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Senate panel threatens subpoena for Google, Facebook and Twitter executives

Senate panel threatens subpoena for Google, Facebook and Twitter executives
© AP/Pool

The GOP chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee is planning to subpoena the executives of Google, Facebook and Twitter to testify at an Oct. 1 hearing on the law that gives tech companies a legal liability shield if they do not agree to appear voluntarily by Thursday night.

A spokesperson for the committee confirmed to The Hill that Chairman Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerGovernment efforts to 'fix' social media bias overlooks the destruction of our discourse The Section 230 fight Congress should be having Americans want to serve — it's up to us to give them the chance MORE (R-Miss.) intends to issue the subpoenas and believes their testimony to be crucial.

Politico first reported on the subpoena threat.

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Spokespeople for Twitter and Facebook declined to comment. A spokesperson for Google did not immediately return a request for comment.

The hearing is set to focus on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is considered the bedrock of the modern internet.

The 1996 law, which has come under increased scrutiny since President TrumpDonald John TrumpPolice say man dangling off Trump Tower Chicago demanding to speak with Trump Fauci says he was 'absolutely not' surprised Trump got coronavirus after Rose Garden event Biden: Trump 'continues to lie to us' about coronavirus MORE targeted it in an executive order in May, gives internet companies immunity from lawsuits for content posted on their sites by third parties and allows them to make "good faith" efforts to moderate content.

The threat of having that protection revoked has increasingly been proposed as a cudgel to compel platforms to make changes by lawmakers, especially ones on the right.

Wicker, along with Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPush to expand Supreme Court faces Democratic buzzsaw RNC chairwoman: Republicans should realize distancing themselves from Trump 'is hurting themselves in the long run' Latest Mnuchin-Pelosi call produces 'encouraging news on testing' for stimulus package MORE (R-S.C.) and Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnSenate Judiciary to vote on subpoena for Twitter CEO next week Government efforts to 'fix' social media bias overlooks the destruction of our discourse Trump faces unusual barrier to COVID-19 aid: GOP allies MORE (R-Tenn.), introduced a bill last month that would only extend the protection to companies that restrict access to content where it has the "reasonable belief" it falls into one of the specified categories in the 1996 act.

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Section 230's original phrasing gives platforms broad authority to pursue content moderation targeted at "obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable" content.

The bill would strike the "otherwise objectionable" phrase — which has allowed platforms to take down a wide range of dangerous content — and replace it with ‘‘promoting self-harm, promoting terrorism, or unlawful."

It would also change the definition of "information content provider" to include any instances of editorializing or modifying content created by another person or entity beyond changes to appearance.

That change would seem to suggest that platforms that do things like fact-check content or strike parts of it would no longer get Section 230 protections, effectively neutering the sort of tough content moderation that experts say is crucial to limiting the spread of misinformation online.

That is just one of many efforts targeting Section 230.

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The Department of Justice on Wednesday rolled out a legislative proposal that would make many changes similar to Wicker's bill.

Trump, after having a baseless post about the risks of mail-in voting labeled on Twitter, signed an executive order on the law that, among other things, directs an agency within the Commerce Department to file a petition with the Federal Communications Commission to clarify the scope of Section 230.

That subagency, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, filed that petition earlier this year and recently closed the open comment period.