Twitter, Meta Among Companies Subpoenaed in House Riot Probe

Twitter, Meta Among Companies Subpoenaed in House Riot Probe
·3 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc., Twitter Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube and Reddit Inc. are being subpoenaed to turn over posts, videos and other material to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the panel’s chairman announced Thursday.

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In letters released Thursday, committee Chair Bennie Thompson said the companies provided “inadequate responses” to requests in August to voluntarily turn material from users and internal documents related to efforts to overturn the 2020 elections. Also sought were internal reviews, data and communications about posts signaling acts by domestic violent extremists or foreign actors.

The material being sought is part of a wide net for information being sought by the committee on how a rally organized to support former President Donald Trump’s false claims about the 2020 presidential election resulted in a mob storming the Capitol.

“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,” Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said in a statement.

Letters explaining the subpoenas were sent to Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Alphabet, Mark Zuckerberg chief executive officer of Meta, Steven Huffman, CEO of Reddit; and Parag Agrawal chief executive of Twitter.

Thompson set Jan. 27 as a deadline for production of the material sought to the committee of seven Democrats and two Republicans.

Twitter declined to comment and a spokesperson for Reddit said the company would continue to work with the committee on its requests.

Nicolas Lopez, a spokesperson for YouTube owner Google, which is a unit of Alphabet, said the company has been “actively cooperating” with the committee and “committed to working with Congress through this process.”

Meta “has produced documents to the committee on a schedule committee staff requested - and we will continue to do so,” spokesperson Andy Stone said.

Among other lines of inquiry, the panel is seeking information on how some of the companies dealt with Trump.

Thompson’s letter to Agrawal said Twitter “has failed to produce any documents that fully explain” the company’s decision on Jan. 8, 2021 to suspend Trump’s account or “any other decisions the company made regarding President Trump’s account relating to the events of January 6th.”

Similarly, Thompson writes to Alphabet’s Pichai that the panel wants documents “that fully explain non-public moderation discussions and policies” that led to YouTube taking down a video Trump posted during the Jan. 6 riot and later suspend his account.

The committee said Meta platforms were reportedly used to spread misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories around the election and to coordinate or attempt to coordinate the Stop the Steal movement.

“Public accounts about Facebook’s Civic Integrity Team indicate that Facebook has documents that are critical to the Select Committee’s investigation,” the panel said.

Thompson said the committee is interested in examining administration of so-called subreddit communities focused on the former president that ultimately were shut down by Reddit.

There was no immediate comment on Thursday from House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who has opposed the committee’s investigation and refused to cooperate with it. In August he delivered a warning to social media and telecommunications companies against cooperating with the select committee.

He said it would be against the law to turn over the private data of individuals and that if the companies did, “a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law.”

(Updated with company reaction seventh through 10th paragraphs)

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