With less than a month before the midterm elections, technology companies are fighting to prove they can adequately shore up their platforms and products against foreign influence. Their success may mean the difference between getting to police their own house and having lawmakers do it for them. Election Day could be a tipping point for Silicon Valley titans, who are increasingly in Washington’s harsh glare following revelations that disinformation campaigns linked to Russia were widely disseminated on their platforms ahead of the 2016 elections. Tech moguls like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey were dragged to Capitol Hill to give mea culpas for their past practices and publicly pledge to do better next time. The companies contend they have learned from their missteps during the 2016 election and are improving their election-integrity efforts as other elections have taken place around the world. They’ve promised to do more to identify and stamp out fake accounts, and they have increased transparency around political ads. Facebook opened a 20-person war room on its Menlo Park campus aimed at quashing disinformation and deleting fake accounts.
At the same time, tech moguls acknowledge they’re in an arms race against bad actors who are continuing to misuse their platforms ahead of the 2018 midterms that will determine which party controls Congress next year. Major failures will undoubtedly lead to more calls for tighter control of the industry from Washington. California Rep. Ro Khanna (D), who represents parts of Silicon Valley, is already calling for an “Internet Bill of Rights” tackling data breaches and privacy of consumer information if Democrats retake the majority next month.
“The jury is still out,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), ranking minority-party member on the Senate Intelligence Committee that investigated Russian interference in 2016, in an interview. “The companies are moving — whether it’s with enough focus is still an open question.”