On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation voted unanimously to authorize the issuance of subpoenas to chief executive officers Jack Dorsey of Twitter, Sundar Pichai of Alphabet Inc. and Google, LLC, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Inc. The subpoenas compel the executives’ testimony regarding Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, “which governs how online platforms moderate and display user generated content,” the committee’s press release explained.
The CEOs have reportedly declined multiple invitations to testify before the committee on this matter. Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) opened the executive session with historical commentary and an appeal to fellow committee members to vote for the subpoena authorization. Wicker remarked that this committee and others have already inquired into the companies’ “growing and unprecedented power and influence.” The committee has most recently reviewed how the tech giants moderate platform content and apply terms of service and community guidelines to users.
Wicker further noted that while Section 230 “allowed the modern internet to flourish,” he also fears its “sweeping liability protections for Big Tech are stifling a true diversity of political discourse on the internet.” He said that “on the eve of a momentous and highly-charged election, it is imperative that this committee of jurisdiction and the American people receive a full accounting from the heads of these companies about their content moderation practices.” Wicker commented that the issue is non-partisan, as politicians from both sides of the aisle support striking or modifying Section 230 provisions.
According to a Reuters article, ranking member Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), who opposed the issuance of subpoenas last week, reversed her position and voted to approve the measure. In her opening remarks, Cantwell said that she appreciated the insertion of language into the subpoenas concerning “privacy and media,” noting that what she did not want to see “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.” She further commented that “part of this discussion will end up being about the fact that some of these social platforms have tried to move forward in a positive way and take down information that is incorrect.”
Executives from Amazon.com, Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook, and Google recently testified before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee to answer legislators’ questions concerning their allegedly monopolistic and otherwise anticompetitive conduct. Reuters reported that the subcommittee could release the results of its over a year-long investigation as early as Oct. 5.