Congress grills Facebook, Twitter, Google on shells hiding election meddlers

Congress grills Facebook, Twitter, Google on shells hiding election meddlers
From TechCrunch - October 31, 2017

How can internet giants know that innocent-seeming U.S. companies arent actually shell vehicles for malicious foreign actors to buy ads to interfere with elections? The short answer is they cant, and that drew questioning from a congressional probe today into Facebook, Twitter and Google being used to manipulate the 2016 presidential election.

The hearing saw Facebooks general counsel Colin Stretch dodge whether Facebook supports the new Honest Ads bill, instead touting the self-regulation its implementing. Googles Richard Salgado affirmed that the company sees itself as a technology platform, not a media company or newspaper.

And Senator Ted Cruz pressed Facebook about whether it was politically neutral, and if it sways discourse in ways consistent with the political views of your employees, which Ive noted leans Democrat judging by rampant cheering by employees for Democratic talking points during Barack Obamas townhall at Facebook HQ in 2011.

Losing the shell game

Perhaps the most telling moment of the hearing came when one member of the committee questioning the companies spokespeople asked:

How do you deal with the problem of a legitimate and lawful but phony American shell corporation, one that calls itself say America for Puppies and Prosperity, that has a drop box as its address, and a $50 million checkin its check book that its using to spend to manipulate election outcomes?

Twitters general counsel Sean Edgett admitted Ithink thats a problem. Were continuing to look into how do you get to know your client . . . and believe that well have to figure out a good process to understand who those customers actually are that are signing the contracts with Twitter to run ads.

The committee pressed further about Twitters shortcoming here. You admit that if you trace it all the way back to an American corporation, lets call it America for Puppies and Prosperity and its actually a shell corporation, you dont actually know whos behind it? the committee asked. It could be Vladimir Putin, it could be a big powerful American special interest, it could be the North Koreans or the Iranians. You need to be able to penetrate the obscurity of the shell corporation, correct?


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