WASHINGTON â? Fb and Google declined under recurring congressional questioning Tuesday to invest in stop taking Russian rubles as well as other foreign currencies as payment for United states political advertisements, despite federal selection law prohibiting payments from international nationals.
Sen. Al Franken associated with Minnesota, a Democrat, hammered the businesses on the question of accepting United states political ads paid for in foreign exchange during a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee hearing on Russian disinformation strategies and the 2016 election. It was the very first of three congressional hearings throughout two days in which Google, Facebook plus Twitter will appear for questioning.
âHow did Facebook, which prides itself on being able to process billions of data points and instantly transform them into personal connections for its users somehow not make the connection that electoral ads paid for in rubles were coming from Russia?â asked Franken. âThose are two data points. American political ads and Russian money, rubles. How could you not connect those two dots?â
âIn hindsight, we should have had a broader lens. There were signals we missed,â said Colin Stretch, the general counsel for Fb.
âPeople are buying ads on your platform with rubles,â Franken. âTheyâre political ads. You put billions of data points together all the time thatâs what I hear these platforms do. Theyâre the most sophisticated things invented by man, ever. Google has all knowledge that man has ever developed. You canât put together rubles with a political ad and go like hmmm, those two data points spell out something bad.â
âItâs a signal we should have been alert to and in hindsight, itâs one we missed,â replied Stretch out.
âOkay, okay yeah,â said Franken. âWill Facebook commit to not accepting political ads paid for by foreign money in the future?â
âSenator, our goal is to require all political advertisers regardless of currency to provide documentation and information that theyâre authorized to advertise,â Stretch out said, raising questions about tool of âthe currency signal.â
âOur goal is to make sure weâre addressing all forms of abuse,â said Stretch.
âMy goal is for you to think through this stuff a little bit better,â snapped Franken.
In his prepared accounts, Stretch noted that of the bogus accounts associated with the Internet Research Company, which âspent approximately $100,000 on more than 3,000 Facebook and Instagram ads between June 2015 and August 2017,â âmany of the ads were paid for in Russian currency, though currency alone is a weak signal for suspicious activity.â
Franken pressed once again on this point later, turning their attention to Twitter and Google. Might they commit to stop running electoral ads on American political strategies that are paid for by foreign stars, he asked.
âI donât believe we do,â said Sean Edgett, acting general counsel associated with Twitter. âI donât believe we take rubles.â He replied âyes,â to the yes or no version associated with Frankenâs question.
Google was, such as Facebook, more circumspect. âI would want to check to make sure itâs a good signal. If itâs a good signal, yes. If itâs not a good signal then itâs not a good approach,â mentioned Richard Salgado, Google law enforcement plus security director.
âYou know foreign companies actually canât legally do that,â said Franken.
âRight. Foreign companies canât, thatâs right. So the trick is to make sure it is a signal that gives us the right hit. Itâs a very good signal and so it may be the right one to use,â Salgado said.
âForeigners canât use money in our campaigns, you know that right? Itâs illegal,â questioned Franken. âSo you want to know if it would be a good signal to do something illegal or not?â
âItâs a very good signal,â agreed Salgado.
Overall the companies emphasized that while they have 100s or thousands of people on staff members to monitor content for terrorist risks and other violations, the first line of protection at all the companies is technology. They may be good at seeing âsignalsâ such as the development of hundreds of new accounts in the short period of time, but as global companies that accept advertising covered in an array of denominations, the trick in the years ahead will be to identify U. S. -targeted political and issue-based ads covered in all foreign currencies.
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