Updated Aug 28, 2018

Tech giants tighten their act ahead of testimony

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Almost a year after Facebook, Google and Twitter first testified together in front of Congress for Russian meddling, the three social media giants will be returning to Capitol Hill Sept. 5 to talk about censorship and election interference. But this time, they're better prepared.

Why it matters: Many recall Mark Zuckerberg's positive performance during televised Facebook hearings in April following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but the last time these three companies faced Congress together, the reviews were brutal.

Flashback, Nov. 1, 2017:

  1. “I’m disappointed that you’re here but not your CEOs. We would appreciate seeing the top people actually making the decisions,” said Sen. Angus King (I-ME).
  2. "I went home last night with profound disappointment. I asked specific questions and I got vague answers,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
  3. "That may well be a distinction that is lost on most of us, that you're just a platform for other people to express their views as opposed to being a publisher in their own right of those views," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).
  4. "The presentation that the Twitter team made to the Senate Intel staff was deeply disappointing," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). He called it "inadequate on every level."

Flash forward, August 2018:

  1. The tech companies are bringing in higher level staffers to testify. Twitter said Friday, after House Committee members pressured the company, that it would send CEO Jack Dorsey to the Hill. Facebook has committed COO Sheryl Sandberg, who although not a CEO, is a higher-level staffer than its general counsel, whom the company sent last time around. Google has so far only committed to bringing SVP and general counsel Kent Walker, which Senate Intel Chairman Richard Burr rejected.
  2. The companies have also been much more proactive and open about revealing election interference. Last week Facebook, Google and Twitter all announced that they had found what Facebook called "coordinated inauthentic activity" stemming from Iran on their platforms. The three companies said they've been working closely with outside cyber firms and intelligence officials to be more proactive about assessing these threats.
  3. They've taken stricter positions on hate content. Google, Facebook and Twitter have all updated and clarified their hate speech policies to address allegations of censorship over the past year, mainly by conservatives and highlighted by the controversy surrounding InfoWars and its head, Alex Jones.
  4. They're better media trained. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is coming off of a lengthy media tour, where he sat down with radio hosts, cable news outlets and digital and print publications over a two-week period. Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, no stranger to the press, became a vocal spokesperson for Facebook following last year's hearing. Google has been more quiet than its counterparts.

In anticipation of the hearings, the companies are also making greater efforts to work together on some of these issues. Representatives from some of the biggest tech platforms met last Friday to discuss their election strategy, Buzzfeed reports. The meeting comes amid increased efforts to work together on a variety of policy issues, like privacy.

Bottom line: These companies will be more buttoned up and prepared than the first time they sat before Congress together. But that might not be enough to reverse the tide against them in the legislature.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8 p.m. ET: 5,682,389 — Total deaths: 354,944 — Total recoveries — 2,337,385Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8 p.m. ET: 1,697,459 — Total deaths: 100,276 — Total recoveries: 391,508 — Total tested: 15,192,481Map.
  3. Public health: Fauci says data is "really quite evident" against hydroxychloroquine — Nearly half of Americans say someone in their household has delayed medical care.
  4. States: California hospitals strained by patients in MexicoTexas Supreme Court blocks mail-in expansion to state voters.
  5. Business: MGM plans to reopen major Las Vegas resorts in June — African American business owners have seen less relief from PPP, Goldman Sachs says.
  6. Tech: AI will help in the pandemic — but it might not be in time for this one.
  7. 1 🎶 thing: Local music venues get rocked by coronavirus.
  8. 🎧 Podcast: Trump vs. Twitter ... vs. Trump.
  9. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Top Senate Democrat says State Dept. is working on new Saudi arms deal

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo briefs reporters on May 20. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/pool/AFP via Getty Images

Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote in a CNN op-ed on Wednesday that he learned that the State Department is currently working to sell thousands of additional precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia.

Why it matters: Democrats say that Steve Linick, the State Department inspector general who was ousted on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's recommendation, was investigating the administration's previous effort to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia without congressional approval.

U.S. coronavirus death toll crosses 100,000

Data: Johns Hopkins University; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

More than 100,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins — a terrible milestone that puts the death toll far beyond some of the most tragic events in U.S. history.

By the numbers: The death toll from COVID-19 now stands at more than 34 times the number of people who died on 9/11.