Hillicon Valley: Trump meets Twitter CEO after slamming company | Kushner calls Russia probes more 'harmful' than election interference | Dem wants FTC to hold Zuckerberg 'liable' for data missteps | Sri Lanka faces tough questions over social media ban

Hillicon Valley: Trump meets Twitter CEO after slamming company | Kushner calls Russia probes more 'harmful' than election interference | Dem wants FTC to hold Zuckerberg 'liable' for data missteps | Sri Lanka faces tough questions over social media ban
© Getty

Welcome to Hillicon Valley, The Hill's newsletter detailing all you need to know about the tech and cyber news from Capitol Hill to Silicon Valley. If you don't already, be sure to sign up for our newsletter with this LINK.

Welcome! Follow the cyber team, Olivia Beavers (@olivia_beavers) and Jacqueline Thomsen (@jacq_thomsen), and the tech team, Harper Neidig (@hneidig) and Emily Birnbaum (@birnbaum_e).

 

MIND MELT: President TrumpDonald John TrumpFacebook releases audit on conservative bias claims Harry Reid: 'Decriminalizing border crossings is not something that should be at the top of the list' Recessions happen when presidents overlook key problems MORE met Tuesday at the White House with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who leads the social media platform used and criticized by the commander-in-chief.

The meeting came just hours after the president lashed out at Twitter, reiterating his allegations that the company is discriminating against him and other conservatives.

After the meeting with Dorsey, however, Trump wasn't in a critical mood and described the meeting as "great."

ADVERTISEMENT

"Lots of subjects discussed regarding their platform, and the world of social media in general. Look forward to keeping an open dialogue!" Trump wrote in a tweet.

A spokesperson for Twitter added in a statement, "Jack had a constructive meeting with the President of the United States today at the president's invitation. They discussed Twitter's commitment to protecting the health of the public conversation ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections and efforts underway to respond to the opioid crisis."

The meeting was not listed on the president's schedule.

It came on the same day that Twitter posted quarterly earnings that beat expectations, sending its shares up 16 percent by closing on Tuesday.

Read more on the closed-door meeting here.

 

Flashback to earlier in the day: President Trump on Tuesday took aim at Twitter, accusing the tech company of "discriminatory" treatment that he said affects his account's ability to reach followers.

In a pair of tweets, Trump accused the tech platform of playing "political games" with feeds belonging to conservatives while quoting a guest on the Fox Business Network, who called Trump's account the "best thing ever to happen to Twitter."

Trump also pressed Congress to "get involved" with the social media platform.

"'The best thing ever to happen to Twitter is Donald Trump,'" Trump tweeted, quoting Bartiromo. "So true, but they don't treat me well as a Republican. Very discriminatory, hard for people to sign on. Constantly taking people off list. Big complaints from many people. Different names--over 100 M. But should be much higher than that if Twitter wasn't playing their political games."

"No wonder Congress wants to get involved -- and they should. Must be more, and fairer, companies to get out the WORD!" he added, referring to congressional Republicans' claims that tech companies including Twitter artificially suppress traffic on accounts owned by conservatives.

Read more here.

 

How the meeting came about: Motherboard, which first reported the meeting, obtained internal Twitter emails that said the White House had extended an invitation to Dorsey, that the meeting would last about 30 minutes and that it would focus on "the health of the public conversation on Twitter."

"As you know, I believe that conversation, not silence, bridges gaps and drives towards solutions," Dorsey wrote in one of the emails. "I have met with every world leader who has extended an invitation to me, and I believe the discussions have been productive, and the outcomes meaningful."

 

Anger from the right: Conservatives have been criticizing Twitter, arguing it discriminates against people on the right, who have said they are more likely to be punished by social media companies for their comments.

Researchers have said the allegations are largely unfounded and social media companies have denied that politics play a role in their efforts to moderate their platforms.

 

Trump worried about his followers? The Washington Post after the meeting reported that Trump spent a significant part of it complaining to Dorsey that he had lost Twitter followers.

The president reportedly said that he believed Twitter was purposefully removing his followers and that he knew other conservatives who also lost followers.

