Sen. Al Franken is doubtful Facebook, Google, and Twitter can police their sites — and is calling for ‘vigorous oversight’ by regulators

Al Franken
Sen. Al Franken thinks the big tech companies may not be up to challenging of policing their services. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • In a speech, Sen. Al Franken cast doubts on the big tech companies’ ability to police their sites. 
  • At congressional hearings last week looking into how Russian-linked groups used Google, Facebook, and Twitter to spread propaganda, the big tech companies promised to do a better job of blocking such efforts. 
  • Franken called for regulators to step in to further investigate and oversee how those sites are being used and abused.

In the wake or revelations that groups linked to Russia used their sites to influence last year’s election, Facebook, Google, and Twitter have tried to reassure public policymakers that they can be trusted to police their services. 

Colour Sen. Al Franken dubious. 

In a speech on Wednesday, Franken offered up a damning critique of the companies, charging them with having unchecked influence that even they don’t know how to control. 

“These companies may not be up to the challenge that they have created for themselves,” he said. 

The business model of Facebook in particular is predicated on amassing “massive troves of information” about its users, Franken said. That’s given the company untold power. 

“We are not their customers, we are their product,” he said in his speech to the Open Markets Institute in Washington.

Instead of simply trusting the big tech companies to police how their services are being used and abused, Franken suggested that regulators need to step in. Lawmakers should take a closer look at the influence technology plays in the everyday lives of Americans by conducting “vigorous oversight in the form of investigations and hearings to fully understand current practices and the potential for harm,” the Minnesota senator said.

“I’m hopeful that recent events will encourage regulators, as well as a broader contingent of my colleagues  — on both sides of the aisle  — to give this issue the attention it deserves,” he said.

Franken’s speech comes little more than a week after representatives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter testified at congressional hearings looking into Russia’s alleged use of their sites to influence the election. At those hearings, the companies’ representatives promised to do a better job of regulating themselves.

This isn’t the first time Franken has expressed doubts about Silicon Valley’s products. In September, he wrote a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, raising questions about the privacy implications of the iPhone X’s new facial recognition feature as well as whether that feature might be tainted by racial bias.

You can watch the full video of Franken’s speech below: