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Russian hackers used Facebook ads to pit different social, racial and political groups against one another. Photo: Joerg Koch / AP

The Washington Post added a key phrase to the online version of yesterday's top-of-front-page blockbuster on President Obama personally warning Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg about taking fake news and Russia seriously: "the president did not single out Russia specifically."

The Post story is part of a perfect storm suddenly blowing against the tech giants. Facebook is in the eye, because of rising revelations about paid Russian propaganda spread during the 2016 election.

With media and legislative scrutiny rising, we talked to tech executives about how they plan to handle the onslaught.

The key takeaways:

  • Tech companies know they make juicy targets for entrenched players — including the media, political parties, and the advertising industry — who are scared and threatened by disruptive technology.
  • Facebook plans greater engagement and visibility, and doesn't plan to accept being a punching bag.
  • But the company plans more focus on improving products than on winning the rhetorical debate.
  • Tech companies will warn against a legislative cure that's worse than the disease — a new and more onerous regime that restricts legitimate political speech: Who will defend unpopular political speech?
  • Those pressures are already building in Europe. Silicon Valley thought the U.S. had a very different tradition, enshrined in the First Amendment, about more speech being the best way to counter bad speech.
  • Mark Zuckerberg has made it clear Facebook will support some changes, including more coordination with commissions that enforce election laws, and more transparency and authenticity around political ads.
  • Some internet companies would welcome more regularized cooperation with intelligence agencies, to get better information about the extent of the infiltration of their platforms.
  • Some tech companies plan more cooperation to share information about fake political accounts, like is done now to deter images that exploit children.

Be smart: Politicians in both parties see political advantage in making Big Tech a target. And as the 2018 midterm elections get closer, there'll be more focus on deterring last cycle's tsunami of hacking and fake news. So the collision of tech and Washington is likely to be a defining saga of the year ahead.

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Go deeper

1 hour ago - World

Scoop: Iran preparing to enrich weapons-grade uranium, Israel warns U.S.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi holds a press conference. Photo: Presidency of Iran handout via Getty

Israel has shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the U.S. and several European allies suggesting that Iran is taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity — the level needed to produce a nuclear weapon, two U.S. sources briefed on the issue tell me.

Why it matters: Enriching to 90% would bring Iran closer than ever to the nuclear threshold. The Israeli warnings come as nuclear talks resume in Vienna, with Iran returning to the negotiating table on Monday after a five-month hiatus.

Biden: Fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns"

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Monday said that the new coronavirus variant, Omicron, is "a cause for concern, not a cause for panic."

Driving the news: Biden said later this week the administration will be releasing a strategy on how "we're going to fight COVID this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: WHO says Omicron poses "very high" risk — Fauci says Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S. — U.S. restricts air travel from 8 countries over Omicron concerns.
  2. Politics: Biden says fight against Omicron won't include "shutdowns or lockdowns."
  3. States: New York declares state of emergency amid concerns over Omicron.
  4. World: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating worldWHO warns against travel bans on southern African countries — First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.