Here Are Some Highlights From Facebook and Twitter’s Senate Testimony on Election Attacks

September 5, 2018, 3:48 PM UTC

Facebook and Twitter came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to help lawmakers better understand the threats from foreign countries trying to interfere with U.S. elections. Facebook (FB) Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey spent hours testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Much of the conversation recounted disclosures made in the past and explored countermeasures that have also been widely previously discussed. But several facets of the hearing were new and interesting.

Hits on Google

Google (GOOGL) CEO Sundar Pichai chose not to appear and the committee rejected the company’s offer to send one of its top lawyers instead. That led several senators to spend time bashing Google for its absence.

At the outset of the hearing, committee chair Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and vice chair Mark Warner (D-Va.) expressed their disappointment at Google’s decision. “I’m disappointed Google decided against sending the right senior level executive,” Burr said. “I’m deeply disappointed that Google, one of the most influential digital platforms in the world, chose not to send its own top corporate leadership to engage this committee,” Warner added in his opening remarks.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) went even further, suggesting that the reason for Google’s absence was either “because they’re arrogant” or due to avoiding questions over an embarrassing report in BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that researchers posing as Kremlin agents were still able to purchase divisive political ads.

“To the invisible witness, good morning to you,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) joked, looking at an empty chair at the witness table set up to highlight Google’s absence.

Small Screen Reading

Dorsey and Sandberg delivered their opening remarks along the lines of the prepared testimony that both companies released ahead of the hearing. Dorsey, however, read his remarks live off of an iPhone he held in his hand, while also publishing a lengthy series of tweets echoing his testimony. After reading his speech, Dorsey’s usage of his smartphone as a quasi-teleprompter prompted a joke from committee chair Burr.

“As you grow older you will find a need for a bigger device to go to your notes on than that small one,” he said. “We have a hard time with the small pieces.”

Collaboration Needed

The senators were interested in whether current laws needed to be changed to allow greater data sharing among companies about attacks and threats on social media. Both executives indicated that they frequently shared such information and warning signs with their peers.

“The faster we share those tips with each other, the stronger our collective defense will be,” Sandberg said. “We can do more to formalize the process.”

“This is not something we want to compete on (and) we hosted our peer companies at our offices just in the past two weeks on this very topic,” Dorsey said.

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