Sen. Tom Udall Presses CEOs Of Twitter, Facebook, Alphabet, Inc. On Commitment To Preventing Foreign Interference And Disinformation In U.S. Elections

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall

U.S. SENATE News: 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, questioned Chief Executive Officers of Twitter, Facebook, and Alphabet, Inc. (Google) Wednesday on the role and responsibility of their platforms to protect American users from foreign interference and disinformation campaigns.

VIDEO LINK: Udall’s questions can be found at 3:00:54 here.

“The U.S. Intelligence community has found that the Russian government is intent on election interference in the United States. They did it in 2016, they’re doing it in 2020. The intelligence also says they want to help President Trump. We also know that the Russian strategy this time around is going after Hunter Biden. So I recognize that the details of how to handle misinformation on the internet are tough, but I think that companies like Twitter and Facebook, that took action to not be a part of a suspected Russian election interference operation, were doing the right thing,” Udall said in his opening statement. “And let me be clear, no one believes these companies represent the law or represent the public. When we say ‘work the refs,’ the U.S. government is the referee. The FCC, the Congress, the Presidency and the Supreme Court are the referees. It’s very dangerous for President Trump, Justice Thomas and Republicans in Congress and at the FCC to threaten new federal laws in order to force social media companies to amplify false claims, to conspiracy theories and disinformation campaigns.”

Udall pressed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in addition to Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Sundar Pichai of Alphabet, Inc., on the influence of the Russian government and other foreign actors in spreading misinformation campaigns to affect the results of the 2020 presidential election. Udall scrutinized the stated purpose of the hearing—called by Republican lawmakers—to examine “conservative censorship” from big technology platforms before the election despite nonpartisan evidence indicating that the platforms in reality engage in the opposite.

“Do the Russian Government and other foreign nations continue to attempt to use your company’s platforms to spread disinformation and influence the 2020 election? Can you briefly describe what you are seeing?” Udall asked. 

“We do continue to see interference,” Dorsey said. “We recently disclosed actions we took on both Russia and actions originating out of Iran … We want to make sure we are focused on eliminating as much platform manipulation as possible.”

“Senator, we do continue to see coordinated influence operation items. We have been very vigilant, we appreciate the cooperation we get from intelligence agencies, and as companies, we are sharing information,” Pichai stated. 

“We also see continued attempts by Russia and other countries, especially Iran and China, to run these kind of information operations. We also see an increase in … domestic operations around the world,” said Zuckerberg. “One of the threats that the FBI has alerted our companies and the public to was a possibility of a hack and leak operation in the days or weeks leading up to this election. So you had…alerts that were given to at least our company, I assume others as well, that we be on high alert and sensitivity that if a trove of documents appeared, that we should view that with suspicion that it might be part of a foreign manipulation attempt.”

Udall concluded by pressing the CEOs on their commitment to fight against continued foreign interference in the face of pressure by Republican lawmakers against big technology companies. 

“Will you continue to push back against this kind of foreign interference, even if powerful Republicans threaten to take official action against your companies?”

“Absolutely,” Zuckerberg said. “This is incredibly important for our democracy and we’re committed to doing this work.” 

“Senator, absolutely,” Pichai said. “Protecting our civic and democratic process is fundamental to what we do. We will do everything we can.”

“Yes,” Dorsey said. “We will continue to work and push back on any manipulation of the platform.”

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