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Senator Lankford Questions Social Media Executives During Senate Intel Hearing

CLICK HERE for the video of Lankford’s Q&A. 

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today questioned Twitter and Facebook’s top executives on practices for identifying suspended accounts and coordinating with law enforcement to ensure they are tracking unauthorized users, especially accounts connected with foreign or hostile users. Lankford also pushed the witnesses on how they are working to prevent and track foreign bad actors from purchasing user’s data and asked Facebook about WhatsApp encryption and the future of the application.

Lankford gave a floor speech in July 2018 on securing US elections from bad actors and raising an issue with the number of fake accounts amplifying division in the US. Last year, Lankford questioned administrators with Google, Facebook, and Twitter their efforts to stop false advertising from Russian entities, and publicizing examples of fake content for Americans’ awareness.

Excerpts from Senator Lankford’s remarks:

Senator Lankford (0:00-0:53): I want to follow up on a statement that Senator King was mentioning as well about deep fakes, that’s something that I’ve spoken to both of you about before in the past. It is a challenge for us and I would just reiterate some of the things that he was saying publicly when it’s the possibility and now the opportunity to be able to create video that looks strikingly real but none of it is actually real, all of it is computer generated. That is a very different day for video sharing in the days ahead and I know as you all have attacked issues like child pornography and other things on your platforms in the past and you will all aggressively go after these things. We are just telling you we are counting on it and because Americans typically can trust what they see and suddenly in video they can no longer trust what they see because the opportunity to be able to create a video, that is an entirely different thing anything in reality. I appreciate your engagement on that.

Senator Lankford (0:53-1:19): I want to talk to you a little bit more…about following up some things that Senator Blunt had mentioned as well about suspended accounts. When you suspend an account, obviously, there’s information that is still there. Do you archive all of that information for suspended accounts? This is an account that we determined is either from a foreign actor or hostile actor or is inappropriate or not an authorized user. Is that something that you hold that information so you can maintain it?

Mr. Dorsey (1:19-1:27): I need to follow up with you on the exact details of our policy, but I believe we do especially in regards to any law enforcement action. 

Senator Lankford (2:52-3:18): Mr. Dorsey, the main thing I am trying to identify though: Say it happened in 2017, you identified an account that you suspended, and said, ‘This is a problem area or unauthorized user,” or whatever it may be. Do you just take that account off, or do you maintain that information, and so a year later, if someone comes back with a similar profile, you can still track it and say this is the same of what we have seen before and it is going to take additional steps to get back on board, or ways to track their initial connections?

Mr. Dorsey (3:18-3:30): I am sorry – Yes, we do maintain that information and we have a ban invasion policy, so if someone is trying in invade a ban or suspension, no matter what the time frame, we can take action on those accounts as well.

Ms. Sandberg (3:33-3:44): “f we have any suspicion that this would be engaged in foreign or domestic inauthentic activity or we have law enforcement interaction on it, we would keep that information.

Senator Lankford (3:46-4:33): Mr. Dorsey, you and I have spoken on this as well about data and the business model for both of you is obviously it’s a free platform for everyone to use, but obviously, data and advertising all of those things are very helpful, just in keeping your business open and keeping employees paid, that’s a given, and everyone understands when they join that platform. But for data in particular, how do you make sure that anyone who purchased data or gets access to that, uses it for its stated purpose rather than using it to sell to a third party or to open up to a shell company. And say they’re using it for one purpose, but actually use it for a foreign purpose, or direction to be able to track the real-time activity of Americans, how do you assure that companies that are purchasing into that opportunity to have that data, are actually fulfilling and using it as they said they would?

Mr. Dorsey (4:34-5:42): Well, there’s a few things here: First and foremost, we’re a little bit different than our peers in all of our data is public by default, so when we sell data, what we are selling is speed and comprehensive, so you’re actually purchasing either insight or a real straight real-time streaming product. In order to purchase that, you have to go through a very strict, know your customer policy that we enact, and then we audit every single year. If we have any indication that there is suspicious activity happening, that is an opportunity for us to reach out to law enforcement with the sole purpose of trying to understand the intent. That is the thing that we are not always going to be able to infer from us looking at the relationship. You mentioned setting up companies that are potentially in front of governments, that is not any information that we would necessarily have, and that is where we are dependent upon the intelligence to inform us so that we can take stronger action.

Senator Lankford (6:08-6:17): Ms. Sandberg, tell me a little about WhatsApp. WhatsApp has been a feature of Facebook for a while. How’s the encryption going on that? What’s the relationship now with WhatsApp? And what do you anticipate in the days ahead?

Ms. Sandberg (6:19-6:36): We are strong believers in encryption. Encryption helps keep people safe, it secures our banking system, it secures the security of private messages, and consumers rely on it and depend on it, and so we’re very committed to encryption in WhatsApp and continuing to protect the data and information of our users. 

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