The House committee investigating January 6 issued subpoenas Thursday in an effort to get information from social media sites including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Reddit.
Chairman Bennie Thompson wrote letters to the four company heads, including to Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, who recently changed the company’s branding to Meta, and Sundar Pichai, who leads Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube.
Overall, a release from the committee admonished the companies for providing ‘inadequate responses’ to the group, which is looking into the role social media played related to the ‘spread of misinformation, efforts to overturn the 2020 election, domestic violent extremism and foreign influence in the 2020 election.’
The House select committee was particularly interested in internal documents in which the companies discussed what to do with former President Donald Trump’s social media accounts.
And in Reddit’s case, the committee was interested in how the company dealt with discussion boards dedicated to Trump.
The House committee investigating January 6 issued subpoenas Thursday in an effort to get information from social media sites including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Reddit
Among the CEOs who received letters from Chairman Bennie Thompson were Facebook co-founder and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg (left) and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai (right). Alphabet is the parent company of Google and YouTube
‘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 wrote in a letter Thursday announcing the new subpoenas.
In his letter to Zuckerberg, Thompson pointed to reports that said Facebook had disbanded its Civic Integrity team after the November 3, 2020 election and ‘reduced the application of tools used to restrain the spread of violent content.’
Thompson said that despite ‘repeated and specific requests’ for documents detailing what happened, the committee hadn’t received the information from Facebook.
He said that Meta has also refused to provide information ‘regarding misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation relating to the 2020 election, efforts to challenge or overturn the election, and the use of Meta by domestic violent extremists to affect the 2020 election.’
The select committee originally requested information from Meta on August 26, and then followed up on September 28 and October 29, the letter said, with Meta refusing to commit to a specific deadline to hand over the materials to Congress.
In the letter to Pichai, Thompson said that the Google-owned video platform YouTube ‘was a platform for significant communications’ among the planners of January 6.
The letter points to ex-Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon using YouTube to broadcast his podcast and also noted that the Capitol attack, itself, was broadcast from YouTube accounts as it was taking place.
YouTube also took down a video posted by then President Donald Trump on that day – and suspended his account on January 12.
The committee asked for documents relating to the internal deliberations concerning Trump’s account, as well as about a new election misinformation content moderation policy that was being tested in the weeks before the attack.
The select committee asked for similar documents from Twitter, about the social media site’s decision to bar Trump from using the platform after the Capitol attack.
The letter to Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal said that Twitter was reportedly warned about potential violence being planned at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, however the company has not produced requested documents relating to the matter.
A fourth letter, addressed to Reddit CEO Steven Huffman, reiterated how Reddit decided to restrict some features of the r/The_Donald subreddit in 2019 and 2020 and then shut down the last subreddit dedicated to Trump – r/donaldtrump – two days after the Capitol attack.
Thompson told Huffman that the committee is investigating how ‘the social media ecosystem enabled or exacerbated the attack on the U.S. Capitol, and how it developed, evolved, and functioned.’
The chairman said the company has refused to produce ‘internal documents to support its conclusory public statements that Reddit played no role in January 6th.’