After Facebook, Twitter's turn to face Congress

Facebook might be in the spotlight over its role and impact in last year’s US election, but it’s not the only one facing scrutiny. Twitter’s representatives will be meeting with the Senate Intelligence Panel on Sept 28 to talk about the spread of misinformation and bots, or automated accounts, on its platform.

Both social-media companies have been struggling to get in front of the narrative that they have been slow to recognise and address problems of manipulation on their sites. Mark Zuckerberg at first denied that Facebook could have had any impact on the election, while Twitter has repeatedly said that its open and real-time platform serves as an antidote to fake news.

Facebook has since come around, admitting that it found about US$100,000 (RM422,000) in ad spending connected to fake accounts probably run from Russia. It’s even doing a giant overhaul of its political advertising and said it will give Congress all the evidence it has on the campaign. Zuckerberg is adding 250 employees to work on election integrity.

Twitter contends that tweets from “engaged citizens” and journalists will counteract the falsely tweeted information. The problem with that notion is the size and scale of the behaviour by Russia-related Twitter accounts. Cybersecurity firm FireEye found thousands of fake accounts linked to Russia that regularly posted anti-Clinton messages. It found that on election day, one group of Twitter bots sent out the hashtag #WarAgainstDemocratsmore than 1,700 times. Suspected Russian bots even caused the hashtag #HillaryDown to start trending.

“Everybody realises that the lines between TV and online are blurring more and more everyday,” said Meredith McGehee, chief of policy, programs and strategy at Issue One, a group that seeks to limit the impact of large donors on politicians. “We have television and communication law that was written in the 1930s and we have campaign law that was written in the 1970s. Neither is appropriate for the 21st century.”

We’ve come to the point where Facebook, Twitter and other social-media outlets are exerting more influence on people’s psyches than what you might expect from TV or other media. They’re also capturing a growing portion of political advertising in the United States. So some democrats are asking: then why aren’t they regulated? TV stations, cable and satellite companies and radio stations all have to keep records of and disclose who pays for political messages on their platforms, including how much they paid and when the ads aired. Congress has taken a more hands-off approach to the Internet.

“Social-media platforms offer the ability to target millions of users based upon a wealth of highly-detailed information,” John Sarbanes, Elijah Cummings and other democrats wrote in a letter to the Federal Elections Commission. “As we have seen, the low cost of reaching these users equips hostile foreign actors with a powerful new tool for disruption of our democratic process.”

It’s going to take a lot more than what Twitter is currently doing to stop spammy and manipulative bots. If Facebook is adding 250 employees to deal with the problem, how many will Twitter add? — Bloomberg