Sen. Kamala Harris On Social Media And Russian Propaganda

Nov 2, 2017
Originally published on November 2, 2017 11:08 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

On the same day Facebook, Google and Twitter were grilled on Capitol Hill for enabling Russian interference in the 2016 election, Facebook announced their profits were up by 79 percent in the last quarter. The company makes its money because of the online ads that they sell. That business model came up yesterday in a Senate intelligence committee hearing. Here's California Senator Kamala Harris.

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KAMALA HARRIS: How much money did you make from legitimate advertising that ran alongside the Russia propaganda?

MARTIN: Google's Kent Walker answered first.

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KENT WALKER: Senator, I don't have it in front of me. We'd be happy to follow up.

MARTIN: Next came Sean Edgett from Twitter.

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SEAN EDGETT: We haven't done that analysis, but we'll follow up and work on that.

HARRIS: OK. What about Facebook?

MARTIN: Facebook's Colin Stretch was last.

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COLIN STRETCH: The same is true for Facebook, Senator.

HARRIS: You've not done that calculation.

STRETCH: We've not done that analysis.

HARRIS: I find that difficult to understand because it would seem to me that we would figure out how much you've profited from Russian propaganda on your - on your platforms. So please do follow up with us as soon as possible on that.

MARTIN: When I sat down with Senator Harris in her office about an hour after that hearing wrapped up, she was still focused on that money question.

HARRIS: I think it's important for them to figure that out so that we can also create some transparency around the business model and whether there are unintended perhaps but incentives to let something that is popular continue to exist on their platform because of the revenue dollars that it generated as a result of it.

MARTIN: So what you're asking then or what you're suggesting is that part of the fix might be a complete overhaul of how these companies make money.

HARRIS: Not necessarily, but I think that if they're going to do a thorough and complete analysis of what happened, that has to be a part of it.

MARTIN: Are you convinced that these companies understand now the scope of the problem?

HARRIS: I think that over the course of the past several months, and including the Senate intelligence committee hearing that we had today, that they are increasingly and probably at this point well aware of the impact and the seriousness of Russia's interference in the election of the president of the United States. And it is my hope and belief that they will do everything they can to prevent that kind of activity from happening in the future. But let's be clear of when the future is. The future is now. The state of Virginia, the state of New Jersey, they're having elections coming up in days. The 2018 election is right around the corner. Russia and other adversarial countries will continue in their attempts to manipulate the American public. And we should assume that Russia will improve their tactics, and we're going to have to be smarter.

MARTIN: You said that right now Russia is refining its tactics.

HARRIS: I'm sure of it.

MARTIN: It is learning how to do this better to upset future elections.

HARRIS: And we should put China on that list. We should put North Korea on that list. Russia - it's not only Russia, by the way.

MARTIN: Is our openness, our conversations about this, our open hearings about this problem, the nature - the very nature of our democracy, does that help them learn how to do this better?

HARRIS: Our strength as a nation is the Constitution of the United States and all the amendments to that Constitution. And we should never weaken the strength that we have because part of the strength of our country is that we are a democracy and that we value free speech. We value an open and transparent government. That's - that is a very big component and an important, important ingredient to the...

MARTIN: But if they don't play by the same rules...

HARRIS: ...Success and strength of our country.

MARTIN: ...They don't play by the same rules, can they exploit those values? Can they exploit those democratic values?

HARRIS: Potentially slightly, but remember that we - what makes us better and what makes us a model democracy in this world is that we cherish and will protect those values even if it may expose us to adversaries. But that's not to the exclusion of also doing everything in our power to be vigilant in protecting ourselves against harm. I don't believe in accepting false choices. It's not one or the other.

MARTIN: Can you give us a concrete example of something that - let's take Facebook. Since there's evidence that tens of millions of Americans use Facebook as their primary source of news, what's a concrete thing Facebook could do to prevent the spread of misinformation?

HARRIS: Well, one of the things that needs to happen immediately is that Facebook and Twitter and Google needs to put in place a specific person at the executive level who has, as their sole responsibility, to pay attention to state-sponsored information and intrusion operations.

MARTIN: Others have talked about the need to verify the humans who are on the other side of these profiles. Do you think that should be something that happens, and do you believe that they - that these companies have an incentive to make that happen?

HARRIS: I believe that they have some incentive, but we are going to have to have I think a great deal of transparency about what they are actually putting in place to ensure that they have both the technological and machine-operated ability to detect but also putting in place human beings who are an added layer to detect and then determine whether we are being manipulated.

MARTIN: Do you trust Facebook and these companies to self-regulate in some way, to develop some way to combat it, or is there a government role for this?

HARRIS: Well, we have so far put our trust implicitly in these platforms to police themselves, and the open question is whether that's enough.

MARTIN: Do you think the United States is prepared to have mid-term elections in 2018 that are seen as free, fair and credible?

HARRIS: It's our intention. I do question the extent of our vulnerability to manipulation, and there is a lot more work that needs to be done, and we have to have an incredible sense of urgency. Government, the private sector, nonprofits, voters - we have to be vigilant. We have to see this as a moment that is a moment that we need to intensely and immediately prioritize and address the issue.

MARTIN: Senator Kamala Harris, thanks for your time.

HARRIS: Thank you.

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