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Sunday 16 December 2018

Facebook and Twitter defending efforts to stop election meddling

Google has refused to make its top executive available for the Senate intelligence hearing.

Twitter and Facebook (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Twitter and Facebook (Andrew Matthews/PA)

By Mary Clare Jalonick and Barbara Ortutay, Associated Press

Facebook and Twitter executives are expected to defend their companies in congressional hearings, arguing they are aggressively trying to root out foreign actors who want to do the US harm weeks before midterm elections.

Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey will face angry Republicans who claim the companies have shown evidence of bias against conservatives.

In prepared evidence released ahead of a House of Representatives hearing on Wednesday, Mr Dorsey says his company does not use political ideology to make decisions.

Missing from the conversation will be Google, which refused to make senior executives available for the Senate intelligence hearing.

Congress has sharply criticised social media companies over the last year as it has become clear they were at the forefront of Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections and beyond.

That scrutiny has led to additional criticism over the companies’ respect for user privacy and whether conservatives are being censored — frustrations that are particularly heightened ahead of the midterms.

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Jack Dorsey (Richard Drew/AP)

“The companies have made progress, the government has made progress, but the bad guys have made progress as well,” said Virginia senator Mark Warner, the senior Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, which will hear from Facebook and Twitter on the subject of foreign interference.

Mr Warner has proposed a series of ways the companies could be regulated for the first time.

The afternoon hearing in the House energy and commerce committee will feature only Mr Dorsey in a hearing focused on bias and the platform’s algorithms.

Some Republicans, including President Donald Trump, have pushed the idea ahead of the elections that Twitter is “shadow banning” some in the party because of the ways search results have appeared. Twitter denies that is happening.

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Larry Page (Google/PA)

The panel invited Larry Page, chief executive of Google’s parent company Alphabet, but the company said it would send a lower-ranking executive. The committee rejected that offer, and is expected to have an empty chair at the hearing for Mr Page.

Senate intelligence committee chairman Richard Burr said Google does not “understand the problem” if it does not want to work with the government to find solutions.

The back-and-forth with Google is the latest in a year’s worth of attempts by Congress to force the companies to focus more sharply on the Russian interference issue.

While Mr Burr says he believes Facebook and Twitter understand the problem, it took both companies several months last year to acknowledge they had been manipulated.

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Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook/PA)

In prepared remarks for the hearing, Facebook’s number two executive Sheryl Sandberg details many ways the company is addressing the problem but reiterates that the company was slow to spot it.

Thirteen Russians were indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year on charges of an elaborate plot to disrupt the 2016 US presidential election by creating fake accounts that pushed divisive issues on social media.

In her evidence, Ms Sandberg details continuing efforts to take down material linked to the Russian agency, including the removal this year of 270 Facebook pages.

But she says the company’s overall understanding of the Russian activity in 2016 is limited “because we do not have access to the information or investigative tools” that the US government has.

Press Association

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