If you got a notification about Facebook, Twitter or Google today it was most likely because they were trending, and not in the way some would want them to.
Lawyers from each organization lined up before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee to testify about how Russia may have used these social media platforms to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Senator Lindsay Graham opened the hearing with reference to a statement made by President Donald Trump on Fox News earlier this month.
"I wouldn't be here if it weren't for social media," Senator Graham recalls the President saying.
The members of Congress who were present made multiple mentions of their disappointment with Facebook, Twitter and Google's lack of transparency during a time when the Russian government used "our families, biases, social networks, viewpoints against us to achieve their political ends," Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said.
"I'm trying to get us down from La La Land here. The truth of the matter is you have 5 million advertisers that change every month, every minute, probably every second. You don't have the ability to know who every one of those advertisers is, do you?" Senator Kennedy said. Facebook General Counsel, Collin Stretch, answered: "The answer is no."
The answer was "no" for many USC students too. When some were asked if they were aware of any of the 470 troll accounts identified by Facebook, and the almost 37,000 Russian linked accounts found by Twitter many dropped their jaws.
Sonia Bradley, a student at the Rossier School of Education, said, "That's crazy. It's a little disconcerting just because all of those sites collect so much data on us."
Bradley is an avid Facebook user and spoke about how astounded she was when she started noticing that her Facebook feed would reflect too closely what her likes and dislikes were.
"I think people really need to think critically and understand that if you are going to see something on the internet that you really need to check your sources," Bradley said.
When asked how a post by a Russian-backed page or account could so easily blend into a student's Twitter or Facebook feed, USC social media researcher Jon-Patrick Allem said, "The point is to look and act like a human account and user. These bots have a name, a photo image and they tweet and retweet. It could just look like an individual perpetuating a certain idea."
According to Senator Chris Coons, Russian bots often used accounts to set divisive tones, tweeting and sharing racially charged messages, messages on guns, false statistics on the candidate Hillary Clinton, and even obscure religious beliefs.
Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that defends civil liberties in the digital world, believes that social media has an enormous role in elections. They say that social media is a good thing because it creates many avenues for Americans to participate, debate, and organize around political races. However, they also believe that it can be manipulated.
In a statement EFF provided to Annenberg Media they said:
The rules that surround our elections must be carefully drafted to protect voters and not just at the moment of voting. Above all, our right to participate and voice our opinions must not be compromised on the way to preventing foreign intervention our elections. In addition, legislators must take care not to conflate concerns about Russian electoral interference with concerns about extremist content online. No matter how much we object to some of the hateful speech we see online, we also know that any tactic used now to silence that speech will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with.
Each organization, Facebook, Twitter and Google, said they are committed to providing tighter security and hiring more ad reviewers. Twitter also committed to donating revenue that was received during this controversy to academic research.
Another hearing is expected to take place tomorrow, where members of Congress will continue to dig for clarity surrounding Russia's involvement and seek ways in which legislatures can work hand in hand with the tech giants.