The United States House Select Committee, which has been investigating the 6 January 2021 Capitol riot that occurred hours before the Congress certified President Joe Biden’s election victory, has subpoenaed Twitter, Reddit, as well as the parent firms of Facebook and Google.
In July 2021, the bipartisan committee requested a plethora of documents from social media companies but received "inadequate responses" from some of the top players. So, the committee ordered that Alphabet, Twitter, Reddit and Meta—formerly known as Facebook—should hand over records relating to domestic terrorism, the propagation of misinformation and efforts to influence or overturn the 2020 election results.
Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (Democrat-Mississippi) said in a statement on 13 January: “Two key questions for the Select Committee are how the spread of misinformation and violent extremism contributed to the violent attack on our democracy, and what steps—if any—social media companies took to prevent their platforms from being breeding grounds for radicalizing people to violence.”
“It’s disappointing that after months of engagement, we still do not have the documents and information necessary to answer those basic questions. The Select Committee is working to get answers for the American people and help ensure nothing like January 6th ever happens again. We cannot allow our important work to be delayed any further,” he added.
According to a press release from the Select Committee, YouTube, owned by Alphabet, served as a venue for substantial communications by its users related to the preparation and execution of the 6 January attack on the United States Capitol, including livestreams of the attack as it occurred.
Additionally, it said that Meta platforms were reportedly used to transmit hateful, violent and inciting remarks; to propagate misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories surrounding the election; and to coordinate or attempt to coordinate the “Stop the Steal” movement. According to public accounts of Facebook's Civic Integrity Team, the company has documents relevant to the Select Committee's investigation.
In the case of Twitter, the committee said that the subscribers apparently utilised the site to communicate about the planning and execution of the deadly attack, and Twitter was reportedly warned about potential violence on the site before 6 January. The press release added that “Twitter users also engaged in communications amplifying allegations of election fraud, including by the former President himself”.
Last year in March, Twitter’s former CEO, Jack Dorsey during his congressional testimony accepted that the site did play a role in the 6 January incident. It was the first such public acknowledgement by a top social media executive.
While Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai did not provide a clear answer saying “yes” or “no” during their testimony about whether their platforms contributed to the incident by allowing to spread misinformation and talks about the plan to attack the United States Capitol, Dorsey said, “Yes. But you also have to take into consideration the broader ecosystem. It’s not just about the technological systems that we use.”
However, now after the Select Committee subpoenaed the tech giants a Reddit spokesperson told CNBC that they “will continue to work with the committee on their requests”. Meanwhile, a Google spokesperson said, “We’ve been actively cooperating with the Select Committee since they started their investigation, responding substantively to their requests for documents, and are committed to working with Congress through this process.”
The latter also explained that Google has strict policies barring anything that incites violence or undermines election trust across YouTube and Google's products and the company enforced these regulations in the run-up to 6 January and continue to do so now. The spokesperson also noted that “we remain vigilant and are committed to protecting our platforms from abuse”.
Meta said in a statement, “As Chairman Thompson said recently, ‘Facebook is working with [the committee] to provide the necessary information we requested.’ Since then, Meta has produced documents to the committee on a schedule committee staff requested - and we will continue to do so.”
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