After the Democrats boycotted the hearing, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve the jurisdiction if Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey were unwilling to testify.
The committee would like to hear from them about “the suppression and / or censorship of two New York Post news articles,” according to the subpoena. Senators also want information from executives about their company’s guidelines for moderating content “that may affect the general election.”
A Facebook spokesman declined to comment. Representatives from Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Facebook and Twitter acted last week to limit the online distribution and sharing of an unverified political story by the conservative New York Post targeting Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. The story, which other publications have failed to confirm, cited unconfirmed emails from Biden’s son Hunter that were reportedly published by President Donald Trump’s allies.
An email reportedly showed a top advisor to Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company, where Hunter Biden held a seat on the board, and thanked Biden for giving him the opportunity to meet senior Vice President Biden.
Trump’s campaign picked up on the report even though the account raises more questions than answers, including whether emails were hacked or fabricated at the heart of the story.
It was the first time in recent times that the two social media platforms enforced rules against misinformation about a story from a mainstream media publication.
With the upcoming November 3rd election, Facebook and Twitter have attempted to stem the flow of material viewed as potentially violent, spreading disinformation and unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Facebook has expanded its restrictions on political advertising, including new bans on messages alleging widespread election fraud.
Trump has increased the prospect of mass fraud when voting by email.
Companies have also struggled with how much they should intervene in speech on their platforms.
With Trump leading the way, conservatives have reinforced claims that Facebook, Twitter, and Google, which owns YouTube, are biased with no evidence that Silicon Valley’s social media platforms are deliberately suppressing conservative views.
The Justice Department has asked Congress to withdraw long-standing legal protections for online platforms. The proposed changes would remove some of the fundamental safeguards that have generally protected companies from legal responsibility for what people post on their platforms.
Trump signed an executive order that year contesting lawsuits under a Telecommunications Act of 1996 that served as the basis for an unqualified speech on the Internet.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transport Committee recently approved subpoenas for Zuckerberg, Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a bipartisan vote. The three have agreed to testify for a hearing scheduled for next week.
Democrats have mainly focused their criticism of social media on hate speech, misinformation, and other content that they say can provoke violence or prevent people from voting. They have criticized the CEOs for not overseeing content and focused on the role of platforms in hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism in the US.
After deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, tech giants began banning hardline groups and individuals advocating the views of white supremacists and support for violence in 2017. Facebook extended the ban to white nationalists.
Washington corporations and attorneys general have been scrutinized by both political parties on issues of competition, consumer privacy, and hate speech.
On Tuesday, the Justice Department filed landmark antitrust proceedings against Google accusing it of abusing its dominance in online search and advertising to increase profits. It was the government’s most significant attempt to protect competition since a groundbreaking case against Microsoft more than 20 years ago.
Facebook, Amazon, and Apple have also been the target of antitrust investigations by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.
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