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Senate committee subpoenas executives of major tech companies

Lawmakers want tech CEOs to testify about their protections from liability

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The Senate Commerce Committee has voted to subpoena the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter over concerns related to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 acts as a liability shield for online companies. In its current state, websites and online services aren’t held liable for what their users post. 

The committee voted unanimously to subpoena Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey to testify about Section 230 if they refuse to come voluntarily. Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who introduced the subpoena, noted that both presidential candidates support reform to Section 230. 

President Trump took aim at Section 230 over the summer after Twitter fact-checked two of his tweets. He accused the company of engaging in censorship and announced that he would sign an executive order encouraging the FCC to impose new regulations on the provision.

Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden has told The New York Times editorial board that Section 230 “should be revoked” and has said he plans to do just that if elected. This week, Biden accused Facebook of failing to prevent the spread of election misinformation.

Curbing the power of big tech 

Political beliefs aside, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) argued that it’s “dangerous” to give too much power to tech companies. 

“Even if you happen to agree with them on a particular issue right now, ceding the power to the star chamber of Silicon Valley is profoundly dangerous,” the lawmaker said. 

Democrats supported the subpoena but said Congress should avoid creating a “chilling effect” on tech companies currently battling hate speech and COVID-19 misinformation.  

“What I don’t want to see is a chilling effect on individuals who are in a process of trying to crack down on hate speech or misinformation about Covid during a pandemic,” said Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the committee. 

"I welcome the debate about 230," she said. "I think it should be a long and thoughtful process. Not sure that a long and thoughtful process will happen before the election, but I understand my colleagues’ desires here today.”

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