Social Media Platforms Make Their Liabilities Clear In First Russia Hearing

In a Capitol Hill hearing Tuesday afternoon, lawyers coming from Facebook, Google along with Twitter testified under oath about Russian manipulation of their platforms during the 2016 election. The lawyers confessed their companies’ shortcomings, promised fixes, along with told senators they were taking the issue extremely, extremely seriously.

yet while delivering these statements, they did something else even more critical: they made clear how susceptible their companies are to future attacks on US democracy.

Throughout the hearing, the companies struggled to persuade senators which they could effectively monitor platforms of their size. Facebook was hammered by Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, a freshman Republican, in a series of questions about whether This particular can effectively monitor the 5 million advertisers spending money on the platform each month.

“I’m trying to get us down coming from ‘lala land,’” Kennedy said. “The truth of the matter will be you have 5 million advertisers, they change every month, every minute, probably every second — you don’t contain the ability to know who every one of those advertisers will be, do you?”

In describing their policies, the platforms didn’t bear much better with senators’ questions.

Foreign agents using their real names on Facebook can try to cause chaos as long as they’re acting within Facebook’s rules, Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch’s testimony revealed. “This particular wasn’t so much the content — although to be clear much of which content will be offensive along with has no place on Facebook — yet the real problem with what we saw was its lack of authenticity,” Stretch said. If Kremlin agents used real accounts along with abide by the platform’s rules, which implied, they could go ahead along with post away.

In its testimony, Twitter made clear This particular doesn’t have a Great response to block shell companies looking to manipulate elections coming from advertising on its platform. When Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse asked the company how This particular could prevent a lawful corporation called “Americans for Puppies along with Prosperity” coming from trying to swing elections on behalf of a special interest or a foreign power, Twitter acting General Counsel Sean Edgett didn’t have an answer.

“I think which’s a problem,” Edgett said, explaining Twitter will be continuing to look into “how do you get to know your client.”

along with when Google was asked about whether This particular viewed itself as a media or technology company, — a question getting at whether This particular feels a sense of responsibility for the news on its platform — This particular went straight for the “don’t blame us” answer. “We are not a newspaper,” Google Director of Law Enforcement along with Information Security Richard Salgado said.

The platforms’ inability to monitor themselves was poked at by senators throughout the day. Minnesota Sen. Al Franken ranted against Facebook, noting how slow This particular was to Discharge its findings about a $100,000 ad buy on its platform by a Kremlin-linked agency seeking to disrupt US politics. “How did Facebook, which prides itself on being able to process billions of data points along with instantly transform them into personal connections for its users, somehow not make the connection which election ads, paid for in rubles, were coming coming from Russia?” he said. “Those are two data points: American political ads along with Russian money, rubles. How could you not connect those two dots?”

At the outset of the hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham asked, “The challenge of This particular hearing, along with of This particular focus, will be how do we keep the Great along with deal with the bad?” When the hearing ended, the answer seemed as unattainable as ever.

Alex Kantrowitz will be a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News along with will be based in San Francisco. He reports on social along with communications.

Contact Alex Kantrowitz at alex.kantrowitz@buzzfeed.com.

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