Americans worried about Russian influence on elections
The bigger picture: This week is a showdown on the topic with Facebook, Google, and Twitter testifying on the Capitol Hill for the first time in years to answer for Russian actors' influence on their platforms to directly target U.S. voters.
Top lawyers from Facebook, Google and Twitter will spend the next few days answering questions about how the technology they've long touted as a boon for free speech was manipulated by Russian operatives to disrupt the 2016 election. This week is an inflection point for the image of these three internet platforms that have been held up as pinnacles of innovation for the better part of a decade.
- On Tuesday, Facebook and Twitter's general counsels and a Google security exec testify before a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
- Wednesday brings a double header: the general counsels from all three companies testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in the morning, and the House Intelligence Committee in the afternoon.
Silicon Valley still enjoys pretty rosy views from most Americans: 84% say U.S. technology companies have had a positive effect on the U.S. economy and 71% say technology has benefited society — with Republicans and Democrats equally likely to be in these camps. But attitudes are shifting, according to the survey.
- Asked whether social media "does more to help promote democracy and free speech or does more to hurt democracy and free speech," 51% of those surveyed said it did more hurt to democracy and 45% said it did more to help. Notably, large majorities among African-Americans and Hispanics said social media helps democracy, while a majority of white respondents say it hurts.
- When it comes to policing the platforms for foreign influence, 43% of people said that they trust neither the federal government or tech companies to keep foreign influence out of elections on social media — while just 20% said they trust them both.
- Go deeper: Americans don't trust tech firms or feds to police Russian meddling in U.S. politics
Best case scenario for tech: If lawmakers buy the transparency measures that some of the companies have rapidly rolled out in preparation for the hearing, all three come off as responsive to investigators' questions — and users don't care enough to change how they use the platforms.
- They'll also benefit if Mueller's indictments happen early in the week, drowning out the press around the hearings.
Worst case scenario for tech: Remember that photo with the seven tobacco CEOs being sworn in to testify that cigarettes aren't addictive? If the companies' legal executives look like they're obfuscating or dodging questions, that will inflame an already tense investigation. If users become more wary of Google or Facebook or Twitter, the companies' longtime popularity could take a hit.