In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, top executives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter said that social-media operatives backed by Russia sowed discord during the 2016 election and targeted Hillary Clinton, but attacked Donald Trump after he won the election. The executives testified that political ads that were featured on the social media sites engaged in various divisive social and political issues facing the American public, including immigration, Second Amendment rights, and racism.

However, a representative for Facebook claimed that the news produced by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency -- which is based in St. Petersburg, Russia -- amounted to less than a hundredth of one percent. The companies claim to take political meddling seriously, saying that they have shuttered social media accounts traced to foreign operators that violated their companies’ terms of service.

In written testimony submitted in advance of the hearing, Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch stated that his company was taking steps to ensure transparency. In testimony on Tuesday, Stretch said, “Our goal is to bring people closer together. These foreign actors sought to drive people apart.” This was the first public hearing by the Senate from major social media companies on foreign interference in the 2016 election.

In written testimony, Stretch said that operatives based in Russia had published about 80,000 posts on the social network over a two-year period to meddle with the American electoral process. About 126 million Americans may have seen the posts during that time. The latest data on the posts linked to Russia -- possibly influencing about half of Americans of voting age - far exceeds the company’s previous disclosures. Twitter found 2,752 accounts linked to Russian operatives, according to Reuters. That is up from a tally of 201 accounts that Twitter reported in September. On Monday, Google, owned by Alphabet Inc, said in a statement that it had found $4,700 in Russia-linked ad spending during the 2016 US election cycle, and that it would build a database of election ads.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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