Facebook is not listening to the fake news furore

One of the most instructive sights of the week was that of representatives of Twitter, Google and Facebook getting a grilling from a US Senate judiciary subcommittee on Capitol Hill. The topic at hand? “Extremist content and Russian disinformation online”, which, translated, reads: how did Russian use of social media affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election? The committee chairman, Senator Lindsey Graham, set it up nicely in his opening statement by quoting what Trump had said on Fox News on 20 October: “I doubt I’d be here if it weren’t for social media, to be honest with you.”

For three tech companies that, like all of Silicon Valley, loathe and despise politics, this was a nightmarish week. I mean to say, there they were, at the mercy of the low-IQ technophobes of Capitol Hill, live on C-Span (the congressional TV channel), something they had lobbied furiously to avoid. Their appearances were presaged by a flurry of press releases and revelations. The Russian exploitation of their advertising machines that they had once pooh-poohed was, it turned out, much more extensive than they had imagined. Facebook, for example, had belatedly discovered that 126 million people in the US may have seen posts produced by Russian-government-backed agents on its site. Very devious coves, those Ruskies.

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