Social media giants Google and Facebook told the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday that Russia has been using their platforms since the 2016 election to further divide Americans on a range of issues, including the validity of the Electoral College, immigration and even the national anthem protests that have been seen during NFL games.
Colin Stretch, vice president and general counsel for Facebook, told senators his company saw attempts by Russian accounts to "inflame some of the post-election demonstrations" seen around the country.
"Some of the accounts turned to questioning the electoral college, as an example,” Stretch said when asked by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla.
“We’ve seen more limited use of our services, senator, but among [the issues], I would say police shootings and racial issues,” said Kent Walker, senior vice president and general counsel for Google, told the committee.
Stretch added that immigration has also remained a topic that Russia has used to divide people.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told lawyers from Facebook, Google and Twitter that they haven't done enough to stop Russia's attempts to sow division in the United States. He noted that Russian-backed accounts on these platforms take several sides of an issue in order to get Americans fighting each other.
"[W]e have the ‘NFL,’ and then we have ‘boycottnfl,’ then we have ‘standforouranthem,’ we have ‘MAGA’ we have ‘Russia,’ ‘take a knee,” – in other words, they were tweeting on both sides of the NFL dispute in order to exacerbate the divisions," King said. "One witness this committee had said their strategy is to take a crack in our society and turn it into a chasm.”
Another example cited in the hearing involved one Russia-backed ad that called on Texans to assemble in protest of the Islamization of Texas, and another ad that called on Muslims to assemble at the same place and time. One senator said that showed Russia was trying to get Americans to "battle in the streets."
Lankford said it would be important to show the public how these ads worked.
“We think there’s great value for all of your platforms to be able to say, ‘This is the type of content that foreign actors are actually trying to put out that are divisive content,’" he said. "When we put it out, it’s one thing. When you put it out, it’s completely different.”