Big Tech representatives met with law enforcement and intelligence officials to discuss how to align their efforts to defend the 2020 election.
Facebook and Microsoft confirmed the meeting, which took place at Facebook’s campus in Menlo Park, Calif., on Wednesday.
The conversations — and the announcement that they took place — reflected a new consensus in the worlds of technology and national security about the need to prepare beforehand for disinformation or other influence operations aimed at the 2020 presidential race.
Facebook’s cybersecurity policy boss, Nathaniel Gleicher, gave an outline of the conversations.
“Participants discussed their respective work, explored potential threats, and identified further steps to improve planning and coordination,” he said. “Specifically, attendees talked about how industry and government could improve how we share information and coordinate our response to better detect and deter threats.”
Attendees also included representatives from Google and Twitter as well as the FBI, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security.
The administration of former President Barack Obama and the big technology platforms have been criticized for their lack of preparation and sluggish response to the Russian attack on the 2016 presidential election, which included targeted cyberattacks and a broad wave of agitation on Facebook, Twitter and more.
Gleicher said his company won’t respond the same way to the same kinds of interference.
“For Facebook, we’ve developed a comprehensive strategy to close previous vulnerabilities, while analyzing and getting ahead of new threats. Our work focuses on continuing to build smarter tools, greater transparency, and stronger partnerships,” he said.
National security officials warn that disinformation and other influence operations might be the new normal for U.S. or Western politics following what’s been perceived as comparatively low-cost successes for the 2016 campaigns that targeted Europe, the United Kingdom and the U.S.
Former Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, who documented the Russian attack in detail earlier this year and whose office charged a number of Russians in connection with the election attack, told Congress that influence operations were still taking place.
One thing that has changed, however, is the awareness of officials at every level about the importance of cybersecurity, and the new attitude by social media companies about the need to plan ahead and act quickly.
For example, Twitter, Facebook and Google all revealed in real time that they had deactivated a number of fake accounts that were directing messaging at protesters in Hong Kong — which the companies linked to a Chinese government influence campaign.
If those practices continue in the American election context, that could give the public a clearer understanding about the information environment on social media and the amount of energy that a foreign government was exerting to try to influence American politics.