Facebook, Twitter and Google to Face Questions from US Congress

Top executives from Facebook, Alphabet and Twitter will testify before lawmakers in the U.S. tomorrow to discuss efforts to prevent Russian meddling in November elections following more warnings from internet researchers that Moscow still has active social media accounts designed to influence politics in the country.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey are set to face a fresh grilling on Capitol Hill tomorrow as lawmakers probe Silicon Valley’s efforts to police content online, from political speech to suspected Russian propaganda.

A report says Wednesday’s hearing was convened about a day after Facebook announced that it had uncovered a covert campaign to its platform to worsen political divisions in the United States. The company deleted a good number of accounts and pages and notified the U.S. government. This activity is similar to the purported effort by Russia around the 2016 presidential elections to boost Donald Trump’s candidacy.

The back-to-back House and Senate hearings illustrate the new political reality for Silicon Valley as Democrats and Republicans alike are increasingly becoming more willing to look at how the big companies moderate online conversations and to subject their executives to scrutiny that answer grey areas in their operations.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will host Sheryl Sandberg (Chief Operating Officer of Facebook) and Chief Executive of Twitter, Jack Dorsey will testify for the first time ever on Capitol Hill at a hearing on foreign governments that spread information over social media. Later on the same day, Dorsey alone will head to the house, where the tech-focused Energy and Commerce Committee plans to discuss Twitter’s algorithm and the way its policies hate speech, harassment and other ills on the platform.

Twitter's Jack Dorsey, left, and Facebook's Sheryl Sanberg. (Photos by Getty) (Kimberly White; Mandel Ngan/Getty)
Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, left, and Facebook’s Sheryl Sanberg. (Photos by Getty) (Kimberly White; Mandel Ngan/Getty)

Sen. Mark Warner (A top Democrat on the committee) explained that the goal is to sound the alarm that what happened in 2016 was not a one-off. “While the companies have gotten better and the government’s gotten better, the adversaries have gotten better, too”, he said.

A spokesman for Facebook said in response to lawmakers, Sandberg plans to reiterate the company’s work to hire more employees to review content and improve its technology to spot increasingly sophisticated inauthentic behaviour online, while Dorsey, said ahead of the hearing: “We realize Twitter is used by many as a public square, and our singular objective as a company is to help increase the health and integrity of conversations found within”

Meanwhile, Google is missing from both hearings as the Chief Executive of Google’s parent company, Larry Page responded to the invitation by the Senate lawmakers that he would be represented by the company’s Senior Vice President of Global Affairs and Chief Legal Officer, Kent Walker, which the Senate leaders rejected. However, in a statement, Google said Walker would still come to Washington to share a written testimony and meet with interested lawmakers this week.

With the 2018 midterms less than three months away, lawmakers remain concerned that Facebook, Google and Twitter could still be exploited to spread disinformation that can reach millions of unsuspecting Americans; underscoring the far-reaching influence of Technology in affecting the lives of people.