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Two prominent tech investors expect Washington to crack down on tech

  • Representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google were grilled by senators on Tuesday and Wednesday, as regulators try to understand the impact of Russian state actors on the U.S. election.
  • The companies may face regulation from Congress, two technology industry veterans said.

Advertising technology companies such as Facebook and Twitter have said they will make drastic improvements to safety and security of their platforms — but they may face regulation from Congress anyway, two technology industry veterans said.

"My guess, it will be a mix of some self-regulation, with the big major players — Facebook and Google, in particular — taking more of a lead in putting the rules of the road in place. But also there will likely be either legislation or regulation," AOL co-founder Steve Case told CNBC's "Squawk Alley" on Wednesday.

Case now runs Revolution, a Washington, D.C.-based investment firm that focuses on American entrepreneurs, mostly outside of Silicon Valley.

"If the companies had acted earlier they probably would have been able to put in place self-regulation a year or two ago," he said.

The remarks came as lawyers from major technology companies testified before congressional committees. Representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google were grilled by senators on Tuesday and Wednesday, as regulators try to understand the impact of Russian state actors on the U.S. election.

(L-R) Amazon's chief Jeff Bezos, Larry Page of Alphabet, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg , Vice President-elect Mike Pence and President-elect Donald Trump attend a meeting at Trump Tower December 14, 2016 in New York.
Timothy A. Clary | AFP | Getty Images
(L-R) Amazon's chief Jeff Bezos, Larry Page of Alphabet, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg , Vice President-elect Mike Pence and President-elect Donald Trump attend a meeting at Trump Tower December 14, 2016 in New York.

Russian state actors published about 80,000 posts on Facebook and about 126 million Americans may have seen the posts, which touched on inflammatory political issues, Facebook has said. On Thursday, Facebook upped those estimates, and now says that about 150 million Americans may have been exposed to Russian content on Facebook and Instagram in the 2 years leading up to the 2016 election.

NBC News reported that Twitter found 36,746 automated accounts linked to Russia between Sept. 1, 2016, and Nov. 15, 2016. That resulted in 1.4 million tweets that were seen 288 million times, two sources told NBC News on Monday.

Jason Calacanis, who runs media start-up Inside.com, said he thinks there is a 5 to 10 percent chance right now that the government "stands up to" technology companies, but Wednesday's hearings could be a tipping point.

"It will have to be the regulators that do this, it will have to be a huge outcry," technology investor Calacanis told CNBC's "Fast Money: Halftime Report" on Wednesday.

"No consumer is going to give up Google; they have a monopoly position. No consumer is giving up Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp; they have a monopoly position," Calacanis said. "And that is why this is such an important issue that the government takes into consideration, which is that consumers are locked into these platforms. ... That's why government intervention is going to happen here."

Calacanis said both Barack Obama's administration and Donald Trump's administration have stayed away from regulating Silicon Valley up to this point, which has been great for investors.

"They are the greatest investment you could ever make, because they are marauding capitalists who don't care where the chips fall, up until this point," Calacanis said. "They can run amok without any sanctions."

'Huge strategic mistake' sending the lawyers

But the testimony came from lawyers, not CEOs, a move Calacanis called a "huge strategic mistake" that was embarrassing and disrespectful.

Calacanis pointed out that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has made time to meet with Chinese regulators and civilians across the country.

"All Americans should be very troubled by Facebook's cavalier response to what is a very serious issue," Calacanis said. He added: "It's just an absolute disgrace that [Mark Zuckerberg] didn't show up for this."

That's not the only misstep that has snared these companies during their congressional appearances, Calacanis said. He also pointed out that Facebook has promoted its ad targeting and influence when it comes to advertising, but underplayed its power in the political arena. A Google representative also shied away from describing Google as a media company, although it hosts content through YouTube.

Facebook reports quarterly earnings after the bell, an event that typically includes the participation of the company's CEO. Facebook has also said it will go on a massive hiring spree to deal with these issues.