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Senate Committee Votes to Subpoena Tech CEOs over Liability Protections

Facebook and Twitter logos are seen on a shop window in Malaga, Spain, June 4, 2018. (Jon Nazca/Reuters)

The Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday voted unanimously to subpoena the CEOs of Facebook, Google, and Twitter to testify on liability protections that guard the tech companies from being sued over content posted by users.

The subpoena requests testimony from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, and Google’s Sundar Pichai, all of whom have previously testified before Congress on various issues. Republican Chairman Roger Wicker of Mississippi pushed last week for the subpoenas, but when they will be issued was not announced.

The committee plans to hold a hearing focusing on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law that protects tech companies from lawsuits over users’ posted content and allows the companies a large amount of leeway in moderating that content. The time of the hearing is yet to be determined.

“I fear that Section 230’s sweeping liability protections for Big Tech are stifling the true diversity of political discourse on the internet,” Wicker said. “This is not a partisan issue.”

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, had previously opposed the subpoena but agreed to it after Republicans broadened the scope of the subpoena to include data privacy and media issues.

“What I don’t want to see is a chilling effect on individuals who are in a process of trying to crack down on hate speech or misinformation about Covid during a pandemic,” Cantwell cautioned.

Conservatives have long accused Silicon Valley of exhibiting bias against them, and President Trump said last week that he is considering “concrete legal steps” against social media platforms that he believes are censoring conservatives. The companies have denied harboring or acting on any biases.

Democrats on the Commerce Committee ultimately voted in favor of the subpoena but some expressed concern about the timing, saying the hearing should be held after the election.

“This appears to me like an attempt to work the refs coming up to the election,” Democratic Senator Brian Schatz said Thursday.

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