As tech CEOs continue to bring us closer to WWIII, Senators waste an afternoon wagging their fingers at Silicon Valley lawyers
At this very moment, lawyers for Twitter, Facebook and Google are testifying before Congress.
Facebook has admitted that, during the election, 126 million Americans may have been served ads from Russian government-linked trolls. A few minutes ago, Twitters “acting General counsel” Sean Edgett told the Senate Judiciary subcommittee that they too detected “automated and coordinated activity” (from Kremlin-linked accounts) during the election.
Also duh: lawyers for the three scariest companies on the planet promise that they’re doing everything they possibly can to avoid something like this ever, ever happening again.
As [a] result of that activity, Edgett said, Twitter created teams "to enhance the quality of the information our users see, and to block malicious activity wherever and whenever we find it."
"Those teams continue to work every day to ensure Twitter remains a safe, open, transparent and positive platform," he said.
Edgett said the activity was "unacceptable."
"We agree we must do better to prevent it," he said.
Good for you Sean.
There’s just one problem. Sean Edgett isn’t the CEO of Twitter.
Similarly, Colin Stretch, Facebook's general counsel isn’t that company’s CEO, any more than the general counsel for Google is Alphabet’s chief executive.
The distinction might be lost on most CSPAN viewers – don’t companies often send lawyers to represent them in Congress? – but to anyone inside Silicon Valley the message from the three companies is clear: We don’t answer to you; we won’t answer to you.
There is precisely one person with the power to promise change at Twitter, and that’s Jack Dorsey. It’s Dorsey’s basic misunderstanding of free speech that has turned his platform into the cesspool it is today and his cowardice that will keep it that way.
There’s a reason that Barack Obama intervened directly with Mark Zuckerberg to warn him about Russian ads on Facebook: He realized that Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg are the only two people able to fundamentally shift the company’s policy on the issue. (Except, of course, Zuck chose to ignore the President’s warning.)
The same is true for any valley giant where one or more founders still run the show – you can send an army of lawyers to make a truck load of promises, but ultimately it’s all hot air unless the founder is fully on board.
We saw this exact same playbook back in March when Twitter, Facebook and Google sent their empty-suit “heads of UK policy” to testify before the British parliament. As I wrote at the time:
[C]ompanies like Facebook, Twitter and Google might have people nominally in charge of their European or UK policy but nobody seriously believes that the real policy decisions on cyberbullying or hate speech or fake news are made anywhere that isn't served by Caltrain.
Pickles, Barron and Milner were the corporate equivalent of those stuffed dolls soldiers use for bayonet practice. They might have been wearing enemy uniforms and it might have done wonders for the MPs' morale to twist the blade, but let's not kid ourselves that the real villains – the Zuckerbergs, Dorseys and Pages – felt even the slightest twinge of discomfort.
If you want to really understand where tech CEOs' hearts and minds lie, just look for the events they actually deem important enough to show up at.
Like, for example, the famous Trump tower meeting where top executives from Facebook and Google (Twitter wasn’t invited) rushed to New York at the behest of Facebook boardmember (and Pando investor) Peter Thiel to kiss the newly elected President’s ring.