Sil­i­con Val­ley has a duty to help

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - OP / ED - BY ADAM B. SCHIFF U.S. Rep. Adam B. Schiff rep­re­sents Cal­i­for­nia’s 28th Con­gres­sional District, and is rank­ing mem­ber of the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence. Con­tact him at @ repadamschiff. He wrote this for the Sacra­mento Bee. © 2017, T

As a Cal­i­for­nian, I’m proud that our state boasts so many lead­ing tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies. As a mem­ber of the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee lead­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion, I need the as­sis­tance of those same com­pa­nies in our in­ves­ti­ga­tion so that to­gether we can pro­tect fu­ture elec­tions from for­eign in­flu­ence.

In Jan­uary, the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity as­sessed that the Rus­sians’ so­phis­ti­cated cam­paign was de­signed to help Don­ald Trump, dam­age Hil­lary Clin­ton and sow dis­cord in our democ­racy by fol­low­ing a play­book that Rus­sia has honed for years in Europe, and which is known in in­tel­li­gence cir­cles as “Ac­tive Mea­sures.” Rus­sia’s most vis­i­ble in­ter­ven­tion was through the hack­ing of the Demo­cratic Party in­sti­tu­tions and the email ac­count of Clin­ton cam­paign chair­man John Podesta, which al­lowed Moscow to steal doc­u­ments and emails that it then leaked through cut-outs in­clud­ing Wiki-Leaks.

Less ob­vi­ously, Rus­sia waged an in­sid­i­ous cam­paign on­line, ma­nip­u­lat­ing open in­ter­net plat­forms to in­flame par­ti­san and so­ci­etal ten­sions and spread­ing dis­in­for­ma­tion through a va­ri­ety of chan­nels. Rus­sia in­ter­fered to ben­e­fit Trump in the 2016 elec­tion, but the Krem­lin’s goals were more ex­pan­sive than tip­ping a sin­gle elec­tion. Putin sought — and seeks still — to weaken us from within by ex­ploit­ing and ex­ac­er­bat­ing ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal, re­li­gious, and racial fis­sures in our so­ci­ety.

Re­cently, our com­mit­tee held a hear­ing with Face­book, Twit­ter, and Google as part of our ef­fort to un­der­stand the ex­tent of Rus­sia’s ac­tiv­i­ties on these plat­forms. The tes­ti­mony of these three com­pa­nies made clear that the Rus­sian ef­fort was ex­ten­sive, and of­fered rea­son to be­lieve that what we now know may be just the tip of the ice­berg.

Face­book was the ear­li­est of the three com­pa­nies to iden­tify and re­port Rus­sian ac­tiv­ity on its plat­form, dis­clos­ing to the com­mit­tee that an es­ti­mated 126 mil­lion Amer­i­can users saw con­tent posted on fake pages linked to a no­to­ri­ous Rus­sian “troll” farm. Face­book also iden­ti­fied more than 3,000 Rus­sian-cre­ated ad­ver­tise­ments that more than 11 mil­lion Face­book users saw.

These ads, which the com­mit­tee is work­ing to make pub­lic, pro­moted phony pages that spoofed causes rang­ing from “Black Lives Mat­ter,” to anti-im­mi­gra­tion ac­tivism, to LGBT rights, to pro-Con­fed­er­acy sen­ti­ments.

Twit­ter also re­ported sig­nif­i­cant ac­tiv­ity linked to Rus­sia, in­clud­ing more than 30,000 Rus­sian-linked bot ac­counts gen­er­at­ing in ex­cess of 1 mil­lion tweets seen by al­most 300 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide. Ad­di­tion­ally, Twit­ter iden­ti­fied nearly 3,000 hu­man-co­or­di­nated ac­counts, some of which had thou­sands of fol­low­ers and were cited in the me­dia or even retweeted by se­nior Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials dur­ing the elec­tion sea­son. Google had the least to re­port, but we know YouTube has been a fo­cus for Rus­sia, with the Krem­lin-con­trolled news or­ga­ni­za­tion RT’s chan­nel rack­ing up 5 bil­lion views.

I ap­pre­ci­ated the will­ing­ness of these three com­pa­nies to tes­tify and pro­vide us with in­for­ma­tion, but much more will need to be done. At the hear­ing, I pro­posed sev­eral steps these firms, and oth­ers, can take to be part of the so­lu­tion.

First, Face­book, Twit­ter, and Google, as well as other ma­jor tech firms, should pool their re­sources and ex­per­tise to un­der­take a joint in­ves­ti­ga­tion to un­cover the full ex­tent of Rus­sia’s covert ac­tiv­ity on their plat­forms and present their find­ings to Congress, and the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

Sec­ond, they should work with Congress to make pub­lic as much Rus­sia-cre­ated con­tent as pos­si­ble, in­clud­ing in­di­vid­ual ad­ver­tise­ments and posts, so the pub­lic can see the breadth of this Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda. They should also com­mit to open­ing — or in some cases re­open­ing — ac­cess to data needed by third-party re­searchers and aca­demics who are work­ing to un­der­stand the ma­nip­u­la­tion of their plat­forms.

Fi­nally, each of these com­pa­nies should com­mit to no­ti­fy­ing users who were tar­geted with what we now know was Rus­sian pro­pa­ganda. That step would help ed­u­cate users who were served ads or con­tent gen­er­ated by Rus­sian trolls and play a part in in­oc­u­lat­ing them against fu­ture in­flu­ence op­er­a­tions.

At the hear­ing, I made the case that these com­pa­nies, which have be­come a ubiq­ui­tous and in­te­gral part of life for tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans, have an eth­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure that their tech­nol­ogy isn’t har­nessed to tear at the fab­ric of our democ­racy. As Congress con­tin­ues its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence, we will need greater and on­go­ing co­op­er­a­tion from in­ter­net com­pa­nies to un­der­stand the full ex­tent of what Rus­sia did, and to pro­tect our­selves from what it may do next time.


Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calf., an­swers ques­tions Nov. 7 dur­ing an in­ter­view at the As­so­ci­ated Press bureau in Wash­ing­ton.

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