Congress will put Facebook, Twitter and Google under a public microscope Tuesday about Russia’s use of their networks to meddle in the 2016 election, a day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation disclosed its first indictments and guilty plea. Senators want to know how the companies failed to keep Russians from exploiting their networks and using fake accounts to spread chaos and disinformation. The three companies’ general counsels will appear before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee Tuesday, with Facebook poised to say Russians bought 3,000 Facebook ads mostly with rubles and that posts reached the newsfeeds of 126 million users. “If someone is paying you in rubles to place a political ad, or an ad that is intended to sow the seeds of discontent and discord, that ought to be a red flag,” Senate Intelligence panel member Susan Collins of Maine said in an interview Monday. “How much more of a tipoff do you need?”
More than a rehash of 2016, the hearings will set the stage for congressional action to try to prevent foreign interference in U.S. campaigns and voting in next year’s congressional and state elections. The companies, in turn, want to use the hearings to portray themselves as eager to find a solution ahead of any bipartisan efforts to impose new regulations on their networks.
“The foreign interference we saw is reprehensible and outrageous and opened a new battleground for our company, our industry and our society,” Colin Stretch, Facebook Inc. general counsel, said in prepared remarks. “We’re determined to prevent it from happening again.”