Oct 26, 2017

Google keeps low profile in Russia investigation

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Facebook and Google both have a Russia problem. But while Facebook has mounted a very public response to charges of election meddling on its platform, Google has kept its head down.

Why it matters: At least so far, Google has managed to avoid the scale of criticism that has hit Facebook and Twitter as a result of Congress' investigation into Russia's actions and the platforms' role in allowing them, which is good news for a company that is frequently at the center of tech policy battles. Still, it will get intense questioning when its general counsel testifies on Capitol Hill next week.

Compare and contrast:

  • Google has kept its congressional outreach quiet, while Facebook and Twitter have made public announcements after briefing investigators.
  • Google executives have stayed silent on the issue, while Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg begs forgiveness and his top lieutenants mix it up with reporters covering the Russia probe on Twitter.
  • Google waited longer than Facebook and Twitter to confirm it would testify at hearings on Russia next week.

Driving the trend: Google has less exposure to Russian meddling than Facebook and Twitter. It's not a platform where things go viral, which was the power that Russian operatives allegedly took advantage of to inflame American political tensions during the election. But it also points to the marked difference between how Google and Facebook operate.

  • Facebook executives have significant public profiles when it comes to political debates. COO Sheryl Sandberg is a Washington veteran who has been mentioned as a possible contender for government jobs, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been touring the United States this year in an attempt to engage with issues like the opioid crisis and the rising tide of automation.
  • Google has spent years marketing itself — more aggressively than Facebook — as non-threatening, noted Luther Lowe, a Yelp policy staffer who is one of Google's longtime antagonists in Washington. Plus, Facebook's reputation among users is tied in part to the user's relationships to others using the platform, which the company has less control over. Google declined to comment on the record.

Yes, but: Google's weakest point in the investigation is YouTube, where Russian operatives allegedly supported vloggers pushing anti-Hillary Clinton messages. YouTube also has a relationship with the Kremlin-backed outlet Russia Today — meaning the company makes money off of Russian state content.

The pressure could ramp up as more comes out about that relationship, including a deep dive from the New York Times into the topic and a spot on the issue this week on the Today Show.

Behind the scenes: Despite its low public profile over the past few months, Google's army of lobbyists has been active behind the scenes. For example, Google has also been lobbying on a bill that would put new disclosure requirements on online political ads. And the company just hired another lobbying firm packed with former Republican Congressional staffers.

What's next?: Google General Counsel Kent Walker will appear at congressional hearings next week to talk about the questions around Russia, joining his counterparts at Twitter and Facebook.

Sign up for Axios newsletters to get our smart brevity delivered to your inbox every morning.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 5 p.m. ET: 716,101 — Total deaths: 33,854 — Total recoveries: 148,900.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 5 p.m. ET: 136,880 — Total deaths: 2,409 — Total recoveries: 2,612.
  3. Federal government latest: The first federal prisoner to die from coronavirus was reported from a correctional facility in Louisiana on Sunday.
  4. Public health updates: Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from virus.
  5. State updates: Louisiana governor says state is on track to exceed ventilator capacity by end of this week — Cuomo says Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "panicked" some people into fleeing New York
  6. World updates: Italy on Sunday reports 756 new deaths, bringing its total 10,779. Spain reports almost 840 dead, another new daily record that bring its total to over 6,500.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Trump touts press briefing "ratings" as U.S. coronavirus case surge

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump sent about a half-dozen tweets on Sunday touting the high television ratings that his coronavirus press briefings have received, selectively citing a New York Times article that compared them to "The Bachelor" and "Monday Night Football."

Why it matters: The president has been holding daily press briefings in the weeks since the coronavirus pandemic was declared, but news outlets have struggled with how to cover them live — as Trump has repeatedly been found to spread misinformation and contradict public health officials.

World coronavirus updates: Total cases surge to over 700,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

There are now than more than 700,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The virus has now killed more than 32,000 people — with Italy alone reporting over 10,000 deaths.

The big picture: Governments around the world have stepped up public health and economic measures to stop the spread of the virus and soften the financial impact. In the U.S., now the site of the largest outbreak in the world, President Trump said Saturday he would issue a "strong" travel advisory for New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health