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Social media giants subpoenaed by Jan. 6 committee

The select committee has been trying for months to get information on the role social media platforms played in the insurrection on Capitol Hill in 2021

The congressional committee charged with investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol subpoenaed four large Silicon Valley social media companies Thursday, saying the companies had failed to furnish requested items vital to the investigation. 

Facebook parent Meta, YouTube parent Google, Twitter and Reddit received subpoenas.

“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,” said committee chair Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, in a statement. “It’s disappointing that after months of engagement, we still do not have the documents and information necessary to answer those basic questions.”

The move will likely be cheered by those eager to get to the bottom of how social media facilitated the events of Jan. 6, when a mob of then-President Donald Trump supporters broke into the U.S. Capitol to interfere with the counting of electoral votes. However, privacy advocates will oppose the effort of the government to snoop on the communications of private individuals on platforms owned and maintained by private companies. 

The committee already requested a trove of documents this past summer but said Thursday that the four companies in question were not sufficiently forthcoming. 

The companies have not provided comment as of press time. 

The request specifically honed in on the companies’ internal or external reviews of misinformation related to the 2020 presidential election, any content related to the subject that was related to law enforcement and other relevant communications. 

The committee was particularly hard on Twitter in its subpoena, lashing out at the mircoblogging company in a letter for failing to provide even a timeline for when it would disclose the requested documents. 

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“The Select Committee believes Twitter has failed to disclose critical information that is responsive to its Aug. 26, 2021, document request,” the letter states. “For example, Twitter has not produced important documents relating to warnings it received regarding the use of the platform to plan or incite violence on Jan. 6th.”

The committee also hit the company for failing to provide documents that explain its rationale for suspending Trump's account on Jan. 8 in the immediate aftermath of the Capitol riot. 

But the committee also lashed Facebook, saying the company has likewise failed to commit to a timeline for turning over their documents. 

“According to public reports, people used Meta’s platforms in the months and days before Jan. 6, 2021, to share messages of hate, violence, and incitement, to spread misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories,” the committee said in its letter to Meta. 

The committee also cited Facebook’s facilitation of the Stop the Steal movement among other conspiracy theories related to the election. 

Trump has forcibly argued, without evidence, that the election was stolen from him despite losing the popular vote by nearly 7 million votes and the Electoral College count ending up in a resounding defeat, numerically the same as the defeat he handed Hillary Clinton in 2016. 

The committee also reached out to Google requesting documents regarding its decision to suspend Trump from YouTube in the aftermath of Jan. 6. 

Likewise, the committee wants Reddit to provide documents surrounding its decision to restrict some of the community groups surrounding Trump and the election.

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While the move will likely be cheered by those eager to get to the bottom of how social media facilitated the events of Jan. 6, privacy advocates will oppose the effort of the government to snoop on the communications of private individuals.