Fri Nov 3rd, 2017 at 11:46:42 PM EST
31 October 2017, the US Senate Judiciary Committee, Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee (running time: 03:00:00) met with Colin Stretch, VP & General Counsel, Facebook, Sean Edgett, Acting General Counsel, Twitter, and Richard Salgado, Dir. of Law Enforcement and Information Security, Googgle, in a hearing of "Extremist Content and Russian Disinformation Online." What follows is this author's transcription of the chairman's opening remarks and ten minutes, the saddest ten minutes, of the interrogatory which followed. May it be a lesson for us all.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: All of you have enriched America. We have more information available to us because of what you do. We can find an answere to almost any question, for instance, the Pentagon bill. We can share aspects of our lives with those who mean the most to us and we can talk among ourselves in one hundred forty characters. Some people are better at that than others. Some people should probably do less of it. But at the bottom line is that these technologies also can be undermine our democracy and put our nation at risk. The platforms that I've just described are, that add value to individual American lives and to our country also can be used by terrorists to recruit in cyberworld people to their cause, can be used to buy foreign governments. We've seen an example of that in 2016 to create chaos within our democracy. Information is power. Ideas are the essence of democracy, the exchange of ideas, being able to criticize each other is one of the things we cherish most, but what we have to be on guard as a nation is having people who want to undermine our way of life using these platforms, um, against us. And I think that this is the national security challenge of the twenty-first century. Here's what General Patraeus said about jihadists online ...
Below, without embellishment, ten minutes of the interrogatory which immediately followed Gen. Patraeus' grave concerns about loose lips.
GRAHAM: ... What nations do you worry about other than Russia interfering in our elections? Anybody comes to the top of your head there, Mr. Stretch .
STRETCH: We worry about nation-state actors, really, from around the globe. Starting in 2014 we stood up a threat intelligence team that was dedicated primarily to reviewing and monitoring for attacks from threat actors tied to nation-states. That work was mostly directed at traditional cyber-security, account compromise, surveillance, dissemination of stolen information. It's really only recently that we have seen this threat evolve into what we were talking about, that I was talking about in my testimony this morning, dissemination of misinformation. Ah in terms of specific countries, it really is a global threat we think of it, and um I'd certainly be happy to come back to the committee to provide more details on specific actors.
GRAHAM: Is that true for they rest of you?
EDGETT: That's true for us as well. We ... as we said in our written testimony also see a disproportionate amount spam or automated accounts coming out of Russia. But our tools and technology are agnostic obviously to countries.
GRAHAM: Could Iran and North Korea potentially do this?
[RESPONDENTS PAUSE TO CONFER]
STRETCH: Certainly potentially. The internet is borderless.
GRAHAM: So let's talk about time period. You said you started picking up foreign interference two years ago. Is that right, Mr Stretch?
STRETCH: We've been been tracking threat actors for several years, yes.
GRAHAM: Before the 2016 election cycle.
STRETCH: Yes, that's correct.
GRAHAM: Okay. Did you find activity after the election?
STRETCH: Yes, we did.
GRAHAM: Okay. What happened after the election?
STRETCH: Following the election the activity we'd seen really continued in the sense that if you viewed the activity as a whole we saw this concerted effort to sow division and discord in the wake of the election. Ah and (how) President Trump's election, we saw a lot of activity directed at fomenting discord about the validity of his election.
GRAHAM: So did this continue after his election?
STRETCH: It continued until we disabled the account.
GRAHAM: Okay. What about you Mr. Edgett?
EDGETT: Yeah, we saw similar activity. On the advertising side was interesting what we saw all the activity drop off after the election. But these automated accounts continue so we focus on making sure that they're removed from our platform.
GRAHAM: Mr Salgado?
SALGADO: The same is true for Google. The limited use of our platforms certainly decreased once we terminated accounts, and we expect that.
GRAHAM: Did you see any activity in the primary, Mr Stretch?
STRETCH: The activity that we've now attributed to the Internet Research Agency really started in 2015 and was ongoing through the primary, yes.
GRAHAM: Were these ads pro-Clinton or anti-Clinton or could you tell? (what) were these activities?
STRETCH: Viewed in the aggregate the activity, again, really appears to address a wide range of hot button topics and appears to be directed at fomenting discord and inflaming discourse.
GRAHAM: In terms of volume, what ... How much volume are we talking about?
STRETCH: About, approximately, ninety percent of the volume we saw on the ad side appears issues-based primarily. A much smaller portion were directed at particular candidates we saw.
GRAHAM: But in terms of the actual Facebook ... I think somebody said 23,000. I don't know. Maybe that was another company.
STRETCH: Correct. So in terms of the total volume of material on the site, it's a very small percentage. We estimate that the Internet Research Agency content was approximately zero point zero zero four percent of the content in news feed during the time period in question.
GRAHAM: So to sum this up, and I'll come back with the jihadists in Round Two, Russia as a nation-state started interfering in the election cycle back in 2015. And they continued after the election. During the election they were trying to create discord between Americans, most directed against Clinton. After the election you saw Russian-tied groups and organizations trying to undermine President Trump's legitimacy. Is that what you saw on Facebook?
STRETCH: I'd say that's an accurate statement.
EDGETT: That's an accurate statement.
SALGADO: I'm not sure I can characterize on our network which way the content went.
GRAHAM: Thank you.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE: Thank you, Chairman. So I take it we can all agree that the Russians did in fact interfere and meddle in the 2016 elections. Your observations on that are consistent with what our intelligence community reports. Is that correct? Mr. Stretch?
STRETCH: That's correct, Senator.
WHITEHOUSE: Mr. Edgett?
EDGETT: That's correct.
WHITEHOUSE: Mr. Salgado?
SALGADO: That's true.
WHITEHOUSE: Okay. And I gather that all of your companies have moved beyond any notion that your job is only to provide a platform, and whatever goes across it is not your affair?
STRETCH: Senator, I, our commitment to addressing this problem is unwavering. We take this very seriously are committed to investing as is necessary to prevent this from happening again. Absolutely.
WHITEHOUSE: Mr Edgett?
EDGETT: Yes, I absolutely agree with Mr. Stretch and this set of activity not only creates a bad user experience but distrust for the platform. So we are committed to working every single day to get that better at solving this problem.
WHITEHOUSE: Mr. Salgado?
SALGADO: That's the same for Google. We take that very seriously. We've made changes and we will continue to get better.