Wed, Nov 01, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Tech executives to face US Congress under the spotlight

MEDDLING:Facebook on Monday told US Congress in written testimony that 126 million Americans may have seen politically divisive posts originating in Russia


Facebook logos are pictured on the screens of a smartphone and a laptop computer in London on Nov. 21, 2016.

Photo: AFP

Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google yesterday headed before US lawmakers for two days of grueling hearings on how Russia allegedly used their services to try to sway last year’s US presidential election.

At stake for the Silicon Valley companies are their public images and the threat of tougher advertising regulations in the US, where the technology sector has grown accustomed to light treatment from the government.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network, on Monday added fuel to the debate when it told US Congress in written testimony that 126 million Americans could have seen politically divisive posts that originated in Russia under fake names.

That is in addition to 3,000 US political ads that Facebook says Russians bought on its platform.

Google and Twitter have also said that people in Russia used their services to spread messages in the run-up to last year’s election.

The Russian government has denied it intended to influence the election, in which US President Donald Trump, a Republican, defeated Democratic Party candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

US lawmakers have responded angrily to the idea of foreign meddling, introducing legislation to require online platforms to say who is running election ads and what audiences are targeted.

“The companies need to get ahead of the curve here,” Center for Strategic and International Studies senior vice president James Lewis said.

If they can, he added, they might avoid regulation.

Lewis, speaking during the Reuters Cyber Summit in Washington, said he expects European officials to watch the US hearings closely.

Facebook and Twitter are dispatching their general counsels, Colin Stretch and Sean Edgett, to appear before the Senate subcommittee, while Google is sending director of law enforcement and information security Richard Salgado.

“Our goal is to bring people closer together; what we saw from these actors was an insidious attempt to drive people apart and we’re determined to prevent it from happening again,” Stretch was set to tell lawmakers, according to an advance copy of his remarks.

Facebook and Twitter have taken steps toward self-regulation, saying they would create their own public archives of election-related ads and also apply more specific labels to such ads.

Google followed, saying it would create a database of election ads, including ones on YouTube.

The companies have also disclosed new details about the extent of Russia-based material, raising alarms about a sector that once inspired idealism.

“The Internet was seen as a great engine for promoting democracy and transparency. Now we are all discovering that it can also be a tool for hijacking democracy,” Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow for digital policy Karen Kornbluh said.

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