Social media companies need to start being more transparent about their roles in the US presidential election, Sen Mark Warner told reporters today. Twitter will need to explain to Congress how its platform was used by Russian trolls attempting to influence the US presidential election, and Facebook ought to make political ads purchased by fake Russian accounts public, the senator said.
Warner and other members of the US Senate and House intelligence committees are working to uncover the role that social media companies played in political influence campaigns.
Facebook briefed congressional investigators yesterday, describing $US100,000 ($124,265) worth of political ad buys that the company traced to 470 phoney Russian accounts. Warner said Twitter has been asked to make similar disclosures. His office declined to comment on when Twitter representatives would present their findings.
Although Warner said he was pleased with Facebook’s presentation, he added that he has more questions for the company and that the 470 accounts that Facebook flagged are likely only “the tip of the iceberg”.
“I’ve been raising this issue for months. They have dismissed this issue for months. We’ve seen them take down certain pages. It’s rather minor compared to the 50,000 accounts they took down before the French election and what we’ve been saying for some time I think has been proven to be true, that the Russians used these social media platforms to try to interfere in elections,” Warner said. (In a white paper, Facebook said it took action against 30,000 fake accounts leading up to the French election.)
Warner also criticised Facebook for refusing to make the ads public. Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, described the ads as “amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum” and said that they covered a variety of political issues, including LGBT rights and gun control. Some of the ads were shown to congressional investigators, Warner explained.
“This was one of the disappointments. They shared the content with staff, but the public deserves to look at that content,” he said.
Facebook, Twitter and other companies are facing criticism for keeping the details of political advertising on their platforms secret. Unlike political television ads, ads on social media aren’t subject to disclosure requirements that would reveal how the ads were funded.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, was initially sceptical that the company had any influence on the US election. The day after Donald Trump was elected, Zuckerberg called the idea that fake news affected the outcome “crazy”. But in the months that followed, Facebook’s security team released an in-depth report saying the company found evidence of a persistent campaign to spread and amplify misinformation.
“We’re in a brave new world of how people receive information,” Warner said. “I think we deserve to know if foreigners are trying to interfere in our elections.”
Twitter declined to comment on Warner’s remarks, while Facebook said that it is continuing to cooperate with Congress. “We originally reported on attempts to misuse our platform in April, and as our internal review continued, we found additional activity that we published yesterday. We are cooperating with appropriate authorities and sharing the results of our inquiries with them. And of course, we will continue to review ways that our platform could be misused so that we can help provide a safe place for civic discourse,” a spokesperson said.