Sep 4, 2018

Facebook and Twitter suit up for hearings on the Hill

Photo: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

On Wednesday, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey will appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to make the case they've learned their lesson on foreign election interference — and it won't happen again.

Flashback, a year ago this week: "Facebook has told authorities investigating Russia's influence on the 2016 election about thousands of ads likely linked to Russia, many of which were connected to 'inauthentic' accounts and pages and focused on drawing attention to divisive social issues."

What we're hearing: The execs' message on Wednesday will be that a year has made a big difference in how seriously they take the threat of foreign election interference.

  • Twitter and Facebook will highlight their initiatives to make political ad-buying more transparent on their platforms and to better spot malicious activity.
  • Both Dorsey and Sandberg will also focus on how they are working with government officials and other tech companies to combat election interference.

Google remains in a stalemate with the Intelligence Committee. Lawmakers want a CEO-level witness, and the company wants to send its top lawyer.

The big picture: The revelations of the Russian operation in 2016 poured fuel on the fire for Silicon Valley in Washington, and previously quiet criticism of the platform companies has grown louder.

  • The left has pushed them to do better at policing far-right media figures like Infowars' Alex Jones.
  • The right has mounted a chorus of complaints about censorship of conservatives — without much hard evidence — that President Trump has amplified.

Twitter may face the brunt of those criticisms this week given that Dorsey is also testifying solo before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where Republican leaders have seized on complaints that it's limiting the reach of conservative voices.

  • Dorsey will look to answer their concerns by explaining how Twitter ranks content, and reiterating the company's denial that political bias plays a role.
  • He'll also come armed with a new Twitter analysis that found that, when controlling for outside factors, tweets from Republican and Democratic lawmakers were viewed essentially the same number of times.
  • That said, he will also likely be held to account for a new Wall Street Journal report that he personally intervened on controversial recent decisions, including whether to maintain a ban on Jones.

Meanwhile, an NBC News interview with Samidh Chakrabarti, Facebook's head of civic engagement, detailed plans to construct — actually, not virtually — a war room to manage responses to election interference in real time. Chakrabarti also confirmed that, as Facebook promised last year, the company has doubled the size of its safety and security team from 10,000 people a year ago to 20,000 now.

The bottom line: Over the past year, having to publicly answer tough questions from lawmakers has become the new normal for Silicon Valley.

Go deeper: Read Axios' Jim VandeHei's piece on Twitter’s insane mind-control power.

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Netanyahu says July 1 deadline for West Bank annexation won't change

Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday at a Likud Party faction meeting at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, that his July 1 deadline for starting the process of annexation in the West Bank will not change, according to people in attendance.

Why it matters: The White House and the State Department have stressed over the last few weeks that the deadline set by Netanyahu is "not sacred" to the Trump administration — and that any discussion of annexation needs to be in the context of renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina if capacity reduced

President Trump on stage during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Ohio. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

President Trump threatened in a series of Monday tweets to move this summer's Republican National Convention from Charlotte if North Carolina's Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, doesn't allow the event to be held at full capacity.

The state of play: Mandy Cohen, the state's health and human services secretary, said last week that the GOP should "plan for the worst" as mass gatherings will be a "very big challenge" if the number of coronavirus cases in the state continues to increase, per NPR.

The wreckage of summer

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We usually think of Memorial Day as the start of the summer, with all of the fun and relaxation that goes with it — but this one is just going to remind us of all of the plans that have been ruined by the coronavirus.

Why it matters: If you thought it was stressful to be locked down during the spring, just wait until everyone realizes that all the traditional summer activities we've been looking forward to are largely off-limits this year.