Facebook, Twitter pledge to fight foreign influence

The Associated Press

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, left, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey are sworn in before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on “Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms” on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday.

The Associated PressWASHINGTON (AP) — Facebook and Twitter executives assured Congress on Wednesday that they are aggressively working to root out foreign attempts to sow discord in America, and they pledged to better protect their social networks against manipulation during the 2018 midterm elections and beyond.

Facebook’s No. 2 executive, Sheryl Sandberg, and Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, testified before the Senate intelligence committee in the morning, but there was an empty chair for Google parent company Alphabet, which refused to send its top executive.

In the afternoon, Dorsey went before a House panel alone to address Republican concerns that Twitter is censoring conservatives. Dorsey denied that is happening.

The hearings come at a critical time, just two months before the midterm elections and as U.S. President Donald Trump has charged that Twitter is biased against Republican views.

Senators had sharp words for Alphabet CEO Larry Page. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., suggested the company was a no-show because it was “arrogant.”

Sandberg’s appearance came several months after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified at highly publicized Capitol Hill hearings.

Like Zuckerberg, she acknowledged Facebook’s lag in recognizing Russian efforts to manipulate Facebook during and after the 2016 presidential election. Sandberg detailed Facebook’s efforts to fight the problem with new technology and manpower.

“We are even more determined than our adversaries, and we will continue to fight back,” she said.

Dorsey was candid with both committees about what his company needs to improve, while defending Twitter against allegations of bias.

Holding his phone throughout the hearings, Dorsey tweeted some of his opening statement to the Senate: “We aren’t proud of how that free and open exchange has been weaponized and used to distract and divide people, and our nation. We found ourselves unprepared and ill-equipped for the immensity of the problems we’ve acknowledged.”

He added: “Abuse, harassment, troll armies, propaganda through bots and human coordination, misinformation campaigns, and divisive filter bubbles — that’s not a healthy public square. Worse, a relatively small number of bad-faith actors were able to game Twitter to have an outsized impact.”

As the executives spoke, the Justice Department announced it would look at whether their companies are hurting competition and “intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms.”

Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said Attorney General Jeff Sessions will meet with a number of state attorneys general later this month to discuss the department’s concerns.

Sandberg, 49, has extensive Washington experience, typically acts as her company’s public face and clearly felt comfortable answering senators’ questions. The bearded and tieless Dorsey, 41, is far less of a public figure and was quiet and respectful in his answers, even acknowledging at one point that he is “typically pretty shy.”Speech

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