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Silicon Valley dodged senators’ questions about Russian propaganda

by Noah Kulwin
Nov 1 2017, 10:07am

The Senate Intelligence Committee finally got its chance Wednesday to grill Silicon Valley about Russian propaganda on their platforms during the 2016 election. And after months of relatively restrained disagreement between the committee and Google, Facebook, and Twitter, the conflict spilled out into the open.

The three companies have each sent their general counsels in lieu of their CEOs and other top executives, and these lawyers — Twitter’s Sean Edgett, Google’s Kent Walker, and Facebook’s Colin Stretch — mostly succeeded in dodging tough questions from the senators.

They’ve also had ample time to prepare for this week, as these companies have all revealed to Congress in the past couple months the extent of the Russia-engineered social media campaign to influence the 2016 election. Here’s a rundown of what they added to the story at Wednesday’s hearing:

  • Senators from both parties expressed frustration that they were speaking with Google, Facebook, and Twitter lawyers instead of the CEOs.
  • Virginia Democrat Mark Warner, the vice chair of the Intel Committee, castigated the tech platforms for initial reports on 2016 election interference that “showed a lack of resources, lack of commitment, and a lack of genuine effort” on the part of Silicon Valley.
  • Facebook’s Colin Stretch stated that since October 2016, Russian ads reached 129 million on Facebook and 16 million on Instagram; counting the 4 million views prior to October, Facebook now concedes that 150 million people saw Russian propaganda during the 2016 election.
  • The tech lawyers again declined to signal support for the Honest Ads Act, a bipartisan bill that would align Federal Election Commission rules for internet ads with the rules for TV and print broadcasting. The bill was co-authored by Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner.
  • Right-wing Arkansas senator Tom Cotton castigated tech companies for not being sufficiently “America First” in their policies.
  • Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, known as a staunch defender of privacy rights and freedom of speech, said that “you need to stop paying lip service to shutting down bad actors… you’ve got the power, and Congress has given you the legal protection to actually act and deal with this.”
  • When Wyden asked whether tech companies were satisfied with their individual responses to Russian interference on their platforms:

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