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Senator Lankford To Social Media Companies: Publicize Fake Russian Content

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WASHINGTON, DC – During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today challenged social media executives to do more to stop misleading and false advertising from Russian entities, and publicize examples of the fake content so Americans can be aware. The rare open hearing featured testimony from Facebook, Twitter, and Google about what they are doing to mitigate foreign interference in the 2018 election cycle and beyond. Witnesses included Colin Stretch, Vice President and General Counsel of Facebook Inc.; Sean Edgett, Acting General Counsel of Twitter Inc.; and Kent Walker, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Google Inc. During Lankford’s questioning, the executives also revealed that they have been aware of Russian counterfeit activity on their platforms as far back as 2015.


On the need for social media companies to publicize the Russian content:

Senator Lankford: I hope you hear it loud and clear from this committee there are lots of questions. This is not an opposition to free speech. This is actually a battle to try to protect free speech. We want to have good American dialogue. The fear is that your platforms are being used by foreign actors who want to abuse our free speech. …We’re grateful that you’re here and we look forward to cooperation together to figure out how to actually resolve some of these extremely complicated issues. …You have mentioned from your testimony that on Twitter, of the 131,000 tweets posted during a period of time, only nine percent of those tweets from those Russia-targeted accounts were actually election-related. What are the other social issues being discussed right now from those sites, like the NFL #TakeAKnee boycott?

Mr. Colin Stretch: One example, we saw following the election, was an effort by the accounts we’ve identified was to inflame some of the post-election demonstrations we saw. So some of the accounts turned to questioning the electoral college as an example.

Mr. Kent Walker: Police shootings and racial issues.

Mr. Stretch: Certainly immigration has remained a topic throughout.

Senator Lankford: We really do want these ads to get out in the public space. We think there’s great value for all of your platforms to say this is the type of content that foreign actors are trying to put out that is actually divisive content. When we put it out, that’s one thing. When you put it out, that’s completely different. We think there’s a great benefit for you to be able to say when you’re aware of things, please note this is the type of issue that’s coming out and this is what it looks like. So people can say that’s the type of thing I have seen before or they can say I’ve actually liked on that before and didn’t have any idea that was Russian-related.

On when the social media companies became aware Russians were using them:

Senator Lankford: When were you aware of Russian activities on your platform during the election time? During or before the election?

Mr. Stretch: We were aware of Russian state actors active on the platform prior to and through the election, separate from the internet research agency. We communicated with law enforcement about our concerns at the time. These actors were engaged in more traditional cyber threat activity, focusing on account compromise as well as trying to direct attention to stolen information that was hosted on other sites. …We had seen activity as early as 2015.

Mr. Sean Edgett: Twitter also saw activity from the I.R.A. on our platform and took large scale action to take down accounts in 2015. We generally are aware of intelligence community reports. So, we became aware of the activity in the report that came out in January of this year. And then obviously through the retrospective work have uncovered what we think is the full extent. We’re continuing to look and research that issue.

Mr. Walker: We’ve been looking at cyber espionage, account compromise issues, for many years. It was only after January that we took a deeper dive on the particular content.