Today, in an interview that aired on MSNBC, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell called on technology companies such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter to help the U.S. government “retaliate” against the Russians for interfering with the 2016 presidential election.
His display of cyber-warmongering was in response to a question about whether CEOs from Facebook, Google, and Twitter should have attended the Senate and House committee hearings earlier this week to answer for how the Kremlin manipulated their platforms.
“What we ought to do,” McConnell said, “with regard to the Russians is retaliate, seriously retaliate against the Russians. And these tech firms could be helpful in giving us a way to do that.”
It was an unusual, hawkish answer for how to address the proliferation of Russia-linked propaganda online. Although potential repercussions for the Russians have long been part of the conversation, much of the focus for lawmakers this week was on what new methods tech firms are using to police their services in order to prevent further manipulation by foreign governments, as well as whether regulation in Silicon Valley is necessary to mitigate the spread of disinformation–particularly via political ads. McConnell, for his part, indicated he was skeptical of legislative proposals so far.
Despite McConnell’s suggestion, it seems terribly unlikely tech firms will be interested in assisting the the U.S. government by waging some sort of cyberwarfare against the Russians.
For one, the Valley’s relationship with Washington has frayed following revelations by Edward Snowden of sweeping U.S. spy activity, to the point where many of the tech giants consider themselves “global” companies rather than American ones. They’re not interested in “doing the bidding of governments,” as Jared Cohen, who oversees efforts to combat digital threats inside Google parent-company Alphabet, told me recently. “We’re not doing these things because somebody in a dark suit and dark sunglasses told us to.”
Moreover, as Alphabet chairman and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt also told Fast Company recently, like Twitter and Facebook, their efforts are primarily directed at protecting the company’s users–and preventing cyberwar from escalating. “We did not understand the extent to which governments–essentially what the Russians did–would use hacking to control the information space,” he said. “There are now teams [inside Alphabet] looking at the technology behind information warfare. Not in the military sense–I mean in the manipulation sense.”
“I worry that the Russians in 2020 will have a lot more powerful tools,” Schmidt added.
Check out the rest of MSNBC’s interview with McConnell below, which touches on Silicon Valley at about the three-minute mark: