WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators said on Tuesday they wanted to work with Silicon Valley to find answers to election meddling as they kicked off two days of congressional hearings on how Russia allegedly manipulated social media networks to try to influence the 2016 U.S. campaign.
Lawyers from Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google are testifying before three hearings this week, the first time tech executives have appeared publicly before U.S. lawmakers on the Russia matter.
At stake for the tech firms are their public images and the threat of tougher advertising regulations in the United States, where the technology sector has grown accustomed to light treatment from the government.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate’s crime subcommittee, said at the start of the hearing on Tuesday that he was focused on finding solutions to election meddling, not demonizing tech companies.
“The purpose of this hearing is to figure out how we can help you,” Graham told the lawyers.
The subcommittee’s top Democrat, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, said he was also looking for ways to work with the tech companies. He added, however, that online ad platforms such as Facebook should disclose who buys elections ads on them.
As many as 126 million Americans over two years may have seen politically divisive posts that originated in Russia under fake names, Facebook, the world’s largest social network, told Congress in written testimony on Monday.
Google and Twitter have also said that people in Russia used their services to spread messages in the run-up to last year’s U.S. presidential election.
The Russian government has denied it intended to influence the election, in which Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The three tech companies told U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday that they agreed with the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that concluded Russians used social media as part of a disinformation campaign targeting American voters.
Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said in testimony that the election meddling on Facebook was “reprehensible” and contrary to what the network stands for.
Graham asked Stretch whether Iran and North Korea could replicate what Russia did in the United States.
“Certainly potentially. The internet is borderless,” Stretch said.
After threats of U.S. regulation, Facebook, Google and Twitter have all recently taken steps toward self-regulation of political advertising, saying they would create their own public archives of election-related ads.
Reporting by David Ingram in Washington; Additional reporting by Dustin Volz in Washington and Paresh Dave in San Francisco; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney