In their first Russia hearing, tech giants try to placate Congress

In their first Russia hearing, tech giants try to placate Congress
From TechCrunch - October 31, 2017

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee kicked off the first of three hearings this week examining the relationship between social media and Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The hearings mark the first time that lawmakers will hear testimony from Google, Facebook and Twitter around how their platforms were and are manipulated as part of Russian political disinformation campaigns targeting U.S. voters.

This is really a critical hearing, Committee ChairLindsey Graham declared in his opening remarks. It marks the first time we will have heard from the three agencies about exactly what is going on and what exactly they are prepared to do to stop it.

Graham struck a friendly note early on, informing the panel that the purpose of this hearing is to figure out how we can help you.

Predictably, the tech representatives werent fooled by a group of lawmakers that appears increasingly eager to regulate their ad operations.

As Tuesdays hearing was the first of three, the big question is just how cooperative the three companies would be. All three elected to send their general counsel rather than top executives to the hearing, a move that signaled theyd prefer to remain tight lipped and well within the comfort zones theyre used to in friendlier territory. They mostly succeeded, even when things got a bit awkward for a trio of companies far too accustomed to exercising near total control of the narrative around their products.

None of these tech giants are used to having their feet held to the fire, and some members of the committee, particularly Louisiana SenatorJohn Kennedy and Minnesota Senator Al Franken, proved eager to do so. When Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, who bore the brunt of the committees ire, responded tepidly to his line of questioning about the companys responsibility, Franken rebuked the panel explosively.

You put billions of data points together all the timeyou cant put together rubles and a political ad?How did you not connect those two dots?

Kennedy picked up a line of questioning threaded early on by Graham, turning to exactly the kind of rapid fire questions that the tech companies dispatched their legal reps to dodge.

Kennedy: Did China run ads in the last election cycle to try to impact our election? Did Turkmenistan?


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