Silicon Valley has been able to escape the heavy wave of federal regulations that other industries have faced, but that now could change as lawmakers question tech companies’ practices in the 2016 election and their recent efforts to silence certain groups.
Facebook has revealed that it sold $100,000 in ad spending between June 2015 and May of this year that was connected to “inauthentic” accounts that analysts concluded were operated out of Russia. This revelation could spur some change — or at least a debate — about how Washington oversees social media companies, especially in light of the role they now play in politics.
“I think this is a debate,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. “This has been [the] Wild Wild West. I’m disappointed that Facebook didn’t come forward with this information about the Russians pushing people to anti-immigration rallies.”
Warner wondered how social media companies “can, in effect, ‘hide’ their content.” And then, referring to the Supreme Court decision that enabled unlimited corporate contributions to outside political groups, he continued, “As much as I dislike Citizens United, at least someone can go down and look at the TV ads and know it’s for or against somebody. Why don’t those rules apply to social media companies?”
As a result of Facebook’s disclosure, the intelligence panel might ask representatives for Facebook and Twitter to testify in public about foreign interference in U.S. elections.
Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told CBS News that so far, digital giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google have used their political clout to ensure they aren’t subject to government or public oversight.
“These are unregulated,” he said. “We’ve given Google and Facebook a free ride to do whatever it really wants to do with our information and its business practices and only now are we considering the consequences.”
Facebook is already taking action to try to prevent a repeat of the Russian political ad buying in the future. Carolyn Everson, vice president of global marketing solutions, rolled out a series of new guidelines the company will follow to ensure there’s a tougher process to determine who can advertise on its network.
“We know we have to stay vigilant to keep ahead of people who try to misuse our platform. We believe in protecting the…