The result was a somewhat wider glimpse into just how pervasive Russian meddling has become on their platforms -- both before and after the 2016 presidential election. General counsels from Facebook, Twitter and Google will take more questions later this afternoon in front of the House Intel Committee at 2:00 PM EDT. That's after the executives underwent their first round of hearings on Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senators reiterated throughout the hearing that the tech giants seem to be underestimating how much power they wield and how serious the problem of Russian meddling truly is.
"I must say, I don't think you get it. You have a huge problem on your hands," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, told the lawyers. "...You created these platforms and now they're being misused. And you have to be the ones who do something about it -- or we will."
Feinstein: I don't think you get it. What we're talking about is the beginning of cyber warfare. #TechHearings— Annie Palmer (@annierpalmer) November 1, 2017
In his opening statement, Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, noted that even with the exhaustive data on the content and number of ads purchased by foreign nationals during the election, we have yet to understand the full scope of what happened. It's also unclear what Russian actors intended to do by launching this "information operation," he added.
"What we cannot do however, is calculate the impact that foreign meddling and social media had on this election, nor can we assume that it must be the explanation for an election outcome that many people did not anticipate," Burr explained.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA, laid into the counsels about their companies' responses to the investigation into Russian election interference, saying they showed a lack of "genuine resources" and that the committee's claims were "blown off" by the tech firms' leadership.
Google, Facebook and Twitter have admitted that they still don't know the full scope of Russian activity on their platforms and indicated that some forms of manipulation, whether through automated bots, fake accounts or ad buying, are still occurring. Many of them picked up on suspicious activity long before the election, beginning in 2015.
Additionally, Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch noted that an additional 16 million people had been exposed to Russian propaganda on Instagram on Oct. 2016. After figuring in the initial estimate of 126 million Americans believed to have been exposed to the information campaign on Facebook, that brings the total number to roughly 150 million individuals.
Twitter's acting general counsel, Sean Edgett, confirmed that it found over 2,700 accounts tied to the Internet Research Agency, a well-known, Russian-backed troll farm that was also actively spreading information on Facebook.
Sens. Angus King, I-ME, and Joe Manchin, D-WV, also criticized the companies for failing to make their CEOs appear in front of Congress.
"Right now, there's no price to be paid for meddling in our democracy. Everything the Russians have done basically got a free pass and that's a problem," King said. "I'm disappointed that you're here and not your CEOs."
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg won't fully escape some questioning, however, as they're due to speak with investors on their fiscal third-quarter earnings call Wednesday evening. One point that is of note to investors: Stretch said that Facebook's most expensive cost in its investigation of Russian interference comes from the people it hires to screen content. That number is growing, too, as Stretch noted that Facebook is upping its safety and security staff to 20,000 people from 10,000.
Another question that's likely key to investors was asked by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA: How much did the tech companies profit off of Russian propaganda on their platforms? None of the lawyers from Facebook, Google or Twitter had an answer.
Burr closed out the hearing by pointing out that it also remains unclear who's paying for the ads that run on Facebook, Twitter and Google. He also reminded the companies that, at one time, all three of them sought to be exempt from federal election commission disclosure rules. Burr stipulated that in order for things to change, the tech firms have to double down on self-regulation, lest federal officials be forced to step in.
"I, like others, do not want the government to stipulate to you what political content should look like," Burr explained. "By the same token, you're the front line before anything else kicks in to certify that foreign money isn't influencing elections. Please take that back to your companies."