• United States



Senator wants tech giants to help U.S. retaliate against Russia

Nov 05, 20174 mins

Silicon Valley tech giants weaponizing the internet … what could possibly go wrong?

Tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Twitter should help the U.S. government retaliate against Russia for meddling in the 2016 presidential elections, according to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Attorneys for Google, Facebook and Twitter testified before Congress last week about how their platforms were used by Russia to spread misinformation and propaganda during the 2016 elections.

The fact that the tech giants sent their attorneys and not their CEOs to speak at the hearings didn’t sit well with McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader. Of course, he was egged on during an interview with Hugh Hewitt that aired Saturday on MSNBC.

“Are you disappointed that Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey and others did not come to answer the questions about how big Big Tech has become?” Hewitt asked McConnell. “How powerful? How manipulated they were? That Twitter was offering Russian television 15 percent of their ad space, and they would not come to answer the senators’ questions?”

Sen. McConnell responded:

“They ought to be more interested in cooperating when you have a clear law enforcement issue, more interested in cooperating with law enforcement than they have been.

“What we ought to do with regard to the Russians is retaliate, seriously retaliate. These tech firms could be helpful in having us, giving us a way to do that.”

We learned some additional details about how Russian actors used social media thanks to three Congressional hearings last week. For example, Facebook admitted that 146 million people — 126 million on Facebook and 20 million on Instagram — saw Russian electoral disinformation. The House Intelligence Committee released examples of Facebook ads paid for by Russian actors. The varied ads touched on issues around veterans (pdf), illegal immigration (pdf), gun control (pdf), Black Lives Matter (pdf), Blue Lives Matter (pdf), and religion, such as “liking” an ad would help Jesus triumph over Hillary who was “Satan” (pdf).

Google found 18 YouTube channels focused on the election that were paid for by the Russia-based Internet Research Agency. The channels produced 1,108 videos, representing 43 hours of content, that “appeared to be political.”

At the hearings, there was a lot of discussion about how tech companies can guard against other countries trying to use social media to influence a U.S. election. There was talk about how much regulations on political advertising might help.

National security vs. the First Ammendment

Yet during the interview with Hewitt, Sen. McConnell said he was a “little skeptical” about current proposals to force tech companies to disclose the identities of those who purchase online political ads; those proposals strike McConnell as most likely to “penalize American citizens trying to use the internet and to advertise.” 

McConnell also said he wasn’t certain the U.S. needed a 9/11-like special commission to look at the national security implications of the broader issue of encryption.

“It certainly would help if the CEOs were willing to testify, but I think it’s a big, big subject with a lot of national security implications, and a lot of First Amendment concerns as well,” he said.

He called it a “tough area, trying to figure out how to balance national security versus the First Amendment.”

“The First Amendment shouldn’t apply to foreigners,” he added. “That’s an American protection. And so we need to be figuring out how to deal with these foreign actors in some way that’s consistent with the national security that does not violate the First Amendment rights of Americans.”

In Gizmodo’s opinion, McConnell’s suggestion is for tech companies “to weaponize the internet against Russia.”

Whether it is in regard to policing political ads or dealing with backdoors in encryption, if Silicon Valley tech giants start helping by weaponizing the internet … what could possibly go wrong?

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.