GOP Sen. Richard Burr on social media hearings: It's hard to 'legislate around' the First Amendment 

  • The government and Big Tech need come together to thwart election meddling, Burr says.
  • Yet the Senate Select Committee chairman also notes the need to protect First Amendment rights, saying it's a "tough thing to legislate around."

Sen. Richard Burr told CNBC on Wednesday the federal government and Big Tech need come together to thwart the kind of election meddling that plagued social media platforms during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Yet he also noted the need to protect people's First Amendment rights.

"We've had a partnership over the last few months that's shown great progress. And today is a continuation," said Burr, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Burr's committee was holding a Wednesday morning hearing on election security with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey testifying. Alphabet's Google refused to send someone from the C-suite.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., vice chairman of the committee, said, "The fact that [Google] chose not to participate is pretty disappointing. They're not going to be able to escape the kind of very serious questions we have."

On the issue of regulation, Burr acknowledged in a CNBC interview that "the First Amendment is a tough thing to legislate round."

(L-R) Ranking member Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) greet Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey as he arrives for a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing concerning foreign influence operations' use of social media platforms, on Capitol Hill, September 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg faced questions about how foreign operatives use their platforms in attempts to influence and manipulate public opinion. 
Drew Angerer | Getty Images
(L-R) Ranking member Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) greet Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey as he arrives for a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing concerning foreign influence operations' use of social media platforms, on Capitol Hill, September 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg faced questions about how foreign operatives use their platforms in attempts to influence and manipulate public opinion. 

"We want platforms where people can voice their opinions without any kind of influence in it," the North Carolina Republican said. "But we want to make sure we keep the national security of the country."

Warner told reporters: "There are no existing rules or regulations at this point. That's why we need to put an end to the wild Wild West."

"The companies have gotten better. The government's gotten better. But frankly the Russians are getting better as well," the Virginia Democrat added.

The hearing and one Wednesday afternoon on Twitter transparency in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce come just about two months before the midterm elections.

The House hearing features just Dorsey, and it's expected to focus more on the type of accusations President Donald Trump and other conservatives have made concerning social media bias.

Last week, the president said social platforms are "treading on very, very troubled territory and they have to be careful."