U.S. intelligence agencies warned this week that the federal government remains ill equipped to combat Russian disinformation even as crucial midterm congressional elections loom this fall. And technology companies, while cooperating with federal investigators, acknowledge that they still struggle to detect and thwart foreign propaganda without impinging on the free-speech rights of Americans.
One expert who has repeatedly warned Congress about these problems, former FBI agent Clinton Watts, said, “There’s no one in charge of this. No one is tasked to do this. . . . The FBI doesn’t do thought policing on social media in advance. It’s not going to be able to detect this in advance.”
Some technology companies have been reluctant to submit to greater government scrutiny or hinder the ability of users to speak anonymously and, if they so desire, with the help of automation tools that can dramatically amplify certain voices. But scrutiny of the power of their platforms — and how the Russians used them — has forced the companies into discussions with lawmakers and regulators.