Jack Dorsey and Sheryl Sandberg relentlessly practiced before taking hot seats on Capitol Hill, engaging in role play and panels of questioning with colleagues and consultants. But the tech executives weren’t the only ones who came prepared for class on Wednesday. Senators on the Intelligence Committee clearly did their homework on a wide range of technical topics, and they peppered the executives with questions on issues ranging from doctored videos known as “deepfakes” to encryption. The grilling marked a stark departure from hearings earlier this year with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, when senators on the Judiciary and Commerce committees were panned for their technical illiteracy.
Continued foreign interference on the platforms has ratcheted up pressure on lawmakers to better assess not only how these platforms were exploited ahead of the 2016 election, but also what threats could emerge next.
And it’s evident they are putting in the work: Over the last year, Intelligence Committee senators have been working with advisers to better understand the rise of disinformation on social networks. They’ve met with tech executives behind closed doors and in open hearings, as well as third-party experts such as Renee DiResta, director of research for social media threat detection company New Knowledge.