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Google Absent; Facebook, Twitter Testify on Captiol Hill

Later Wednesday, Twitter's Dorsey was headed to a House committee hearing focused on Republican complaints that social media companies have shown evidence of bias against conservatives.

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U.S. Senate
The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, Sept. 3, 2018.

Facebook and Twitter executives insisted at a Senate hearing Wednesday that they were aggressively trying to identify foreign actors who wanted to inflict damage on the U.S. before the November midterm elections.

Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told the Senate Intelligence Committee her company was “now blocking millions of attempts to register false accounts each and every day” and was “making progress on fake news.”

She said the company’s recent efforts were “starting to pay off” but added, “We cannot stop interference by ourselves.”

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An empty chair reserved for Google’s parent Alphabet, which refused to send its top executive, is seen as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg accompanied by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on ‘Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms’ on Capitol Hill. VOA

Sandberg said Facebook was “working with outside experts, industry partners and governments, including law enforcement, to share information about threats and prevent abuse” to avert further interference in American elections.

Social media companies are under pressure over foreign meddling in U.S. elections, the spread of disinformation, privacy and censorship. Congress has criticized social media companies during the past year as it became clear they were on the front lines during Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections and beyond.

Special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russians earlier this year on charges stemming from plans to disrupt the 2016 election by creating bogus accounts that circulated divisive issues on social media. The indicted Russians are members of the GRU, a Russian Federation intelligence agency.

Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey said that his company was “unprepared and ill-equipped” for the foreign influence campaigns but that it had intensified its efforts to eliminate phony accounts to prevent “hostile foreign influence.”

“We’re identifying and challenging 8 million to 10 million suspicious accounts every week, and we’re thwarting over a half-million accounts from logging into Twitter every single day,” he said.

Dorsey also said Twitter was continuing to find accounts that might be linked to the Russians, noting that 3,843 accounts had been suspended and that the company had seen recent activity.

Google’s parent, Alphabet Inc., refused to send its top executive to Wednesday’s hearing, prompting sharp words from some senators for Alphabet CEO Larry Page. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, suggested the company might have bailed because it was “arrogant,” while Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, expressed outrage about the absence.

 

Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner said at the hearing that social media giants “were caught flat-footed by the brazen attacks on our election” and expressed doubt that the companies were adequately confronting the problem.

“I’m skeptical that, ultimately, you’ll be able to truly address this challenge on your own,” Warner said. “Congress is going to have to take action here.”

Despite such skepticism from lawmakers, a key U.S. military official said Wednesday that he was encouraged by the actions companies like Facebook and Twitter had taken in advance of the midterm elections.

“This is where social media companies can impose a cost against our adversaries,” U.S. Cyber Command’s General Paul Nakasone told a security conference in Washington. “This is an ability that I think, uniquely, they are stepping up to.”

Nakasone, who also heads the National Security Agency, also said he was not prepared to give up on companies that have been hesitant to take action, calling continued engagement critical.

“We can’t run from it. We can’t hide from it,” he said, warning that adversaries like Russia and even nonstate actors “continue to have an ability to up their game.”

 

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Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on foreign influence operations and their use of social media on Capitol Hill. VOA

 

While Congress has forced social media companies during the past year to focus more on the Russian interference issue, it took several months last year for Facebook and Twitter to acknowledge they had been manipulated.

Many social media companies have made policy changes that caught and banned numerous malicious accounts during the past year. But free services that find out as much about users as possible remain unchanged, prompting critics to say social media companies will continue to contend with bad actors manipulating their systems unless they change.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged in a Washington Post opinion piece on Tuesday that his company found out too late in 2016 there were “foreign actors running coordinated campaigns to interfere with America’s democratic process.”

He said the company had since made improvements, such as “finding and removing fake accounts” and misinformation.

But Zuckerberg warned that Facebook and other social media companies faced “sophisticated, well-funded adversaries who are getting smarter over time, too. It’s an arms race, and it will take the combined forces of the U.S. private and public sectors to protect America’s democracy from outside interference.”

