Senators from both parties took tech company officials to task in a hearing Wednesday for failing to better identify, defuse and investigate Russia’s campaign to manipulate American voters over social media during the 2016 presidential campaign. In the second of three Capitol Hill hearings this week on Russian’s online information operation, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee challenged Facebook, Google and Twitter in strikingly direct terms that, at times, seemed to carry the implicit threat of legislation that could rein in the nation’s wildly profitable technology industry. “I don’t think you get it,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose home state includes all three companies. “What we’re talking about is a cataclysmic change. What we’re talking about is the beginning of cyberwarfare. What we’re talking about is a major foreign power with sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discontent all over this country. We are not going to go away gentlemen. And this is a very big deal.”
She was directly addressing the three company lawyers — Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch; Google’s general counsel, Kent Walker, and Twitter’s acting general counsel, Sean Edgett — but more broadly her remarks and those of other senators underscored the rising frustration on Capitol Hill with the technology industry generally. For the first time in years, legislation imposing new restrictions on how the companies operate — especially when it comes to political advertising — is being discussed seriously in Washington, despite the work of the industry’s large, well-connected lobbying teams.
Feinstein raised that threat explicitly after complaining about the industry’s inability to thwart Russia’s effort to influence the 2016 election, saying, “You bear this responsibility. You’ve created these platforms. And now they are being misused. And you have to be the ones to do something about it. Or we will.”