November 27, 2020

Senate Republicans vote to subpoena Facebook and Twitter CEOs

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks during the confirmation hearing for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., October 13, 2020.

Susan Walsh | Pool | Reuters

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to authorize subpoenas for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to testify about their handling of a recent unverified New York Post article about former Vice President Joe Biden’s son.

Twelve Republicans on the committee voted to authorize the subpoenas, while all 10 Democrats boycotted the markup in a protest of the committee’s earlier vote on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Zuckerberg and Dorsey are already set to testify before the Senate Commerce Committee next week alongside Google CEO Sundar Pichai about alleged bias and privacy matters.

The Judiciary Committee voted to compel the Facebook and Twitter CEOs to testify about their “suppression and/or censorship” of two recent New York Post articles involving unverified allegations about emails supposedly taken from a computer belonging to Joe Biden’s son Hunter. The initial story alleged the younger Biden attempted to introduce a top executive at a Ukraine company he worked for to his father, who was vice president at the time. The Democratic presidential nominee has called the story a “smear.”

The motion for the subpoena does not list a date for the testimony. Representatives for Facebook and Twitter declined to comment on the subpoena vote.

Facebook and Twitter took different approaches to moderating the article, which contained unredacted email addresses in documents.

A Facebook spokesperson said shortly after the article gained steam that it was subject to a fact-check review and in the meantime would have its distribution reduced. Users could still share the story, but it would not get a boost from the algorithm.

Twitter, on the other hand, initially blocked users from posting or sharing the story in direct messages. The company said it made the decision under its hacked material and private information policies since the story contained personal contact information and material allegedly taken from a laptop without the owner’s consent. Users could still share articles commenting on the piece as long as it did not contain the allegedly hacked or personal information.

The responses caused quick fury from conservatives, who have long accused the companies of suppressing their viewpoints, even as stories from conservative outlets often top viewership on the platforms. Dorsey later said Twitter’s communication about its actions was “unacceptable” and the company eventually allowed the story to be posted since it had been so widely shared already.

The motion for a subpoena also asks the CEOs to testify about “any other content moderation policies, practices, or actions that may interfere with or influence elections for federal office” as well as other recent decisions to reduce distribution or block posts from their services.

Andrew Bates, spokesman for the Biden campaign, responded to the New York Post’s story in a statement last week, saying multiple press and congressional investigations concluded that the elder Biden “engaged in no wrongdoing.”

Bates claimed the Post failed to ask the Biden campaign about key parts of the story, including the fact that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani allegedly obtained the materials used in the article. Biden’s official schedules show no meeting with Ukrainian executives as alleged by the Post had taken place, Bates said.

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