Over the past year, three-fourths of all Facebook users have adjusted their privacy settings, taken weeks-long breaks from the platform or deleted Facebook apps from their cellphones, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

The survey was conducted May 19-June 11, after revelations that the former consulting firm Cambridge Analytica had gathered data on tens of millions of Facebook users without their knowledge.

 

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Twitter Chief Executive Officer Jack Dorsey testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on foreign influence operations and their use of social media on Capitol Hill. VOA

 

House hearing

Later Wednesday, Twitter’s Dorsey was headed to a House committee hearing focused on Republican complaints that social media companies have shown evidence of bias against conservatives. In testimony released before that hearing, Dorsey denied that Twitter uses political ideology to make decisions.

Also Read: Twitter Bans Alex Jones For Violating Its Policy

Some Republicans have contended that Twitter is “shadow banning” some in their party because of the ways search results have appeared. Twitter has rejected the assertions.

Dorsey was the lone invitee to the House hearing. While all three tech companies have been accused of being biased against conservatives, the more public-facing nature of Twitter has made it an easier target. (VOA)

Next Story

Should Live Broadcast on Social Media Platforms be Banned?

Facebook earlier faced flak for the live streaming of suicides on its platform from different parts of the world, including India

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Facebook earlier faced flak for the live streaming of suicides on its platform from different parts of the world, including India. Pixabay

Would you want your teenager to watch terrorists killing people in the real world or someone committing suicide? No one, in their right mind, would ever want their kids to get exposed to such events, simply for the repercussions that such content can have on young impressionable minds.

But with a smartphone on their hand and Facebook installed in it, chances of them watching such horrific content some day cannot be denied, especially because the social media giant allows all its users to go live.

The 28-year-old Australian who sprayed bullets on innocent people who were praying at mosques in New Zealand on March 15 decided to broadcast his act on Facebook.

Facebook said the video was viewed fewer than 200 times during the live broadcast, but it was watched about 4,000 times before being removed from the platform. By that time, copies of the 17-minute video were later shared in millions on other social media platforms, including Twitter and YouTube.

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The 28-year-old Australian who sprayed bullets on innocent people who were praying at mosques in New Zealand on March 15 decided to broadcast his act on Facebook. Pixabay

Facebook earlier faced flak for the live streaming of suicides on its platform from different parts of the world, including India. So does that mean that live broadcast on social media platforms should be banned?

“What happened in New Zealand was one-of-a-kind heinous exhibition of brutality and terror. I don’t think the world has become so bad that we should see such things occurring repetitively,” Faisal Kawoosa, Chief Analyst at market research firm techARC, told IANS.

“Live streaming is an essential part of social media platforms and as video becomes the default mode of communication over digital platforms, live streaming empowers users to be real time on these platforms,” he added.

Youngsters also find the facility, which is also available on YouTube and Instagram, useful for broadcasting their travelling adventures and tutorials.

“The ‘live’ feature on social networking platforms could be good for people who want to publicise stuff like their travel, fashion or subject tutorials,” said 25-year-old Rijul Rajpal who works with a film production company.

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The social media giant may face similar questions from lawmakers in other countries in the coming days. Pixabay

Many even find it helpful for connecting with their favourite film stars and music icons. But despite the usefulness of the feature, one cannot deny the potential of misuse of the feature, especially because the social media companies have still not developed a technology that can prevent the broadcast of live shooting.

Facebook said that its Artificial Intelligence (AI) system could not automatically detect the New Zealand shooting video as the system was not properly trained. It promised to improve its technology so that broadcast of such videos can be prevented in the future.

ALSO READ: Trump’s Son-in-Law, Jared Kushner’s Whatsapp Habits Worry Cyber Experts

But policy makers are not impressed. In the US, tech firms have already been asked to brief the Congress on March 27 regarding their response to dissemination of the video of the New Zealand terrorists attack on their platforms.

The social media giant may face similar questions from lawmakers in other countries in the coming days. (IANS)