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Empty Chair Says It All: Senate Is Annoyed With Google

Sheryl Sandberg, Jack Dorsey appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 5, 2018 11:05 AM CDT

(Newser) – Facebook and Twitter executives, defending their companies on Capitol Hill, said Wednesday they're aggressively trying to root out foreign interests seeking to sow divisions in American democracy as the November elections near. Facebook's No. 2 executive, Sheryl Sandberg, and Twitter's CEO, Jack Dorsey, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, but there was, quite literally, an empty chair in place for Google's parent Alphabet, which refused to send its top executive, reports the AP. What you need to know:

  • As for how the company reacted to foreign efforts to use its platform as a way to meddle in US elections, "We were too slow to spot this and too slow to act. That is on us," Sandberg said, per USA Today. "We're getting better at finding and stopping our opponents." Sandberg told senators that Facebook was "more determined" than adversaries trying to meddling in the upcoming elections, and she called the fight an "arms race," as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has in the past.
  • "The companies have made progress, the government has made progress, but the bad guys have made progress as well," said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate committee. Warner has proposed ways that the companies could be regulated for the first time.

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  • A later hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee was to focus on bias and Twitter's algorithms; only Dorsey was invited. Some Republicans, including President Trump, have pushed the idea that Twitter is "shadow banning" some in the GOP because of the ways search results have appeared. In testimony released before that hearing, Dorsey denied that Twitter uses political ideology to make decisions.
  • Absent from the Senate's questioning was Google; an empty chair was left for it at the table, which Fox News reads as "a sign lawmakers are fuming that neither CEO Sundar Pichai or [Alphabet CEO] Larry Page" showed up.
  • CNBC reports committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr addressed the hole in his opening remarks, saying, "I'm disappointed Google decided against sending the right senior level executive." The committee had turned down Google's offer to send Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker. Google said in a statement that over the past year and a half it has met with "dozens of Committee Members and briefed major Congressional Committees numerous times" on its work to block foreign election meddling.
  • In an interview with the Daily Caller, Trump alleged that social media companies had meddled with the 2016 and 2018 elections. As for 2016, he said, "I mean the true interference in the last election was that—if you look at all, virtually all of those companies are super liberal companies in favor of Hillary Clinton." And in terms of interference in the midterms, "I think they already have," Trump said of social media companies, without elaborating.
(Read more Google stories.)

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