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

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Nigerian Firm Apologizes for Google’s Glitch

Main One, which describes itself as a leading provider of telecom and network services for businesses in West Africa, said that it had investigated the matter.

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A Google logo is seen at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, California, VOA

Nigeria’s Main One Cable took responsibility Tuesday for a glitch that temporarily caused some Google global traffic to be misrouted through China, saying it accidentally caused the problem during a network
upgrade.

The issue surfaced Monday afternoon as internet monitoring firms ThousandEyes and BGPmon said some traffic to Alphabet’s Google had been routed through China and Russia, raising concerns that the communications had been intentionally hijacked.

Main One said in an email that it had caused a 74-minute glitch by misconfiguring a border gateway protocol filter used to route traffic across the internet. That resulted in some Google traffic being sent through Main One partner China Telecom, the West African firm said.

Google has said little about the matter. It acknowledged the problem Monday in a post on its website that said it was investigating the glitch and that it believed the problem originated outside the company. The company did not say how many users were affected or identify specific customers.

Google, Main One
Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during a news conference in New Delhi. VOA

Google representatives could not be reached Tuesday to comment on Main One’s statement.

Hacking concerns

Even though Main One said it was to blame, some security experts said the incident highlighted concerns about the potential for hackers to conduct espionage or disrupt communications by exploiting known vulnerabilities in the way traffic is routed over the internet.

The U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission, a Washington group that advises the U.S. Congress on security issues, plans to investigate the issue, said Commissioner Michael Wessel.

“We will work to gain more facts about what has happened recently and look at what legal tools or legislation or law enforcement activities can help address this problem,” Wessel said.

Google, Main One, YouTube, Google, google services
A Google logo is displayed at the entrance to the internet based company’s offices in Toronto. VOA

Glitches in border gateway protocol filters have caused multiple outages to date, including cases in which traffic from U.S. internet and financial services firms was routed through Russia, China and Belarus.

Yuval Shavitt, a network security researcher at Tel Aviv University, said it was possible that Monday’s issue was not an accident.

Also Read: Google Investigating The Root Cause Of its Malfunction

“You can always claim that this is some kind of configuration error,” said Shavitt, who last month co-authored a paper alleging that the Chinese government had conducted a series of internet hijacks.

Main One, which describes itself as a leading provider of telecom and network services for businesses in West Africa, said that it had investigated the matter and implemented new processes to prevent it from happening again. (VOA)