Facebook, Google and Twitter tell lawmakers they’re doing more to safeguard elections


Officials from Facebook, Google and Twitter testified before lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday. 

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Facebook, Twitter and Google officials signaled to lawmakers on Thursday that they are more prepared for the 2020 US presidential election even as bad actors change their tactics to try to evade detection.

Foreign interference has been a top concern for lawmakers after Russian trolls used social media sites to sow discord among Americans during the 2016 elections. Since then, officials from all three companies say they’ve taken steps to take down fake accounts and make it more clear who is behind political advertising. 

Still, lawmakers from the House Intelligence Committee expressed skepticism that the companies are doing enough during this election season amid more threats such as artificial intelligence-powered videos called deepfakes that can make it seem like people are doing something they aren’t. 

“I’m concerned about whether social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and others, wittingly or otherwise, optimize for extreme content. These technologies are designed to engage users and keep them coming back, which is pushing us further apart and isolating Americans into information silos,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, during a virtual hearing about election security and foreign interference. Schiff, a Democrat from California, said he can’t say he’s “confident” that the 2020 election will be free of interference even though it would be more difficult for Russians to run the same playbook.

In their opening remarks, Facebook, Google and Twitter outlined what they were doing to safeguard election security. 

Nathanial Gleicher, who heads cybersecurity at Facebook, said that there are more than 35,000 people working on safety and security at the company and that nearly 40 teams focus on elections. The company pulled down more than 52 separate networks in 2019 and is labeling posts by state-controlled media outlets. This week, the company launched a new online information hub for voter information. 

“Over the past three years, we’ve worked to protect more than 200 elections around the world. We’ve learned lessons from each of these, and we’re applying these lessons to protect the 2020 election in November,” he said. 

Nick Pickles, who oversees global public policy strategy and development at Twitter, said the company like Facebook has rules against voter suppression, fake accounts and impersonating others. In 2019, the company banned political ads from the platform.

“Online political advertising represents entirely new challenges to civic discourse that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle,” Pickles said.

The company also started fact checking and labeling tweets, including from President Donald Trump, that contain misinformation about voting or the coronavirus. 

Google, which owns video service YouTube, said that during the 2016 election the company found relatively little government activity that violates its rules. Richard Salgado, director for law enforcement and information security at Google, said that advertisers purchasing US election ads now need to verify who they are and Google discloses who paid for the ad. Like Twitter and Facebook, Google also has a searchable database for ads. 

“Looking ahead to the November elections, we know that COVID-19 pandemic widespread protests and other significant events can provide fodder for nation states or disinformation campaigns,” Salgado said. 

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