Twitter has said that follower counts can change as it works to crack down on bots and get rid of fake accounts. Dorsey reportedly emphasized this in the meeting and noted that he has also lost followers as a result.

The Hill has reached out to the White House and Twitter for comment.

More on the report here.

 

MUELLER MISINFORMATION: Twitter this week removed more than 5,000 bot accounts that called special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE's Russia investigation a hoax.

The move by Twitter reportedly came Sunday night, after Thursday's release of the highly anticipated Mueller report, and was first reported by NBC News.

The accounts do not appear connected to Russia, but instead have ties to a social media operation that previously promoted messages sympathetic to Saudi Arabia's government, according to NBC.

"We suspended a network of accounts and others associated with it for engaging in platform manipulation -- a violation of the Twitter Rules," a Twitter spokesperson told The Hill.

"While our investigations are ongoing, in cases such as this, attribution is difficult. If we do have reasonable evidence to support state-backed activity, we will disclose the accounts as part of our information operations archive," the spokesperson added.

Most of the deleted accounts had posted about 30 times since their creation in November and December. Nearly all of them attacked the media for using the "Russiagate hoax" to undermine President Trump, and often lifted language from other pro-Trump accounts' tweets without attribution, according to NBC.

Read more about the network of bots here.

 

KUSHY TAKE: White House senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerPresident tweets 'few work harder' than Ivanka, Jared PETA billboard in Baltimore calls Kushner a 'rich pest' Top immigration aide experienced 'jolt of electricity to my soul' when Trump announced campaign MORE on Tuesday asserted that the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election have been more damaging to U.S. politics than the interference efforts themselves, which he downplayed as "a couple of Facebook ads."

"Quite frankly the whole thing is just a big distraction for the country," Kushner said at the 2019 Time 100 Summit.

"And you look at what Russia did, you know, buying some Facebook ads to try to sow dissent and do it, and it's a terrible thing," he continued. "But I think the investigations and all the speculation that's happened for the last two years has had a much harsher impact on our democracy than a couple of Facebook ads."

"If you look at the magnitude of what they did and what they accomplished, I think the ensuing investigations have been way more harmful to our country," he added.

The interview marked Kushner's first public interview since the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's full report on his nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference. The report did not establish that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.

Mueller wrote that while Russia actively sought to help Trump win the 2016 election, campaign officials were either unaware of the efforts or not fully receptive to them.

The report laid out how a Russian troll farm with links to the Kremlin, known as the Internet Research Agency, sought to sow discord among the American public on social media in favor of Trump. Facebook has said that 10 million users saw Russian ads around the 2016 election.

Read more here.

 

SRI LANKA SOCIAL MEDIA BAN: Sri Lanka's decision to block all social media following deadly bombings on Easter Sunday is reigniting the debate over how to combat online disinformation.

A government official called the move a "unilateral decision" and said they blocked the platforms over concerns that tech companies could not adequately stop the spread of disinformation about the attacks, according to The New York Times.

Officials feared that social media could provoke more religious violence after bombings which targeted Christian worshippers at churches on Easter Sunday killed over 300 people.

The ban has been wide ranging with digital rights group NetBlocks reporting that Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube and Snapchat have all been blocked in the country.

Reaction: Tech industry critics say that Silicon Valley's longstanding problems with content moderation has made it harder for governments facing crises to trust them to crack down on disinformation. But many of those critics have also questioned whether Sri Lanka's blanket ban is the appropriate response.

Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and an adviser to the Counter Extremism Project, said social media bans are not always effective and raise concerns about free speech.

Farid, though, added that he believes the "abdication of responsibility on behalf of social media companies" forced the government of Sri Lanka's hand.

"I think given the repeated failures of social media companies to deal with the weaponization of disinformation, it's an understandable response," Farid told The Hill on Tuesday in a phone interview. "I think this was a proportional response to the horrific violence."

More on the controversy here.

 

DRONES!: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Tuesday awarded the first air carrier certification to a drone delivery company, Google spinoff Wing Aviation.

