US tech companies grilled over Russian alleged election interference

November 1, 2017 6:15 pm
(L-R) Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, Twitter Acting General Counsel Sean Edgett, and Google Law Enforcement and Information Security Director Richard Salgado are sworn in before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee in the Hart Senate Office Building, on Capitol Hill, October 31, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)
Republican and Democratic lawmakers have blasted social media giants Facebook, Google and Twitter for allowing Russia and extremist groups to use their platforms.
During a senate panel session on Tuesday, lawmakers urged the representatives of the tech companies to find solutions to the problem which they said was harming the national interests.
“The bottom line is that these platforms are being used to undermine and harm our way of life,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC.), the panel’s chairman.
“I want to understand why no one seems to have caught on to the Russian effort earlier,” said Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), asking why it took the companies as long as it did to take notice of Russia’s actions.
“How did Facebook which, prides itself on being able to process billions of data points … somehow not make the connection that ads paid for by rubbles were paid for by Russians,” Franken said. “Those are two data points. How could you not connect those two dots?”
This came one day after the companies released their testimony that showed posts from Russian agents on Facebook had reached 126 million users over a two-year period before the election.
It also revealed that Twitter had published over 131,000 messages from Russian agents, while over 1,000 videos from Russian agents had been uploaded to Google’s YouTube.
The companies’ officials said this represented only a small number of the posts, messages and videos about the election on their services, but many lawmakers believed that number was still considerable.
“I would just urge you to stop making the argument that it’s such a small number and so we shouldn’t be concerned,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
In January, US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 US presidential election to try to help then Republican candidate Donald Trump defeat his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, allegations repeatedly rejected by both Russia and Trump himself.
On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the US has no evidence to prove Moscow’s interference.
“Without a single piece of proof, we are as you know being accused of meddling not only in the US election, but also in those in European states,” Lavrov said at a meeting of the Association of European Businesses.
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