Illustration: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Marathon congressional hearings on Russian election interference and social media left execs from Facebook, Google and Twitter badly bruised and with a new view of just how mad Washington is about their handling of content aiming to divide Americans.

The big takeaway: Lawmakers' rebukes went far beyond the companies' responses to Russia's interference. They also repeatedly revealed a discomfort with the size, power and limited accountability of the large web platforms.

What else we learned:

  • Washington isn't buying that Facebook, Google and Twitter aren't media companies. Both Republicans and Democrats seemed baffled at times by an assumption that has been fundamental to Google, Facebook and Twitter's growth: that they are neutral platforms for information, not judges of content. Multiple lawmakers questioned that argument: "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 Republican Sen. John Cornyn.
  • We now know what the Russian ads look like. Lawmakers released some of the Russian-bought ads, which were focused largely on divisive political issues like civil rights, immigration and religion. According to the metadata released, the ads targeted both Republicans and Democrats and were paid for in rubles. For example, one "Black Matters" ad targeted adults in Georgia, Maryland, Missouri and Virginia and received more than 200,000 impressions and more than 12,000 clicks. It cost 53,425 rubles ($915).
  • Still no backing for a regulatory fix. The only piece of concrete legislation tied to this issue is the Honest Ads Act, which would require disclosure for online political ads. While the companies all committed to improving transparency, and companies indicated that they could work with lawmakers on the bill, they did not endorse it.
  • Lawmakers felt slighted by the CEOs' absence. "I wish your CEOs were here," said Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, one of many lawmakers who voiced that sentiment. "They need to answer for this."
  • The companies are putting significant resources toward vetting content. During nine hours of hearings, they repeatedly touted how much they were investing in both money and personnel to solve the election interference issue. Facebook is doubling the people working on safety and security issues to 20,000 by the end of 2018, for example.
  • Democrats were the harshest critics. Silicon Valley has long had a strong relationship with the liberal left, but that didn't stop California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, as well as tech ally Sen. Ron Wyden, from lacing into the witnesses. Republicans, while critical of the companies, stopped short of conceding that social media manipulation was a deciding factor in Donald Trump's win.
  • Congressional investigators are still learning the basics. One lawmaker asked Twitter's general counsel to explain the difference between a bot and a troll. Several inquired about the definition of "impressions." This highlights how steep the learning curve is for elected officials to fully grasp the nuances of what went wrong online in 2016.
  • Tech made a huge political miscalculation in not moving faster. Again and again, the companies were chided for how long it took them to deliver the goods to investigators. "I hear all your words," said Sen. Mark Warner, "but I have more than a little bit of frustration that many of us on this committee have been raising this issue since the beginning of this year, and our claims were frankly blown off by the leaderships of your companies."

What's next? All of the companies indicated their investigations are ongoing, so the scale of the Russian disinformation campaign could turn out to be even bigger than we know now.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Justice Department sues Google over alleged search monopoly

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The Justice Department and 11 states Tuesday filed an antitrust lawsuit against Google, accusing the company of using anticompetitive tactics to illegally monopolize the online search and search advertising markets.

Why it matters: The long-awaited suit is Washington's first major blow against the tech giants that many on both the right and left argue have grown too large and powerful. Still, this is just step one in what could be a lengthy and messy court battle.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Politics: Americans feel Trump's sickness makes him harder to trustFlorida breaks record for in-person early voting.
  2. Health: The next wave is gaining steam.
  3. Education: Schools haven't become hotspots.
  4. World: Ireland moving back into lockdown — Argentina becomes 5th country to report 5 million infections.

In photos: Florida breaks record for in-person early voting

Voters wait in line at John F. Kennedy Public Library in Hialeah, Florida on Oct. 19. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/AFP via Getty Images

More Floridians cast early ballots for the 2020 election on Monday than in the first day of in-person early voting in 2016, shattering the previous record by over 50,000 votes, Politico reports.

The big picture: Voters have already cast over 31 million ballots in early voting states as of Tuesday, per the U.S. Elections Project database by Michael McDonald, an elections expert at the University of Florida.