Senate Panel Authorizes Subpoenas for Top Social-Media CEOs

WASHINGTON—The Senate Commerce Committee voted to authorize subpoenas forcing testimony from Facebook Inc. CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter Inc. CEO Jack Dorsey, and Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet Inc. and its subsidiary Google, setting up what could be a contentious hearing with the largest U.S. social-media companies in the midst of […]

WASHINGTON—The Senate Commerce Committee voted to authorize subpoenas forcing testimony from

Facebook Inc.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg,

Twitter Inc.

CEO Jack Dorsey, and Sundar Pichai, CEO of

Alphabet Inc.

and its subsidiary Google, setting up what could be a contentious hearing with the largest U.S. social-media companies in the midst of a national election.

In taking the unusual step of forcing the executives to testify Thursday, senators cited the need to review Section 230, a legal provision that grants the companies legal immunity in managing content on their sites, as well as privacy and other issues.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R., Miss.), the committee’s chairman, also invoked the Nov. 3 election. “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,” he said Thursday.

Motions to authorize the subpoenas were adopted by voice vote, without opposition from any of the panel’s 26 members, both Republicans and Democrats. After the votes, the lawmakers debated whether the hearing should be held before or after the Nov. 3 election. Some Democrats said it ought to be scheduled afterward, but GOP lawmakers who control the committee appeared ready to move forward quickly.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.), the committee’s top Democrat, initially objected to the subpoenas but said she agreed to support them after Mr. Wicker expanded their scope to include privacy issues.

She said she shared Republicans’ desire to question the CEOs but didn’t want the hearing to be used to pressure the companies to stop taking down false information.

“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 and misinformation about Covid during a pandemic,” she said.

Representatives of the companies had no immediate comment.

The committee first asked the CEOs to testify on Sept. 18, according to people familiar with the matter. Six days later, Mr. Wicker announced he would move to subpoena testimony—a fast timeline by congressional standards. On Thursday he said the subpoenas were necessary because the CEOs had “declined to participate.”

A committee spokeswoman said the panel would contact the companies again to schedule a hearing and would issue the subpoenas if the witnesses don’t appear in a timely manner.

“It should speak volumes that every member of this committee just voted to issue subpoenas,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas). “Big tech are the robber barons of the 21st century.”

Mr. Cruz also repeated Republican concerns that social-media companies censor conservative content, something the companies deny.

The CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google faced tough questions and, at times, hostile criticism about their business practices during a House antitrust hearing. The session highlighted how four of America’s five most valuable companies are under scrutiny from both sides of the aisle. Photo: U.S. House Judiciary Committee/Reuters (Originally published July 30, 2020)

Sen. Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii) said he worried Republicans would use the hearing to push the companies to stop taking down false or misleading content. “This feels like an attempt to work the refs five weeks out from the election,” he said.

No date for a hearing with the CEOs has been announced.

All three CEOs have previously testified before Congress. In July, Messrs. Pichai and Zuckerberg joined Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos and Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook for five hours of adversarial questioning by a House antitrust subcommittee.

While that hearing focused on tech companies’ market power, the Senate panel’s agenda appeared more focused on social-media content. With the three companies present, senators would be questioning executives in charge of most of the largest U.S. social-media platforms:

Twitter,

Google’s YouTube, and

Facebook,

which owns its eponymous platform as well as Instagram and WhatsApp.

Write to Ryan Tracy at [email protected]

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the October 2, 2020, print edition as ‘Social-Media CEOs Face Subpoenas.’

Next Post

Oman Insurance leads from the front as the insurer of choice

Video Credit: Supplied Only a handful of names come to mind when people think reliable insurance in the UAE. But with 45 years of expertise, Oman Insurance is always the top choice be it insurance for life, health, cars or properties. With more than 830,000 individual and corporate clients in […]