Twitter called to Capitol Hill to give details on Russian election interference

Officials from Twitter were on Capitol Hill on Thursday to tell congressional investigators about Russia’s use of the social media platform to attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The closed-door hearing with House and Senate staff followed a similar briefing involving Facebook, which revealed earlier this month that it sold more than 3,000 election ads linked to a Russian agency.

The Senate and House intelligence committees are trying to understand the degree to which Russia and groups allied with the Kremlin may have used such platforms to spread fake news stories and misinformation – and what the companies could have done to stem such attacks.

The House committee announced on Wednesday that it plans an open hearing with the tech companies “in the coming month”. A Senate aide confirmed that Twitter, Facebook and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, have been invited to testify publicly on 1 November.

“In the coming month, we will hold an open hearing with representatives from tech companies in order to better understand how Russia used online tools and platforms to sow discord in and influence our election,” said California congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee.

“Congress and the American people need to hear this important information directly from these companies.”

It was unclear what Twitter was likely to say in Thursday’s hearing, but the company is under increased pressure from lawmakers and the public to disclose what it knows about Russian activity.

Facebook has come under increased scrutiny after acknowledging that hundreds of accounts and pages probably operated from Russia spent nearly $100,000 on ads.

The ads, which have not been publicly released, did not focus on the election or a particular candidate, Facebook said. Rather, the intent was to amplify divisive issues such as immigration, gun rights and race relations – all central to Donald Trump’s campaign.

In a video statement earlier this month, Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said: “I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy. That’s not what we stand for.”

Twitter has largely been silent on the subject. In a June blogpost, vice-president of public policy Colin Crowell wrote: “Twitter’s open and real-time nature is a powerful antidote to the spreading of all types of false information.

“This is important because we cannot distinguish whether every single Tweet from every person is truthful or not. We, as a company, should not be the arbiter of truth.”

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