Week ahead: Tech companies in for grilling on Russian interference

Greg Nash

Executives from FacebookGoogle and Twitter are heading before Congress on Tuesday to testify publicly for the first time on how Russia used their platforms to interfere in the 2016 election.

The companies are sending their top lawyers, who will testify in back-to-back hearings before both the House and Senate Intelligence committees.

Social media and tech companies have been under intense scrutiny since Facebook disclosed that a firm with ties to Russia bought $100,000 in political advertisements in the run-up to the 2016 vote.

Twitter also announced in late September that it had found over 200 accounts that could be linked to Russian election influence.


The companies are now scrambling to overhaul their advertising policies and buy some needed goodwill with Congress as lawmakers consider legislation to address online political ads.

Facebook has unveiled a series of reforms on how it handles political ads. Its most recent change came on Friday when the social media giant announced that campaign ads will soon be required to disclose their funders.

Twitter recently announced plans to begin labeling all campaign ads in the run-up to an election. And the company said it would ban the Russian-funded news outlets RT and Sputnik from advertising on the platform.

That move came shortly after RT’s editor-in-chief revealed that Twitter had pitched the outlet on buying election ads.

Still, the moves are unlikely to satisfy many lawmakers who think that online political advertising needs to be regulated the same way as for traditional media.

“Glad to see companies taking​ ​these issues seriously,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted on Friday. “We need to work together to improve ad transparency. We need the #HonestAds Act.”

Warner joined with Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) to introduce the Honest Ads Act earlier this month. The bill would subject online political ads to the same disclosure requirements that are applied to TV and radio ads.

That has Silicon Valley hoping to preempt regulation by implementing their own reforms.

Expect fireworks as lawmakers grill the companies about how they plan to prevent foreign election interference down the road.

In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday at 2:30 examining Russian misinformation on social media, with Facebook, Twitter and Google’s lawyers slated to attend.

The spotlight, though, will be on the two Intelligence committee hearings on Wednesday. The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold its high-profile hearing at 9:30 A.M. The House Intelligence Committee will follow up with its own hearing at 2:00 P.M.

Facebook, Twitter and Google will be sending their general counsels to testify at both hearings.

Some lawmakers criticized the companies for sending their lawyers instead of other top executives to testify.

It’ll be a busy week for Congress with both the House and Senate in session. While the coming week is likely to be dominated by House Republicans unveiling their new tax plan, there are also plenty of tech events on tap.

On Monday, the House Committee on Homeland Security will hold a hearing on the physical security and cybersecurity of U.S. ports at 1:30 P.M. at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, Calif.

On Wednesday, the same day as the Russian interference hearings, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on net neutrality and antitrust at 10 a.m.

The committee hasn’t released details on the hearing, but it comes as the clock winds down for Republican Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai to unveil his final plan to scrap Obama-era net neutrality rules. His plan could be released as early as December.

Also on Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold another hearing at 2:00 P.M. on “Oversight of the Executive Office for Immigration Review.”

That same day, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold its own hearing on “securing consumers’ credit data” at 10 a.m.

The House Committee on Financial Services will hold its own hearing on data security following the massive Equifax breach at at 2:00 P.M. 

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Wednesday will also hold a hearing on FirstNet, a planned broadband network for first responders. The hearing is at 10:15 a.m.


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