Jun 18, 2020 - Technology

Schiff: Trump's tweets complicate election investigations

Photo: Shawn Thew - Pool/Getty Images

Ahead of a House Intelligence Committee virtual hearing with Facebook, Google and Twitter on Thursday, committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) tells Axios that he worries the president's attacks on Twitter and other tech companies could complicate Congress' and the intelligence community's efforts to learn more about election interference.

Driving the news: Schiff says the president's criticism "certainly heightens the concerns of the social media companies and how they interact with the Congress and with the Administration which threaten to make it more difficult to get information from them. I hope it won't have that impact."

The big picture: Thursday's open hearing on foreign influence and election security is meant to help lawmakers and the public better understand misinformation and election security threats ahead of 2020.

Details: Testimony is expected from:

  • Nathaniel Gleicher, head of security policy at Facebook
  • Nick Pickles, director of global public policy strategy and development at Twitter
  • and Richard Salgado, director for law enforcement and information security at Google.

Schiff says the hearing's purpose is for lawmakers to learn about what the platforms are finding, not just to grill them about their actions.

  • To that end, Schiff says he intentionally wanted the security leads at Facebook, Google and Twitter to testify, not their top executives.
  • He also says future hearings will focus on additional companies.

One key committee goal, according to Schiff, is to understand what domestic and international efforts, if any, are being used to spread misinformation or manipulate the 2020 election.

  • He notes that China's efforts to spread misinformation are significant, given diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and China over the origin of the pandemic, trade, and other issues.
  • Manipulative behavior by Iran, Russia and North Korea is also under review.

Be smart: The hearing comes just weeks after President Trump issued an executive order targeting the law that shields tech companies from liability for content posted by users.

  • "The president has been a tremendous beneficiary of how many of these social media algorithms function," Schiff said. "There's probably been no bigger beneficiary than the President to the degree that there are rampant untruths on social media."
  • "So it's ironic he should take issue with social media companies. But of course, he's approaching that from a completely different perspective. He's angry that they're pointing out the falsity of what he has to say. Whereas many on the Democratic side of the aisle are angry that they have not done more on that, not just for President Trump but for other bad actors. "

The bottom line: Schiff says that he understands the tough position that fact-checking politicians' speech puts tech companies in, but "I don't think it's that difficult of a decision morally and ethically and in terms of whats right for our democracy."

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