Senate panel preparing to subpoena Google, Facebook and Twitter for CEO testimony

The Senate Commerce Committee plans to subpoena the CEOs of Google, Facebook and Twitter to testify at an Oct. 1 hearing about the tech industry’s prized liability protections if the three do not agree by Thursday night to requests to appear, according to internal email obtained by POLITICO.

A top staffer for Senate Commerce Chair Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) wrote in the email to staff Wednesday that invitations have been sent to the top executives and “unless we receive a very prompt affirmative response, we will be issuing the subpoenas.”

John Keast, the panel’s staff director, said Wicker has notified ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) of his intent to issue subpoenas “to compel the attendance” of Google’s Sundar Pichai, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.

That notice to Cantwell, according to Keast, gives the CEOs until the end of the day Thursday to respond before resorting to subpoenas. Cantwell could still object to the notice, which would negate the deadline.

The email did not specify when the invitations were sent, but confirmed that they had already gone out before a Monday staff meeting.

The hearing is set to address a 1996 law that has protected tech platforms from lawsuits over content their users post, the subject of increasing scrutiny in recent years.

President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have both suggested the liability protections — enshrined in Communications Decency Act Section 230 — may need to be revoked, although for differing reasons.

Trump gathered Republican state attorneys general on Wednesday to discuss ways to crack down on tech companies over what he sees as bias against conservatives and in May issued an executive order seeking to get federal agencies to target the protections.

Biden, meanwhile, has complained of the misinformation freely flowing on social media networks.

Keast called the top companies’ testimony “critical to deliberations” as Congress considers amending the law.

“These three platforms facilitate a flow of communication and information sharing that is so large and so pervasive it is hard to contemplate,” he wrote. “Increasingly, content moderation decisions by these platforms appear to be limiting public discourse, particularly from conservative sources.”

A Facebook spokesperson declined comment, while spokespeople for Twitter and Google as well as for Cantwell didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.


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