Warner: Government Has Been Incapable of Meeting Social Media Threat

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said the U.S. government has proven incapable of meeting the social media threat from Russia, in part because the president won't acknowledge it.

That came in Warner's opening statement for a hearing in the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday (Nov.1 ) with executives from Facebook, Google, Twitter, all of which were used to spread disinformation in the 2016 election. Warner is ranking member of the committee.

"The U.S. government has thus far proven incapable of adapting to meet this 21st century challenge," he said. "Unfortunately, I believe this effort is suffering, in part, because of a lack of leadership at the top. We have a president who remains unwilling to acknowledge the threat that Russia poses to our democracy."

He also suggested the president was spending too much time attacking real news outlets at home and instead should spend more time tackling disinformation from abroad.

"President Trump should stop actively delegitimizing American journalism and acknowledge and address this real threat posed by Russian propaganda," Warner said.

Congress and the social media companies need to step up their game as well, he added.

"We need to recognize that current law was not built to address these threats," Warner said, citing the Honest Ads Act he has co-sponsored, which would clarify and toughen online political ad disclosures.

He said Google algorithms continue to have problems with weeding out fake news and propaganda, and he suggested that Twitter was "vastly underestimating" the number of fake accounts and bots.

The Intelligence Committee hearing is just one of three hearings with those social media giants being held this week. The first was Tuesday (Oct. 31) in the Senate Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee. The third will be Wednesday afternoon in the House Select Intelligence Committee.

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.