AG Barr: Social Media 'Stepping Up' on Foreign Meddling

Attorney General Bill Barr signaled to Congress Wednesday (May 1) that he thought social media companies were doing a better job of policing their platforms in the wake of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

That came during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Barr said it was because of our robust First Amendment and the way we now communicate that Russians were able to affect the dialog "in a way they have never been able to do before." He said there have long been efforts by foreign powers to meddle in elections, but they used to be easier to detect.

Barr said it was the technology and "democratization" of information that made the danger of such meddling "far more insidious." He said that meddling meant getting access to "effectively our whole communications system" including business systems and infrastructure.

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Asked by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) whether the government was able to work with the different social media giants to help counter some of that and whether those companies were already "stepping up to this challenge" and making sure they were also pushing back against foreign adversaries. "[Y]es I think the private companies are stepping up their game and being more responsible in addressing it," said Barr.

Republican Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) was not so sanguine about Big Tech. She said that as she looked at social media, they looked as though they were either willing to turn a blind eye to fake Russian accounts--pointing out some had been paid in rubles--or were negligent. Either way, she said she hoped the Justice Department had a game plan to "rein in" those social media platforms for the 2020 election.

Blackburn did not ask Barr to comment on that, and he did not volunteer an observation.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.