WASHINGTON - Facebook and Twitter executives pledged on Wednesday to better protect their social media platforms in the 2018 elections and beyond, and told Congress of aggressive efforts to root out foreign intrusions aimed at sowing divisions in American democracy.
Facebook’s No. 2 executive, Sheryl Sandberg, and Twitter’s CEO, Jack Dorsey, testified before the Senate intelligence committee, but there was an empty chair for Google’s parent Alphabet, which refused to send its top executive.
Senators had sharp words for Alphabet CEO Larry Page, who oversees Google. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., suggested the company might have bailed because it was “arrogant” while Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, expressed outrage over the absence.
Sandberg’s appearance came several months after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in highly publicized Capitol Hill hearings. Like Zuckerberg, she acknowledged Facebook’s lag in recognizing Russian efforts to manipulate Facebook during and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Sandberg detailed the company’s efforts to fight the problem with new technologies and manpower.
“We are even more determined than our adversaries, and we will continue to fight back,” Sandberg said.
Dorsey, far less of a public figure than Sandberg, acknowledged that he is “typically pretty shy.” But he was forthcoming with the committee about what his company needs to improve.
Holding his phone at the witness table, he tweeted some of his opening statement: “We aren’t proud of how that free and open exchange has been weaponized and used to distract and divide people, and our nation. We found ourselves unprepared and ill-equipped for the immensity of the problems we’ve acknowledged,” Dorsey wrote.
The companies have made many policy changes, and have caught and banned malicious accounts over the past year. Still, their business models - free services that rely on attracting as many users as possible for as long as possible and finding out as much about them as possible - remain the same, and that posed challenges.