"This is an important step forward for the safe testing and integration of drones into our economy," Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoElaine Lan ChaoTrump administration takes step to relax truck driver time regulations New guidance on travel with service animals is a step forward, but more can be done The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller testimony gives Trump a boost as Dems ponder next steps MORE said in a statement.

"Safety continues to be our No. 1 priority as this technology continues to develop and realize its full potential," she added.

The certification means Wing will now be able to start commercial package delivery in Blacksburg, Va., according to the FAA.

Executives from Wing, a delivery venture that is part of Google parent company Alphabet, told Bloomberg News they plan to expand the service to other parts of Virginia and around the country.

"It's an exciting moment for us have earned the FAA's approval to actually run a business with our technology," Wing CEO James Ryan Burgess told the outlet.

Wing beats out certification for Amazon's Prime Air, which has long sought for the FAA to change its rules around drones so that it can test package delivery by drone.

Read more here.

 

I THINK WE CALL THIS ONE 'IRONY': Self-driving car company Waymo announced Tuesday that it plans to begin manufacturing cars in a Detroit-area factory before the end of this year.

In a Medium post, company CEO John Krafcik wrote that Waymo would repurpose an existing factory for use in constructing its fleet of self-driving cars, creating new manufacturing jobs in a city that has seen such plants shutter in recent years.

"Today, we're excited to announce that we've found the perfect facility in Detroit. We will partner with American Axle & Manufacturing to repurpose an existing facility, bringing a workforce back to an area where jobs in the automotive industry were recently lost," Krafcik wrote.

"We wanted this facility to benefit from a location in southeast Michigan -- the heart of the American automotive industry -- and its strong talent base," he continued. "We began looking for a facility that would allow us to quickly get up and running by mid-2019, while offering us the flexibility to continue to grow and expand our operations in Michigan over time and where there was a strong pool of talent across engineering, operations, and fleet coordination."

The company previously announced in January that it would seek to center its manufacturing in Michigan, while noting that the plan would create "hundreds" of jobs in the area related to autonomous vehicles.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) celebrated Waymo's announcement in the press release, thanking the company for "continuing the city's momentum and further cementing Michigan as a leader in mobility and the epicenter of advanced automotive manufacturing."

Read more here.

 

WYDEN V. ZUCKERBERG: Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenWyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations Wyden calls for end to political ad targeting on Facebook, Google Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity MORE (D-Ore.) in a Tuesday letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) called on the agency to hold Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFacebook users in lawsuit say company failed to warn them of known risks before 2018 breach Social media never intended to be in the news business — but just wait till AI takes over Facebook exploring deals with media outlets for news section: report MORE personally liable for his company's alleged mishandling of user data.

Wyden sent the letter to the FTC commissioners days after The Washington Post reported that the FTC is looking into Zuckerberg's past statements as part of its probe into whether Facebook misled users about what it does with their data.  

"I write to urge the Federal Trade Commission to ensure that any consent order negotiated with Facebook concerning his company's unfair and deceptive practices and its mishandling of users' data holds Mark Zuckerberg, the company's Chief Executive Officer (CEO), individually liable for the company's repeated violations of American's privacy," Wyden wrote in the letter, first reported by the Post.

Wyden raised concerns that Zuckerberg is not only Facebook's CEO, but also controls a majority of the voting rights in the company, which could "insulate ... him from accountability to Facebook's board and shareholders."

Another key Democratic lawmaker and tech critic, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), in a statement last week called for the FTC to hold Zuckerberg and other top Facebook executives "personally at fault and liable for further wrongdoing."  

Read more here.

 

A LIGHTER CLICK: How to react when mosquitoes bother you at an outdoor brunch.

 

NOTABLE LINKS FROM AROUND THE WEB:

China exploits fleet of U.S. satellites to strengthen police and military power (The Wall Street Journal).

How Nest, designed to keep intruders out of people's homes, effectively allowed hackers to get in. (The Washington Post.)

Twitter rallies as user count, revenue impress Wall Street. (Bloomberg News)

Bipartisan committee leaders question Google on precise location information database. (House Energy and Commerce Committee)