The Senate Commerce Committee voted on Thursday to subpoena various “Big Tech” CEOs in advance of the U.S. presidential election. The unanimous decision—supported by all of the committee’s Republicans and Democrats—shows that bipartisanship isn’t dead, sadly.
Democrats were initially wary of supporting the subpoena, according to National Journal‘s Brendan Bordelon. But they came around after Republicans agreed to also question the CEOs about the spread of disinformation on social media—a concession to Democrats—in addition to questions about anti-conservative bias.
Thursday’s charge was led by Sen. Roger Wicker, the Mississippi Republican who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee.
“I fear that Section 230’s sweeping liability protections for Big Tech are stifling true diversity of political discourse on the internet,” Wicker said. “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.”
Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the panel, urged caution amid her colleagues’ complaints of anti-conservative bias. Last week, as Wicker had been pushing internally for the subpoenas, Cantwell said she feared Republicans sought to “chill the efforts of these companies to remove lies, harassment, and intimidation from their platforms.”
On Thursday, Cantwell said she was pleased to move forward with the subpoenas after Wicker agreed to include the topics of Big Tech’s impact on media and privacy as issues of concern.
The CEOs who will be required to testify before Congress are Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey. Expect more of the same fact-free show-trial atmosphere that has permeated past Congressional hearings on Big Tech.
Democrats and Republicans have wildly different, nearly-conflicting issues with social media companies. Republicans believe that tech platforms moderate too much content—particularly content from right-leaning accounts. Democrats, on the other hand, think the platforms don’t do nearly enough moderation—thus allowing misinformation and hate speech to thrive. This puts the tech CEOs in a difficult position because satisfying either side’s demands will mean worsening the perceived situation for the other side. It also means that legislative proposals to punish social media companies—particularly the threat to remove Section 230 liability protection—are holding them to an essentially impossible standard.