When called to Capitol Hill to testify before Congress about possible Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, tech representatives from Google, Twitter, and Facebook were less than forthcoming for many observers. The Senate committee published answers to the questions they’d asked these tech companies on Thursday.
Over 100 pages of responses that were more about explaining the tech giants terms of service than providing substantive answers left many on Capitol Hill feeling underwhelmed. Twitter assured Senators that Twitter guidelines prevent using automation tools for generating spam. The aim behind that answer was to defuse suspicion that Twitter paved the way for Russian bots to post spam that tilted the election in favor of Donald Trump in key swing states directly before November 8th.
Twitter also did a masterful job of evading responsibility by claiming that it couldn’t reveal certain information because of its possible impact on ongoing law enforcement investigations. Senators have been critical of Twitter’s, Facebook’s, and Google’s lack of safeguards against concerted Russian disinformation ahead of the election.
The larger picture shifting of public opinion is even more breathtaking in the sense that these Silicon Valley tech giants were once the party that could do no wrong. Now, Twitter and Facebook are maligned as stooges in Russian’s misinformation campaign that could have potentially handed the election over to Trump.
It doesn’t appear, though, that all of this was an intentional outcome for the tech giants. The Trump administration and his FCC have repealed net neutrality, which can only hurt social media firms. Executives from Twitter and Facebook have also been critical of President Trump’s travel ban and Trump’s barring transgender folk from serving in the military.
All of this would argue against Silicon Valley purposely tilting the table so that Trump could sail to the White House on the back of Russian interference.
In an interesting line of questioning, Senators asked executives from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram whether they had any data that would shed light on possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Here, too, the tech firms were less than helpful. Facebook did say, though, that the level of overlap between Trump’s campaign and Russia’s targeted content didn’t seem notably signifiant.
The vast majority of ads seem to have been taken out with Facebook rather than Twitter, but all three tech firms were asked about ongoing safeguards for detecting abuse in the future.