Cantwell Condemns Election Interference and Misinformation Online, Calls for Increased Efforts to Protect Democracy & Public Health

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, at a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing with the CEOs of Facebook, Google, and Twitter, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA)\, the Ranking Member of the committee, condemned election interference and disinformation online and highlighted the importance of supporting efforts to stop such interference and to push back against COVID misinformation and disinformation, as well as the proliferation of online hate.

Senator Cantwell said, “I believe that we should be working aggressively internationally to sanction anybody that interferes in our elections…It is no secret that there are various state actors who are doing all they can to take a whack at democracy, to try to say that our way of government, that our way of life, that our way of freedom of speech and information, is somehow not as good as we have made it being the beacon of democracy around the globe.”

Cantwell also pushed back on the timing of the hearing and called out the escalating wave of election misinformation online, saying: “So I want to make it clear that this hearing could have happened at a later date. And I don’t appreciate the misinformation that is coming across today that is trying to undermine our election process…I am not going to let or tolerate people to continue to [attack] our election process, our vote by mail system, or the ability of tech platforms, security companies, our law enforcement entities, and the collective community to speak against misinformation and hate speech. We have to show that the United States of America stands behind our principles and that our principles do also transfer to the responsibility of communication online.”

Cantwell also stressed the benefits of mail-in voting, a system which her home state of Washington has used successfully for many years.

“I’m not going to take lightly anybody who tries to undermine mail-in voting. Mail-in voting in the United States of America is safe. The state of Washington, the state of Oregon have been doing it for years.”

Cantwell cited how during the 2016 election, Russian operatives, masquerading as Americans, used targeted advertisements, intentionally falsified news articles, and manipulated social media platform tools to interact and attempt to deceive tens of millions of social media users in the United States.

In her questioning with witnesses, Senator Cantwell asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg what his company is doing to stop the threat of foreign interference in U.S. elections. Mr. Zuckerberg replied, “Since 2016, we’ve been building up some very sophisticated systems to make sure that we can stop foreign interference in elections, not just in the US, but all around the world. And a lot of this involves building up AI systems to identify when clusters of accounts aren’t behaving the way that a normal person would. They’re behaving as fake accounts in some coordinated way… we’ve taken down more than 100 networks that were potentially attempting to spread misinformation or interfere. A lot of them were coming from Russia or Iran, a growing number from China as well.”