U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) threatened executives from Facebook, Twitter, and Google with legislative action if the social media giants don’t deal with Russian-backed ads.
Colin Stretch, Vice President and General Counsel of Facebook, Sean Edgett, General Counsel of Twitter, and Kent Walker, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Google, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday morning.
The social media companies face criticism for allowing Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election on their platforms. On Facebook, Russian accounts bought thousands of ads dealing with hot-button election issues. Facebook initially said 10 million were exposed to Russian-backed content increased that number to 126 million.
See examples of the ads below:
Twitter admitted to the House Intelligence Committee they identified 2,752 Russian operative-controlled accounts and over 36,000 “bots” that tweeted 1.4 million times during the election. Google has been criticized for allowing RT (formerly Russia Today) to publish videos to YouTube even though an American Intelligence report has identified the media outlet as the Kremlin’s “principal international propaganda outlet.”
Feinstein said she was disturbed by the response of the social media companies saying they “don’t get it.”
She then warned that the Senate would have to act if they did not. “You’ve created these platforms, and now they are being misused. And you have to be the ones to do something about it or we will,” she said.
Watch Feinstein’s comments:
Why it matters:
While I understand Senator Feinstein’s concern, her comment should cause worry those who love freedom. Facebook, Twitter, and Google (along with other social media companies thrown in the scrum) are private companies and should be allowed to determine their advertising practices and what content they allow on their platforms.
What would Feinstein’s action look like? Forcing social media companies to issue some sort of ban on certain content? What if they don’t, would they then be fined? Can you imagine if Feinstein suggested this to newspapers, radio stations, or TV networks?
Any action Congress enacts will be nothing more than government-mandated censorship and that has enormous First Amendment concerns. Despots censor media, a democratic society should not.