Tech executives head to U.S. Congress under harsh
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[October 31, 2017]
By David Ingram
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Facebook Inc,
Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google head before U.S. lawmakers
on Tuesday for two days of grueling hearings on how Russia allegedly
used their services to try to sway the 2016 U.S. election.
At stake for the Silicon Valley companies are their public images and
the threat of tougher advertising regulations in the United States,
where the technology sector has grown accustomed to light treatment from
Facebook, the world's largest social network, added fuel to the debate
on Monday when it told Congress in written testimony that 126 million
Americans may have seen politically divisive posts that originated in
Russia under fake names.
That is in addition to 3,000 U.S. political ads that Facebook says
Russians bought on its platform.
Google and Twitter have also said that people in Russia used their
services to spread messages in the run-up to last year's U.S.
The Russian government has denied it intended to influence the election,
in which President Donald Trump, a Republican, defeated Democrat Hillary
U.S. lawmakers have responded angrily to the idea of foreign meddling,
introducing legislation to require online platforms to say who is
running election ads and what audiences are targeted.
"The companies need to get ahead of the curve here," said James Lewis,
senior vice president of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and
International Studies. If they can, he added, they might avoid
Lewis, speaking during the Reuters Cyber Summit in Washington, said he
expects European officials to watch the U.S. hearings closely.
The U.S. Senate's crime subcommittee will be the first of three
committees to hold hearings on Russia. Its hearing is set for 2:30 p.m.
ET (1830 GMT).
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A 3D-printed Facebook dislike button is seen in front of a displayed
Twitter logo in this illustration taken October 25, 2017.
Facebook and Twitter are dispatching their general counsels, Colin
Stretch and Sean Edgett, to appear before the subcommittee, while Google
is sending its director of law enforcement and information security,
"Our goal is to bring people closer together; what we saw from these
actors was an insidious attempt to drive people apart. And we're
determined to prevent it from happening again," Stretch will tell
lawmakers, according to an advance copy of his remarks.
Facebook and Twitter have taken steps toward self-regulation, saying
they would create their own public archives of election-related ads and
also apply more specific labels to such ads.
Google followed on Monday, saying it would create a database of election
ads including ones on YouTube.
The companies have meanwhile disclosed new details about the extent of
Russia-based material, raising alarms about a sector that once inspired
"The internet was seen as a great engine for promoting democracy and
transparency. Now we are all discovering that it can also be a tool for
hijacking democracy," said Karen Kornbluh, a senior fellow for digital
policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.
(Reporting by David Ingram in Washington; Additional reporting by Dustin
Volz in Washington and Paresh Dave in San Francisco; Editing by Mary
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