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.

Subscribe to Axios AM/PM for a daily rundown of what's new and why it matters, directly from Mike Allen.
Please enter a valid email.
Please enter a valid email.
Server error. Please try a different email.
Subscribed! Look for Axios AM and PM in your inbox tomorrow or read the latest Axios AM now.

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
9 mins ago - Economy & Business

Leon Black says he "made a terrible mistake" doing business with Jeffrey Epstein

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Rick Friedman/Corbis/Getty Images

Apollo Global Management CEO Leon Black on Wednesday said during an earnings call that he made a "terrible mistake" by employing Jeffrey Epstein to work on personal financial and philanthropic services.

Why it matters: Apollo is one of the world's largest private equity firms, and already has lost at least one major client over Black's involvement with Epstein.

1 hour ago - World

Jeremy Corbyn suspended by U.K. Labour Party over anti-Semitism report

Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The U.K. Labour Party has suspended its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, after a watchdog report found that the party failed to properly take action against allegations of anti-Semitism during his time in charge.

Why it matters: It represents a strong break by Keir Starmer, Labour's current leader, from the Corbyn era and one of the party's most persistent scandals.

U.S. economy sees record growth in third quarter

The U.S. economy grew at a 33.1% annualized pace in the third quarter, the Commerce Department said on Thursday.

The state of play: The record growth follows easing of the coronavirus-driven lockdowns that pushed the economy to the worst-ever contraction — but GDP still remains well below its pre-pandemic level.