responsibility for remaining a free American. Please don't let the time go by until it is too late to act.

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  • Azrael
    11/01/2017
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    Irl???

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  • Kitkit.kitkit
    11/20/2017
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    As a single mother, time was & is stretched to at the least 11 pm weekday and Saturday. Sunday almost the same. Therefore, it would should be immediately transparent. Trust in their sites will "long term" determine their popularity, use, support and ratings they should want to protect. An information rating scale of truth in information should and could easily be developed. It would have a credibility factor that should be protected as well.

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