Senators Call for More Facebook Hearings Following Latest Russia Report: It’s Like ‘Pulling Teeth’

Facebook may be heading back to Capitol Hill following an explosive report released on Monday further detailing the breadth of Russia’s effort to influence the 2016 election through social media.

The reports, compiled by the cybersecurity firm New Knowledge and by the Computational Propaganda Research Project and released by the Senate intelligence committee, showed that Instagram (owned by Facebook) played a far more significant role in Russia’s plot than previously suggested — information that Facebook failed to mention during open congressional testimony earlier this year.

“Yes, there are a lot of unanswered questions,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who sits on the Senate intelligence committee, told IJR when asked if Facebook should be brought back for more questioning in light of Monday’s new report. “We should have more public sessions,” he added.

“It should startle everyone.”

Wyden, along with many of his Senate colleagues, expressed exasperation with trying to get social media giants like Twitter and Facebook to be forthright and cooperate regarding Russia’s use of social media platforms to influence U.S. elections.

It’s like pulling teeth,” the Oregon senator said. It has just been excruciatingly slow to get the companies to accept the seriousness of the problem.” 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a Republican member of the committee, told IJR that he’s deeply concerned about the “breadth and scope” of Russia’s operation.

“It should startle everyone,” Rubio added. “It wasn’t just Facebook, Instagram was much heavier used than other people thought, and those efforts continue.”

The Florida senator also said he’d like to see Facebook back on Capitol Hill, adding that the upcoming 116th Congress will bring “efforts to examine the role that these companies are playing in America and what laws should cover them.”

Monday’s reports also offered an in-depth look at how Russia targeted minority groups, including working to discourage voters who are black from heading to the polls.

“These campaigns pushed a message that the best way to advance the cause of the African-American community was to boycott the election and focus on other issues instead,” the report read.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told IJR that he’s especially “worried at how they particularly segment our society, including minorities, and create disruption among the American people.”

“And there’s no greater disruptor to help them than Donald Trump,” the New Jersey senator added. 

When asked about bringing Facebook back to the Hill for further testimony, Menendez told IJR that the social media giant needs to “have a continuing process of answering about what they are doing to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg last testified in front of Congress in early September, along with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.

During her testimony, Sandberg expressed openness to government regulation of social media companies.

“We don’t think it’s a question of whether regulation, we just think it’s a matter of the right regulation that doesn’t squash innovation,” she said.

What do you think?

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Dave Hopkins
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Madison Dibble
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It will be interesting to see what comes of these hearings. I don’t want the government regulating these companies, but there does need to be some accountability when these companies run near-monopolies.

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