Members of Congress confessed how difficult it was for them to even wrap their minds around how today’s Internet works — and can be abused. And for others, the hearings finally drove home the magnitude of the Big Tech platforms.
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., marveled on Tuesday when Facebook said it could track the source of funding for all 5 million of its monthly advertisers.
“I think you do enormous good, but your power scares me,” he said.
There appears to be no quick patch for the malware afflicting America’s political life.
Over the course of three congressional hearings Tuesday and Wednesday, lawmakers fulminated, Big Tech witnesses were chastened but no decisive action appears to be in store to stop a foreign power from harnessing digital platforms to try to shape the information environment inside the United States.
Legislation offered in the Senate — assuming it passed, months or more from now — would change the calculus slightly: requiring more disclosure and transparency for political ads on Facebook and Twitter and other social platforms.
Even if it became law, however, it would not stop such ads from being sold, nor heal the deep political divisions exploited last year by foreign influence-mongers. The legislation also couldn’t stop a foreign power from using all the other weapons in its arsenal against the U.S., including cyberattacks, the deployment of human spies and others.
“Candidly, your companies know more about Americans, in many ways, than the United States government does. The idea that you had no idea any of this was happening strains my credibility,” Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D.-Va.
The companies also made clear they condemn the uses of their services they’ve discovered, which they said violate their policies in many cases.
They also talked more about the scale of the Russian digital operation they’ve uncovered up to this point — which is eye-watering: Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch acknowledged that as many as 150 million Americans may have seen posts or other content linked to Russia’s influence campaign in the 2016 cycle
“There is one thing I’m certain of, and it’s this: Given the complexity of what we have seen, if anyone tells you they have figured it out, they are kidding ourselves. And we can’t afford to kid ourselves about what happened last year — and continues to happen today.” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C.