- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Al Franken on Tuesday urged his former colleagues on Capitol Hill to rein in Facebook, skewering the social network in his first public address since resigning from the U.S. Senate.

Speaking at a cybersecurity conference in Portugal, Mr. Franken said that federal lawmakers and regulatory agencies should consider scrutinizing major internet companies including Facebook more carefully, particularly in the wake of their weaponization during the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

“For years, advocates have raised concerns about how today’s dominant platforms have misused our private misinformation and engaged in anticompetitive behavior, and yet for years American lawmakers and regulators have failed to act,” Mr. Franken, 66, said during his keynote address at the Privacy Xchange Forum in Lisbon.

“The 2016 election can be the reckoning we never knew we needed. It can be the moment when lawmakers in the United States finally address the anxiety that has been building for the past decade about our online privacy and the tech giants’ unmatched power,” Mr. Franken said. “I hope it will be, there is too much not at stake not to use this moment as a catalyst for action.”

A former comedian and writer for “Saturday Night Live,” Mr. Franken, a Democrat, served as a U.S. senator for Minnesota from 2009 through January 2018, when he resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

Four months later, Mr. Franken’s speech Tuesday marked his first since leaving office, and his first since the social network came under fire in March over revelations involving its past ties to Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm that amassed the personal information of 87 million Facebook users without their permission as part of its work for clients including President Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

Coupled with previous revelations involving Russia’s weaponization of Facebook during the 2016 race, Mr. Franken, the former ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, said internet companies need to be regulated before future elections are potentially swayed online.

“I like social media. I like technology. It’s amazing,” Mr. Franken said. “But I believe these companies also have a responsibility to help protect the people who use their products, and I believe that policy makers have a responsibility to hold those companies accountable when they fall short. 2016 was a massive failure on both counts.”

“I’m not just here to cast blame. I’m here to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Mr. Franken added. “After all, what happened in the 2016 presidential election wasn’t some kind of fluke, it was a deliberate effort by the Russians to take advantage of systemic problems in our information ecosystem. If we do not act to address these problems, all this will happen again. Maybe at the hands of the Russians, maybe at the hands of a private company like Cambridge Analytica, or maybe at the hands of other bad actors.”

Russian operatives used social media to spread misinformation and propaganda during the course of a state-sponsored campaign targeted the 2016 White House race, U.S. intelligence officials previously concluded. More recently, the Department of Justice brought related criminal charges in February against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies, including individuals accused of using bogus Facebook profiles to wage “information warfare” against the U.S.

Mr. Franken’s comments came the same day the chairman of a British parliamentary committee investigating the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Damian Collins, threatened to to issue a summons ordering Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear before lawmakers over the matter.

Mr. Zuckerberg, on his part, told Mr. Franken’s former Senate colleagues last month that he’d be open to possible regulation.

“I think the real question as the internet becomes more important in people’s lives, is what is the right regulation, not whether there should be regulation,” Mr. Zuckeberg said during a Senate joint committee hearing.

“But you as a company welcome regulation?” asked Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.

“I think if it’s the right regulation then yes,” Mr. Zuckerberg responded.

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