NEW YORK (AP) - There were signs, some say telltale signs, of Russians using social media to meddle in last year's U.S. elections long before tech companies wised up to it. Red flags included payments in rubles for ads on hot-button, divisive issues targeted at Americans. It wasn't until late September, nearly a year after the elections, that Facebook disclosed that it found Russia-linked ads on its service.
Twitter and Google followed. Could Facebook and other tech giants have caught the abuse earlier? FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, file photo, from left, Facebook's General Counsel Colin Stretch, Twitter's Acting General Counsel Sean Edgett, and Google's Senior Vice President and General Counsel Kent Walker, are sworn in for a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russian election activity and technology, on Capitol Hill in Washington. There were signs, some say telltale signs, of Russians using social media to meddle in the U.
S. elections long before tech companies wised up to it. Could Facebook, Google and Twitter have caught the abuse earlier? (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File) Here's the case for and against: ___ IT TOOK TOO LONG These companies have very smart people working for them, all tasked not just with building new features but ensuring that existing ones work. Could Facebook, Google and Twitter really not foresee - and when it was actually happening, simply see - that Russian government-sponsored agents were posting from fake accounts and buying political ads using little-known payments providers?
Could they have asked themselves why a legitimate advertiser from Russia would feel the need to target Americans on issues such as gun control and race? Or promote pro- and anti-Trump protests in American cities? Facebook has said that it focused on more traditional threats, such as hacking, early on. Then, its attention turned to fake news and propaganda, but not before CEO Mark Zuckerberg dismissed as "pretty crazy" the idea that false news on the company's service influenced the outcome of the elections.
He later apologized, but the now-memorable quip shows the kind of self-assured attitude that often gets the company in trouble . This spring, Facebook disclosed that foreign nation-states and non-state actors were using its service for malicious activity related to the elections. It did not directly name Russia at the time, already five months since the elections. In a memorable, mostly one-sided exchange with top lawyers from the companies, Democratic Sen.
Al Franken of Minnesota offered this exasperated point: "People are buying ads on your platform with rubles. They are political ads. You put billions of data points together all the time, that's what I hear that these platforms do. They are the most sophisticated things invented by man, ever. Google has all knowledge that man has ever developed. You can't put together rubles with a political ad and go like, 'Hmmm, those data points spell out something pretty bad.
'" Jonathan Albright, director of research at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, said tech companies like Facebook "didn't act proactively.
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