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Warner encourages voluntary communication of social media companies with government

Rebecca Barnabi
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The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear arguments in Murthy v. Missouri, a case that will decide the role government officials can play in communicating with private social media companies when it comes to countering foreign disinformation campaigns.

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, submitted an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to reverse a dangerous injunction that would limit the government’s ability to communicate with social media companies regarding foreign threats on their platforms ahead of the 2024 election.  

As chairman, Virginia’s Warner stressed the need for continuing communication between social media platforms and the federal government, on a voluntary basis, in order to prevent foreign adversaries, including Russia, Iran and China, from using sites to carry out campaigns threatening our national security.

“The best way to combat foreign malign influence is cooperation between the public and private sectors,” Warner wrote. “Threat sharing allows the government and social media companies to combine disparate data sets and share appropriate information.”

Since the 2016 election, the Intelligence Community (IC) has regularly engaged social media companies on a voluntary basis, including Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company, Twitter (now X) and YouTube to help identify foreign accounts operating with the purpose of misleading the American public, sowing dissent among users, intimidating minority groups, threatening election officials and seeking to incite violence between Americans.

“[T]he U.S. government has long relied on threat sharing — including defensive briefings — to alert unwitting U.S. persons and organizations to efforts by foreign adversaries and intelligence services to target, exploit, or infiltrate them. That information sharing is crucial in the information security context due to the increasing sophistication and organization of the attackers,” Warner wrote.

He continued: “Threat sharing not only allows organizations to leverage collective knowledge and capabilities to identify and increase awareness of certain threats, but it also permits those organizations to improve their systems and minimize susceptibility to threats going forward.” 

Warner’s brief underscores the importance of the work, noting that social companies have expressly communicated with government officials their willingness to work together to combat the coordinated influence campaigns by adversaries taking place on their platforms – noting his experience in 2017 in jointly leading a bipartisan investigation into Russia’s influence activity targeting the 2016 election.

“Social media platforms share the Intelligence Committee’s concern regarding foreign malign influence. They categorically do not want to be a vector or facilitate these campaigns. To that end, they proactively share intelligence information with the government and request that government agencies and officials share knowledge with them too,” Warner wrote. 

Warner argues that the current Fifth Circuit ruling has severely limited the federal government’s ability to engage with social media companies on a voluntary basis over threats that have been identified on their platforms, and would cause lasting repercussions if not reversed. With less than a year before the presidential election, and with a recently-declassified intelligence assessment emphasizing the continuing threat of foreign election influence, a Supreme Court ruling that preserved or expanded the Fifth Circuit’s injunction could have lasting damage.

“Any injunction here would prevent or limit the government’s ability to communicate with social media companies and would leave the United States vulnerable to attack. Foreign malign influence campaigns have grown in number, scope, and sophistication since 2016, and any progress gained through improved threat sharing processes may be entirely lost if the injunction is not lifted,” Warner wrote.

Warner ends the brief by asking the Supreme Court to reverse the Fifth Court decision.

“There is no substitute for real time threat sharing between the government and social media companies when it comes to combating foreign malign information campaigns. The government and social media companies have access to different types of information and benefit form exchanging such information where appropriate. It is essential to our national security that the government can communicate freely with social media companies about threats that foreign malign influence campaigns pose to their platforms and users. To preserve America’s ability to respond quickly and effectively to foreign malign influence campaigns that target our national security and elections, this Court should reverse the judgement of the Fifth Circuit in relevant part and direct that the preliminary injunction be vacated in its entirety.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.