House Intelligence Committee Holds Virtual Open Hearing with Facebook, Google and Twitter on Online Foreign Influence

House Intelligence Committee Holds Virtual Open Hearing with Facebook, Google and Twitter on Foreign Influence, COVID-19, and Election Security

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) convened a virtual hearing Thursday, June 18 on Emerging Trends in Online Foreign Influence Operations: Social Media, COVID-19, and Election Security. This was the Committee’s second virtual hearing, and key senior officials from Facebook, Google and Twitter testified remotely. The video of the hearing is here.
The Committee hearing addressed efforts to detect and disrupt foreign malign attempts to influence political and societal discourse, particularly as the November 2020 presidential election approaches. Witnesses include Nathanial Gleicher, Head of Security Policy at Facebook; Nick Pickles, Director of Global Public Policy Strategy and Development at Twitter; and Richard Salgado, Director for Law Enforcement and Information Security at Google.
In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), asked the companies how they intend to keep up with the pace of influence operations on social media from threats like foreign actors in Russia and West Africa.
“Other countries have watched and learned from Russian active measures, and they may well seek to replicate them. As takedowns of coordinated inauthentic behavior have demonstrated, China, Iran and other nations are using similar techniques aimed at international and domestic audiences, and they may choose to ramp up foreign influence operations in the future.

And the question is: Will your companies be able to keep up?

Technology has also evolved, including the rapid advent of “deepfake” technology, which was the subject of a hearing by the Committee last year. Deepfakes and manipulated media could be weaponized by malicious actors to upend an election by laundering false images, audio, or videos into the information stream through social media and traditional media outlets.

While each of your platforms has begun to adopt policies around “deepfakes” and manipulated media, it remains to be seen whether they are sufficient to detect and remove sinister manipulated media at speed. For once a visceral first impression has been made, even if proven false later, it’s nearly impossible to repair the damage.

I am also concerned because the nature of your platforms, all of them, is to embrace and monetize virality. The more sensational, the more divisive, the more shocking or emotionally charged, the faster it circulates.

A tweet or Instagram photo or a YouTube video can be viewed by millions of Americans in the span of hours. A policy that only identifies and acts upon misinformation, whether from a foreign or domestic source, after millions of people have seen it is only a partial response at best.”

None of the Republican members of the Committee participated in the event. In a Fox News story June 19, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) said the GOP chose not to participate due to security concerns that the Intelligence Committee hearing should not be discussing issues of interest to foreign adversaries in an open public environment.

Prior to the hearing, the Committee said it would examine:

  • The steps taken and policies adopted by the technology sector since 2016 to identify and root out foreign influence operations online and protect against election interference;
  • The current state of indicator and data sharing among private-sector actors about potential state-backed, cross-platform influence activity;
  • The collaboration between the technology sector and U.S. government authorities to address the threat of covert foreign influence and election interference activities;
  • The role of overt, coordinated disinformation or propaganda activity by state-controlled media and official government social media accounts to advance strategic narratives; and
  • Any recent identified foreign-linked misinformation efforts involving the COVID-19 pandemic or protests over George Floyd’s murder.
WHAT: House Intelligence Committee Open Virtual Hearing: Emerging Trends in Online Foreign Influence Operations: Social Media, COVID-19, and Election Security

WHEN: Thursday, June 18, 2020 at 12:00 pm ET

WHERE: A livestream of the hearing is available on YouTube at