Representatives from Facebook, Google and Twitter are appearing on Capitol Hill this week to report the findings of internal investigations into possible Russian influence on the 2016 election, and being upfront about what happened and what’s being done to prevent it from happening again may be the best business strategy for the social giants.
The three companies will be revealing deeper Russian influence during last year’s campaign, with widespread content from Russian sources seeded across Facebook, YouTube and Twitter in the run-up to the election.
“I think they’ve crossed a threshold where they realize that not only is public trust our democratic institutions is wavering, but public trust in social media is wavering,” Philip N. Howard, Oxford University professor and principal investigator with Oxford’s Computational Propaganda Project told Chief Executive. “Ultimately, it is bad for their business model to have public trust in their platforms drop too much.”
From a business leadership standpoint, coming clean and sharing this information with Congress and the public is needed in order to maintain public trust in these social platforms—and the companies that advertise on them.
“The only reason they’ve revealed what they have is because of continued pressure from the Hill and outside researchers.” – Dr. Philip N. Howard
That’s not to say that these social companies are welcoming these kinds of uncomfortable headlines. Facebook, Google and Twitter have been loath to share data on advertisers and how their proprietary algorithms spread information across users’ news feeds, but the spotlight on this matter has proved too bright to avoid.
“I think the tech giants have already been very guarded about revealing what they know about Russian influence over social media platforms,” Howard told Chief Executive. “The only reason they’ve revealed what they have is because of continued pressure from the Hill and outside researchers.”
Facebook is expected to reveal that it sold 3,000 ads to Russians leading up to the elections, reaching the newsfeeds of 126 million users. Twitter has suspended 2,752 Russian-linked accounts, while Google uncovered 18 YouTube channels that it deemed likely to be affiliated with the Russian campaign.