Senator Collins Questions Twitter, Facebook Executives on Response to Foreign influence Operations in the U.S.

Jack Dorsey of Twitter: “We simply haven’t done enough”

 

Senator Collins urges Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook to do more to notify users when they have been targeted by foreign adversaries

 

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ Q&A at the hearing

Note to assignment editors and news directors: Click HERE for a high-resolution video

 

 

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, questioned executives from Facebook and Twitter on their companies’ response to foreign influence operations on social media platforms.

 

“Let me thank you both for being here and also to express my outrage that your counterpart at Google is not at the [witness] table as well,” Senator Collins told Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.  Larry Page, co-founder of Google and the CEO of Alphabet Inc., chose not to testify.

 

Senator Collins questioned Mr. Dorsey and Ms. Sandberg about how Twitter and Facebook notify their users when an imposter account is deactivated.

 

“As of January of this year, Twitter has taken down more than 3,800 Russian IRA accounts that by Twitter's own estimate reached approximately 1.4 million people.  One of those accounts purported to be under the control of the Tennessee GOP, although it was not; it was a Russian IRA account.  It had more than 140,000 followers and would sometimes spread conspiracy theories and false claims of voter fraud,” said Senator Collins.  “Once you have taken down accounts that are linked to Russia, what do you do to notify the followers of those accounts that they have been following or are engaged in accounts that originated in Russia and are not what they appear to be?”

 

“We simply haven't done enough,” replied Mr. Dorsey.  “We don't have enough communication going out in terms of what we've seen and what was tweeted and what people were falling into. We do believe transparency is a big part of where we need the most work and improvement.”

 

In response to the same question, Ms. Sandberg answered, “We agree with you that people need to know.  So we've been discussing these publicly, as well as in specific cases, notifying people directly if they had liked the original IRA accounts.  Most recently, when there was an event that was going to be happening in Washington… we notified all the people who either RSVP’d to that event or who said they were interested in possibly going to that event.”

 

Senator Collins also discussed the research being done at Clemson University, which indicates that Russian IRA accounts targeted specific leaders and social movements across the political spectrum.  This finding provided further evidence of Russia’s goal to undermine the public’s confidence in political leaders and weaken our democratic institutions.

 

“I've learned, not from Twitter but from Clemson University, that I was one of those targeted leaders.  There were 279 Russian generated tweets that targeted me that had gone to as many as 363,000 followers,” said Senator Collins.  “So why doesn't Twitter notify individuals like me that have been targeted by foreign adversaries?”

 

“I agree it's unacceptable,” said Mr. Dorsey.  “We want to find ways to work more openly, not just with our peer companies, but with researchers and universities and also law enforcement because they all bring a different perspective to our work and can see our work in a very different light.”

 

The hearing follows an August 1 open hearing that featured testimony from third-party social media experts.

 

Last month, Senator Collins cosponsored the Defending Elections from Threats by Establishing Redlines (DETER) Act, bipartisan legislation to dissuade hostile foreign powers from meddling in our elections through the use of sanctions and other national security tools.

 

Witnesses for today’s hearing included:

 

  • Mr. Jack Dorsey, Chief Executive Officer, Twitter Inc.

 

  • Ms. Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Facebook