In a significant reversal, Democratic lawmakers who have long enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with tech giants turned on those companies during congressional hearings focused on Russian manipulation of social media platforms during the 2016 election.
Senate Democrats outdid their Republican colleagues in pressing representatives from Google, Facebook and Twitter on how exactly Russian operatives were able to exploit their platforms and how they plan to address the issue, during a three-day Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that began Tuesday.
This represents a stark shift in the relationship between Silicon Valley and the Democratic party. Many tech companies have been reliable Democratic donors since their inception and their leaders have routinely spoken out in support of socially liberal policies. It appears the companies have not purchased sufficient goodwill for Senate Democrats to overlook the firms’ potential role in President Donald Trump’s victory. (RELATED: Google And Facebook Have Donated Thousands To Congressmen They Are Testifying Before)
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California captured the gravity of the tech companies’ role in American life and the resulting responsibility lawmakers believe those companies bear in ensuring their platforms are not misused.
“With great success comes great responsibility. You are the modern town square and the modern postmaster. You are the phone company and the yellow pages. You are the newspaper and the radio broadcaster and the television station. And you are the emergency alert system,” Harris said.
Harris responded with an incredulous, “I find that very hard to believe,” after the companies said they didn’t know how much ad revenue they generated by selling space on Russian propaganda pages.
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia reiterated the vast implications that misuse of the platforms might have on American public life, telling the companies “you are the largest distributor of news…You cannot allow this to go on.”
He added that the firms failure to more effectively curate their content is “threatening the security, safety and really the sovereignty of this nation.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California issued perhaps the starkest warning to the gathered tech representatives, lambasting them for a perceived lack of appreciation for the importance of the issue at the hand.
“I don’t think you get it,” scolded Feinstein, a Democrat. “What we’re talking about is a cataclysmic change. … What we’re talking about is a major foreign power with the sophistication and ability to involve themselves in a presidential election and sow conflict and discord all over this nation…You’ve created these platforms, and now they are being misused. And you have to be the ones to do something about it — or we will.”
While it remains unclear exactly what regulations will result from this backlash, the aggressive posturing by Senate Democrats sends a clear signal to Silicon Valley that the relationship has changed.
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