Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg accompanied by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, right, before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on 'Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms' on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, in Washington. Google CEO did not show for the hearing. Credit: Jose Luis Magana | AP

Top company officials from two of the largest social media platforms in the world were grilled Wednesday by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Maine’s Susan Collins and Angus King. The hearing was called, in part, to find out what Facebook and Twitter are doing about the spread of misinformation on their platforms.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who has been targeted on Twitter by accounts traced to Russia, said she was never alerted by Twitter, but instead found out from researchers at Clemson University. She asked Jack Dorsey, co-founder and CEO of Twitter, about the company’s notification policy.

“It seems to me that once you determine that, you should notify the people who are a target,” Collins said.

Collins told Dorsey and Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg that that they need to do more to communicate to users of their platforms who receive communications from fake accounts set up to influence public policy.

Independent Sen. Angus King said he learned from visitors from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that Russia has not had much success in influencing political outcomes in those republics because most citizens are aware of the Russian efforts and pay little attention to them. King strongly suggested to Sandberg that social media platforms take steps to make users more aware.

“I would like from each of you some thoughts and hopefully a commitment to educating your users about the potential for abuse of the very medium they are putting their trust in,” King said.

King said he also wants to make sure that in the process of responding to these outside forces, these social media platforms do not become censors. He worries that legitimate ideas could be swept up with false information. Another major platform, Google, did not send a representative to Wednesday’s hearing.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.

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