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Senate panel threatens to subpoena Facebook, Google, Twitter CEOs

Google CEO Sundar Pichai is shown at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in 2018.
Google’s Sundar Pichai, shown at a 2018 House Judiciary Committee hearing, may be among those subpoenaed to testify at a Senate hearing on the internet law known as Section 230.
(Saul Loeb / AFP/Getty Images)

A Senate panel is preparing to subpoena the chief executives of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. if they don’t agree to appear voluntarily to testify on a controversial legal shield that benefits social media, a spokesperson for the Senate Commerce Committee said.

The panel is asking Sundar Pichai, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey to address Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which allows the platforms to avoid lawsuits over content that their users post, the spokesperson said.

The CEOs have been invited to testify at the hearing, which is planned for Oct. 1, said two Senate aides who asked not to be named because the date hadn’t been officially announced. The committee spokesperson declined to confirm the date.

Google and Twitter didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Facebook declined to comment. Politico reported the panel’s subpoena threat earlier Thursday.

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Trump’s executive order targeting Twitter is based on a law called Section 230 — which may be the most important law for speech on the internet

The legal shield is increasingly under attack in Washington. The Justice Department unveiled its latest proposal to overhaul the law Wednesday. The Federal Communications Commission is also considering changes via a rule-making process requested by President Trump in response to Twitter’s fact-checking of some of his posts.

Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are seeking their own changes to Section 230, although they have differed on the approach and the goals.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) recently sponsored a bill to narrow the companies’ discretion over what content they take down.

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Conservatives have been seeking to change the law to address what they say is bias by the big tech companies against right-wing views. Trump met Wednesday with Republican state attorneys general on the alleged bias issues, and the gathering emphasized concerns about Section 230.

The companies have denied they are biased and argue that the provision protects free speech while allowing them to take down the most vile content without fear that they’ll be subject to litigation for doing so.

Pichai and Zuckerberg also recently voluntarily testified remotely before a House subcommittee investigating competition in tech. Dorsey has previously testified before Congress.

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, another tech critic in the GOP, introduced a motion Thursday to pass his recent bill that seeks to prohibit companies from receiving Section 230 protections unless they update their terms of service to operate in good faith. That bill has no Democratic co-sponsors. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who helped write Section 230, blocked Hawley’s motion.


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