Social Media Giants Testify on Russian Online Information Campaign
This week, over the course of three congressional hearings, lawmakers on Capitol Hill continued to dig into the extent of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential elections. The most widely-covered hearing, in the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, focused on Russian digital efforts to sway American opinion on platforms including Facebook and Twitter.
The witnesses at the hearing were representatives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter, revealing new details about the extent of the effort. According to Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, the number of Americans who saw content linked to the Russian online campaign may be as high as 150 million, including 16 million on Facebook-owned Instagram.
Much of the content promoted by the information campaign focused not on specific election news, but on attempts to stir-up nationalistic and racial tensions within the United States.
While the hearings seemed to be widely seen as informative and helpful, the proceedings also featured a theme of recognition that the problem was both broader in scope than many realized and larger than any one company’s ability to fix, with Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) expressing amazement at Facebooks ability to track funding sources on advertisements, saying, “I think you do enormous good, but your power scares me.”
Google General Counsel Kent Walker also pointed out that, even in the absence of an ability to influence via online content (which would require complicated changes across numerous major companies), the Russian government still has its own, privately-operated channels, including propaganda-espousing news agencies like Sputnik and RT.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) seemed to encapsulate the tenor of the meeting in his statement, “There is one thing I'm certain of, and it's this: Given the complexity of what we have seen, if anyone tells you they have figured it out, they are kidding ourselves. And we can't afford to kid ourselves about what happened last year — and continues to happen today."
Posted in General News