The Jan. 6 select committee on Thursday subpoenaed the nation’s biggest social media companies, including Alphabet’s YouTube, Twitter, Reddit and Facebook’s parent company, seeking more information related to the spread of misinformation, coordinated efforts to overturn the 2020 election and domestic violent extremism.
“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,” the panel's chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), said 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,” Thompson added.
The companies have until Jan. 27 to comply.
A Reddit spokesperson said the company had received the subpoena and would continue to work with the committee on its requests. A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment. Spokespeople for Facebook owner Meta and Alphabet did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The panel in August asked a host of tech companies, including Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Google and YouTube, for records about their handling of misinformation, efforts to overturn the 2020 election, foreign influence and domestic violent extremism. Investigators probing the Capitol riot also sought information on how the companies’ algorithms boosted that kind of content, and changes made since the attack.
Thursday’s subpoenas signal, however, that the committee views the companies’ current level of cooperation as insufficient.
Over the past year, lawmakers have homed in on how social media algorithms amplify misinformation, particularly in the wake of documents and testimony from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen.
Both Google, which owns YouTube, and Meta have been criticized for not doing enough to tamp down on dangerous and false content. Internal company documents made public by Haugen show the company had already begun dismantling its election safeguards before the Jan. 6 riot and struggled to respond to election disinformation.
Fact-checking groups have also targeted YouTube for failing to crack down on election falsehoods and other misinformation.
Reddit hosted a discussion group r/The_Donald, that the committee said hosted discussions about the election and Jan. 6. The company banned the discussion group in June 2020 and its founders migrated the group to a separate website, TheDonald.win
Both Meta and YouTube have provided extensive information to the Justice Department as part of its investigation into the Capitol riot. An analysis by tech publication Recode found prosecutors have cited data from Facebook or Google, which makes the Android operating system for smartphones and an eponymous, ubiquitous maps app, in 75 percent of the cases they have filed so far.
And while Google, Facebook and Twitter all say they have taken extensive steps to combat election misinformation, a POLITICO investigation one year after the insurrection found conspiracies still proliferate on the social media sites and the companies struggle to police the issue.
Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.
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