January 6th Committee Subpoenas Google, Twitter, Facebook

Panel will investigate whether big tech platforms were 'breeding grounds for radicalizing'

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg / Getty Images
January 14, 2022

The congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riots on Thursday subpoenaed Twitter, Facebook, and other big tech companies in an effort to determine how rioters coordinated on their platforms.

The House Select Committee on the January 6th Attack also subpoenaed Reddit and Alphabet, Google's parent company. In a letter, the committee said it was investigating "what steps—if any—social media companies took to prevent their platforms from being breeding grounds for radicalizing people to violence."

The letter named Facebook, now called Meta, and YouTube, an Alphabet subsidiary, as particularly negligent. But it said all four companies subpoenaed were "unwilling to commit to voluntarily and expeditiously" cooperating with the committee. The committee also said "Twitter has failed to disclose critical information."

In the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 riots, several big tech platforms cut off access to conservative social media site Parler, blaming it for hosting the planning of the riot. But recent investigations found many of the rioters organized on large platforms like Facebook. Some rioters live-streamed their entrances to the Capitol on YouTube.

The subpoena follows an August 2021 request for relevant documents to 15 social media platforms, including several pro-Trump forums. Twitter, Facebook, and Google have become flashpoints on Capitol Hill after Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a trove of internal documents. Haugen testified to Senate Democrats that Facebook "cannot adequately identify dangerous content."

Some conservatives worry the Jan. 6th committee may use the subpoenas to crack down on free speech on major tech platforms. All four companies subpoenaed have restricted conservative users on their sites. Twitter and Facebook suppressed claims of Kyle Rittenhouse's innocence and censored stories about Hunter Biden in the months before the 2020 election. The committee says it is working to address "the spread of false information" on social media platforms.

Recent moves by congressional Democrats have exacerbated conservative worries about government overreach in tech. House Democrats have called for legislation that would punish tech platforms for user posts that cause "emotional injury" to other users. Senate Democrats have endorsed "racial equity audits" from their close friends as another tool to control the behavior of social media companies.

Published under: Big Tech