Two of social media’s biggest names — Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey — were under the searing klieg lights Wednesday testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Alphabet’s Google was not.
The tech executives were facing waves of questions about what their companies are doing to avoid a repeat of the meddling on their platforms during the 2016 presidential election. Amid admissions they hadn’t done enough before, both outlined recent efforts to tap the brakes on misinformation.
“What happened in the 2016 election cycle was unacceptable,” Sandberg said in opening remarks. “Any attempt to use our platform to interfere in elections runs counter to everything Facebook stands for. People come to Facebook every day to have authentic conversations and to share, not to be deceived or misled.”
“This is an arms race, and that means we need to be ever more vigilant,” Sandberg added.
Dorsey, in his opening statement, said that “Twitter is approaching these challenges with a simple question: How do we earn more trust from the people using our service? We know the way to earn more trust around how we make decisions on our platform is to be as transparent as possible.”
Google (GOOGL) was absent after the committee rejected Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker as a witness because he wasn’t high-ranking enough in that company. California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris jokingly referred to Google’s empty chair as the “invisible witness.”
Less than five months after Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled for nearly five hours on Capitol Hill, Sandberg and Dorsey faced tougher, more pointed questions — especially in the wake of several attempts by domestic and foreign groups to influence the midterms elections.
Investors were concerned Wednesday: Shares of Facebook, Google, and Twitter (TWTR) were all down more than 2%.
It wasn’t all gloomy. The resources Twitter and Facebook are pouring into security, and their recent take-downs of bad actors in recent months, was acknowledged as an encouraging sign of progress by Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) and other lawmakers.
Still, the two executives may not be able to satisfactorily appease some lawmakers, increasing the likelihood of some Congressional action and regulation. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai pondered in a blog post Tuesday that Facebook, Google, and Twitter need to be more transparent and might require some form of government oversight.
“Currently, the FCC imposes strict transparency requirements on companies that operate broadband networks — how they manage their networks, performance characteristics, and the like,” he wrote. “Yet consumers have virtually no insight into similar business practices by tech giants.”
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