Senate Commerce Compels Big Tech Testimony

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The Senate Commerce Committee has voted on a bipartisan basis to subpoena the biggest of Big Tech CEO's for a hearing on how they moderate online content.

That came at an executive meeting Thursday (Oct. 1).

The subpoenas will go out to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Alphabet (Google) CEO Sundar Pichai and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Committee chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said they had been invited to appear, but declined, so now they would be compelled to do so.

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Republicans and Democrats both have issues with social media platforms. Democrats are more focused on their role in facilitating election meddling and hate speech, Republicans on allegations of anti-conservative bias, and both are concerned about privacy and data protection.

Wicker said the CEOs needed to answer questions about their companies' growing and unprecedented power, including via their Sec. 230 immunity from civil liability over third-party content, to suppress political viewpoints.

Ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said she definitely wanted to hear from Facebook and others about Big Tech putting its foot on the throat on local media.

Cantwell said she supported the subpoenas, particularly with Wicker's agreement to add language in the subpoenas on privacy and the impact of Big Tech on local media to the subjects to be covered in the hearing. 

But on the issue of allegations of conservative bias--some of which have come from President Donald Trump over Twitter's labeling of his tweets on mail-in ballots and protests--Cantwell said she did not want to see a chilling effect on cracking down on hate speech and election disinformation.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said she has been censored and that Twitter had to apologize and acknowledge that was the case. She said the CEOs "need to come before us and work with us."

Democrats argued that the CEO hearing should wait until after the election, while Republicans argued it needed to happen before. 

Some Democrats said Republicans appear to be trying to work the refs coming up to an election and they hoped that was not the case.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.