Social Media executives of Facebook Inc (FB.O) and Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) faced U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday over the ongoing threat of foreign efforts to influence U.S. politics through their platforms.
Google was also asked to testify, but the committee declined an offer to hear from Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker rather than Alphabet Chief Executive Larry Page.
"Google might have skipped the hearing because it was “arrogant.” Republican Senator Marco Rubio said.
"Google takes foreign interference in politics very seriously." Walker wrote on his 'testimony' ahead of the hearing.
“The companies and Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google have not done enough to slow the spread of disinformation, and threatened “action.” Started the hearing senator Mark Warner, the committee’s Democratic vice chairman.
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged that the company was too slow to respond to Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, but insisted it is doing better.
“We’ve removed hundreds of pages and accounts involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior - meaning they misled others about who they were and what they were doing,” Sandberg told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Twitter’s monitoring has tightened, including notifying law enforcement last month of accounts that appeared to be located in Iran.” testified Jack Dorsey, Twitter Chief Executive.
Facebook, Twitter and other technology firms have been on the defensive for many months over political influence activity on their sites as well as concerns over user privacy.
Their stocks fell as the hearing progressed, with Twitter down 4.5 percent and Facebook around 1.2 percent lower. Shares of Alphabet sank 1.4 percent.
Investors are concerned “about how government and policies could pose as a threat to these growth stocks,” said Ryan Nauman, market strategist at Informa Financial Intelligence in Zephyr Cove, Nevada.
“Unfortunately, what I described as ‘national security vulnerability,’ and ‘unacceptable risk,’ back in November remains unaddressed.” Said Senator Richard Burr, the committee’s Republican chairman. “Clearly, this problem is not going away. I’m not even sure it’s trending in the right direction,” he added.
Warner said social media companies were doing better at combating disinformation, but their efforts were insufficient.
“I’m skeptical that, ultimately, you’ll be able to truly address this challenge on your own. Congress is going to have to take action here,” Warner said.
“Why Twitter does not tell users when they have been attacked.” Asked Republican Senator Susan Collins explaining that, based on a university report, she had been targeted some 270 times by Russian-linked trolls on Twitter.
Twitter's Dorsey answered it was “unacceptable” that she was not told.
Before the hearing, President Donald Trump, accused the companies themselves of interfering in the upcoming U.S. mid-term elections, telling the Daily Caller that social media firms are “super liberal.”
Trump told the conservative outlet in an interview conducted on Tuesday that “I think they already have” interfered in the Nov. 6 election.
Executives of social media companies have testified in Congress several times, including 10 hours of questioning of Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg over two days in April. And they all have repeatedly denied political bias.
Senate Intelligence has been looking into Russian efforts to influence U.S. public opinion throughout Trump’s presidency, after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Kremlin-backed entities sought to boost his chances of winning the White House in 2016.
Moscow denies involvement, and Trump - backed by some of his fellow Republicans in Congress - has repeatedly dismissed investigations of the issue as a partisan witch hunt or hoax.
Reporting by Munsif Vengattil