Tech giants meet intelligence officials to talk 2020 election security

Executives from Facebook, Google and Twitter huddled with U.S. intelligence officials in Menlo Park, Calif., on Wednesday to discuss how the companies are working to prevent election meddling ahead of 2020, sources familiar with the meeting confirmed to The Hill.

The midday meeting at Facebook’s headquarters included representatives from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). 

The meeting is the latest signal that law enforcement is working more closely with tech companies following the 2016 presidential election, which was marked by new and innovative forms of online interference including coordinated disinformation campaigns.

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In March, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that foreign countries are still engaging in disinformation campaigns on social media “virtually unabated.”

A U.S. intelligence official told The Hill the tech industry invited the intelligence community to participate in the talks.

“[The intelligence community was] there to discuss our shared goal, and that’s protecting democracy and elections from those who wish to do us harm,” the official said. “Industry has pulled us in … and we’re there in support of FBI and DHS.”  

An FBI official confirmed the bureau attended the meeting. 

“We wanted to participate because we are absolutely committed to continuing our work with our government partners and private industry partners to safeguard the 2020 elections,” the FBI official told The Hill.

The FBI and DNI declined to offer details on which staffers attended the event.

Since 2016, tech companies have worked to develop new tools to stave off foreign and domestic interference in elections, but critics — including from the government — have warned they have a long way to go.

A Twitter spokesperson said the company welcomes “the opportunity to spend time with our peer companies and the government agencies tasked with protecting the integrity of the 2020 election.”

“This is a joint effort in response to a shared threat, and we are committed to doing our part,” the spokesperson said.

“At Google, we’ve invested in robust systems to detect phishing and hacking attempts, identify foreign interference on our platforms, and protect campaigns from digital attacks. But technology is only part of the solution. We will continue to monitor our platforms while sharing relevant information with law enforcement and industry peers,” a spokesman for the company said.

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Facebook convened a similar meeting with intelligence officials last May to discuss how tech companies were preparing for the 2018 midterm elections.

Just last week, Facebook announced that it is tightening its political advertising rules ahead of 2020, requiring additional disclosures from companies looking to feature political advertisements on either Facebook or Instagram. 

The world’s top social media platforms were exploited by disinformation campaigns during the 2016 election, and experts have derided the companies for failing to identify the manipulation until months and even years after the campaigns began.

Twitter and Facebook in particular have funneled significant resources into preventing copycat episodes during elections around the world over the past several years.

Updated at 7:51 p.m.

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