Senate Committee Seeks Subpoena Against Facebook and Twitter Leaders

October 22, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg addresses students at Georgetown University. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — A Senate committee voted to subpoena the chief executives of Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. Thursday over what its chairman called censorship of information potentially embarrassing to presidential candidate Joe Biden.

The social media giants limited the sharing of New York Post articles that said Biden’s son used his family influence to assist his business associates at a Ukrainian company.

The newspaper articles were reportedly based on emails taken from a computer allegedly belonging to Biden’s son, Hunter. The first article said Hunter tried to introduce an executive at the Ukrainian company that employed him to his father, who was then vice president.

Democratic frontrunner Biden has called the New York Post stories a “smear.” He denies their accuracy.

Facebook and Twitter officials initially said sharing links to the articles appeared to violate their privacy policy on hacked information. Their policies ban posting of private or stolen information like email addresses and phone numbers without the owners’ permission.

After internal investigations and media reports of their limits on the information, Facebook and Twitter officials lifted the restrictions.

However, some Republicans said Facebook and Twitter gave inadequate explanations. 

They also questioned whether the companies were trying to protect Biden’s presidential campaign from potentially embarrassing disclosures.

Normally congressional committees obtain information by asking witnesses to appear at hearings to testify voluntarily. A subpoena indicates the senators were trying to compel the testimony of chief executives Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey.

The vote was unanimous among the Senate Judiciary Committee’s 12 Republicans. Democrats boycotted the business meeting to protest the nomination to the Supreme Court of Amy Coney Barrett.

The subpoena would “hopefully give us some leverage to secure their testimony,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It also continues recent concern mentioned in several congressional hearings that Facebook, Twitter and Google are getting too big and powerful with the way they control content on their Internet platforms.

The chief executives of all three companies are scheduled to testify next week before the Senate Commerce Committee on their policies for posting and controlling content. Occasionally they have been accused of bias against conservatives.

Some members of Congress suggest modifying Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects social media companies from liability for user content.

The Senate Judiciary Committee motion for a subpoena against Facebook and Twitter seeks information about “any other content moderation policies, practices, or actions that may interfere with or influence elections for federal office.”

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