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On Thursday the Senate Intelligence committee released information from Facebook, Google and Twitter responding to Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. In its statement, Facebook noted that Russian "Internet Research Agency" (IRA) t…
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The companies’ comments came in response to another round of questions from Congress.
Google and Twitter told the U.S. Congress on Thursday that they did not spot any attempts by Russian agents to spread disinformation on their sites when voters headed to the polls in Virginia and New Jersey last year.
Facebook, on the other hand, sidestepped the matter entirely.
The admissions — published Thursday — came in response to another round of questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee, which grilled all three tech giants at a hearing last year to probe the extent to which Russian-aligned trolls sowed social and political unrest during the 2016 presidential race.
Specifically, Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris asked the companies if they had “seen any evidence of state-sponsored information operations associated with American elections in 2017, including the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey.”
In response, Twitter said it is “not aware of any specific state-sponsored attempts to interfere in any American elections in 2017, including the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections.”
Google, meanwhile, said similarly it had “not specifically detected any abuse of our platforms in connection with the 2017 state elections.”
Facebook, however, answered the question — without actually answering it.
“We have learned from the 2016 election cycle and from elections worldwide this last year,” the company began in its short reply. “We have incorporated that learning into our automated systems and human review and have greatly improved in preparation for the upcoming elections. We hope to continue learning and improving through increased industry cooperation and dialogue with law enforcement moving forward.”
A spokesman for Facebook did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.
The companies’ replies to Congress — dated earlier this month — may offer only limited consolation to lawmakers who are worried that the tech industry is unprepared for an even larger election in November 2018. That’s why lawmakers like Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, have sought to regulate the political ads that appear on major social media sites.
During the 2016 election, Facebook said that more than 126 million U.S. users had seen some form of Russian propaganda over the course of the 2016 election, including ads purchased by trolls tied to the Kremlin as well as organic posts, like photos and status updates, that appeared in their feeds. Similar content appeared on Instagram, affecting an additional 20 million U.S. users.
Google, meanwhile, previously informed Congress that it had discovered that Russian agents spent about $ 4,700 on ads and launched 18 channels on YouTube, posting more than 1,100 videos that had been viewed about 309,000 times.
And Twitter told lawmakers at first that it found 2,752 accounts tied to the Russia-aligned Internet Research Agency. Last week, however, the company updated that estimate, noting that Russian trolls had more than 3,000 accounts — while Russian-based bots talking about election-related issues numbered more than 50,000.
Facebook, Twitter and Google each has promised improvements in the wake of the 2016 president election. All three tech companies have committed to building new dashboards that will show information about who buys some campaign advertisements, for example. Facebook also pledged to hire 1,000 more content moderators to review ads.
Congress isn’t going to be happy.
Twitter revealed on Friday that trolls tied to the Russian government spread far more disinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential election than the company first reported — and pledged to notify hundreds of thousands of users who had seen that content.
The update comes as Twitter continues to face criticism on Capitol Hill that it has failed to fully confront the scourge of Kremlin propaganda — and neglected to respond to the demands of lawmakers who are probing Russia’s meddling on popular social media sites.
Ahead of a series of congressional hearings last year, Twitter initially said it had discovered 2,200 accounts tied to the Internet Research Agency, a troll army connected to the Russian government. On Friday, though, Twitter said it had actually identified 3,814 accounts related to the IRA.
Also last year, Twitter calculated that there were roughly 36,000 bots originating out of Russia — and tweeting about the election — as Americans headed to the ballot box. By Friday, though, Twitter said it had found an additional 13,000 bots, bringing the total tally of automated accounts tweeting about the presidential race to more than 50,000.
And Twitter revealed for the first time on Friday that Russian propaganda — content that sought to stir social and political unrest in the United States — reached scores of its users. The company said it would notify 677,000 people in the United States who had followed one of these suspect accounts, or retweeted or liked their content. Twitter said it would do so by email.
In announcing its findings, Twitter sought to stress that Russian disinformation only amounted to a small portion of the tweets shared regularly on its platform. And it stressed that it had taken steps to prevent such abuse as another election — a 2018 race to determine the composition of Congress — fast approaches. That includes a series of previously announced changes to the way it displays political ads.
But the news is sure to infuriate federal lawmakers, who repeatedly have needled Twitter during the course of their investigation into Russian influence.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, for one, blasted Twitter in September for a “deeply disappointing” response to his questions about the election. When the company later appeared with its tech peers, Facebook and Google, at a series of congressional hearings on the issue, lawmakers from both parties demanded that Twitter take more aggressive steps to prevent such manipulation of its platform in the future.
This year, the company completely blew a deadline by which it was supposed to respond to written questions it was sent by congressional investigators. And for months, Twitter had ignored public demands by lawmakers like Sen. Richard Blumenthal that it notify users who had seen or interacted with such Russian propaganda. Only this week did Twitter finally acknowledge that it would take that step.
This time, Twitter might face additional criticism: It released its latest findings in a blog post published at 5 p.m. on a Friday — a news dump that comes as the U.S. Congress barrels toward a potential government shut down