It became clear that Russians posted advertisements on various social media platforms leading up to the 2016 presidential election. The goal was to influence public opinion. As part of their investigations, the Senate Intelligence Committee sent Facebook, Google, and Twitter written questions to answer by yesterday. Facebook and Google complied with the deadline, but Twitter hasn’t. You might remember that lawyers from Facebook, Google and Twitter appeared before the committee in November, where they answered questions. After that, the panel wrote down a list of additional questions that they had. What’s interesting is that Facebook and Google provided a ton of information, but Twitter missed the deadline. Weird, right?
As someone who works in government, I understand how important deadlines are. If missed, there are a ton of legal ramifications as well as possible fines. Democrat Senator, Mark Warner feels the same way. He states, “they need to understand when they bring in their senior executives and testify before Congress [and] when Congress then has follow-up written questions, we expect them to answer those questions. So if it’s a day or two, fine, but if this is one more attempt for them to kind of punt on their responsibility that will not go down well with the committee.” Warner means business.
What is he talking about when he says “punt” responsibility? You might remember that instead of going themselves, Twitter, Facebook, and Google sent their lawyers to testify before Congress. And you can’t really blame them. But at the same time, it gives the impression that they’re not taking responsibility for this issue.
Twitter provided a statement to Axios, which said:
“We are continuing to work closely with committee investigators to provide detailed, thorough answers to their questions. As our review is ongoing, we want to ensure we are providing Congress with the most complete, accurate answers possible. We look forward to finalizing our responses soon.”
The key piece of information that I’d like you to take away from this is that they provided the statement to Axios, not to Congress. So, of course, Warner is going to be mad. There are times when you aren’t obligated to provide any kind of information to anyone. In this case, though, it’s important for them to be upfront with Congress. It’s Congress. Just give them the information or let them know it’s coming. What’s taking them so long? Honestly, I thought the biggest “problem” with all of this was actually Facebook. I’m not suggesting that Twitter is without blame, the headlines all read that Facebook needed to take some responsibility.
In fact, they made those headlines when they admitted that 126 million US users were exposed to Russian advertisements. But Twitter did follow with some of their own confessions. In September, they announced that hundreds of accounts were actually Russian-backed bots. What is Twitter hiding? I would imagine that if they’re hiding something, it has to be big. Now, they could just be slow in providing this information to Congress, but why can’t they let them know of the delay? This doesn’t look good, but it will certainly be interesting to see what they are hiding.