Key Democrat opposes GOP Section 230 subpoena for Facebook, Twitter, Google

Key Democrat opposes GOP Section 230 subpoena for Facebook, Twitter, Google
© Bonnie Cash

The top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday announced she would oppose the GOP chairman's plan to issue subpoenas for the executives of Google, Facebook and Twitter to testify at a hearing next month about a law that gives companies a legal liability shield. 

Ranking member Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellHeat wave sparks historically unseasonable wildfires in West Senate Democrats threaten to block 2026 World Cup funds unless women's soccer team get equal pay Senate confirms Biden's top scientist MORE (D-Wash.), a veteran of the tech world, came out against the subpoenas Thursday evening, arguing it would be counterproductive. 

"Taking the extraordinary step of issuing subpoenas is an attempt to chill the efforts of these companies to remove lies, harassment, and intimidation from their platforms," she said in a statement.


"I am happy to work with my colleagues to hold further substantive, bipartisan hearings on how platforms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter need to improve. But I will not participate in an attempt to use the committee’s serious subpoena power for a partisan effort 40 days before an election.”

Chairman Roger WickerRoger Frederick WickerLobbying world Sen. Manchin paves way for a telehealth revolution Senate confirms Radhika Fox to lead EPA's water office MORE (R-Miss.) had intended to issue the subpoenas. Cantwell's opposition means Wicker will have to secure a majority vote from the panel to issue the subpoenas. 

Shortly after Cantwell's announcement, Wicker scheduled an executive session of the panel Oct. 1 to vote on issuing the subpoenas. Wicker's release said the subpoenas, if approved, would be issued to require attendance at a hearing from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergTexas governor signs ban on outside help for election administrators Hillicon Valley: NATO members agree to new cyber defense policy | YouTube banning politics, elections in masthead ads | 50 groups urge Biden to fill FCC position to reinstate net neutrality rules Pink Floyd's Roger Waters: 'No f---ing way' Zuckerberg can use our song for ad MORE and Sundar Pichal, the CEO of Alphabet, Google's parent company.

The hearing with the CEOs would 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 TrumpIran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' Ivanka Trump, Kushner distance themselves from Trump claims on election: CNN Overnight Defense: Joint Chiefs chairman clashes with GOP on critical race theory | House bill introduced to overhaul military justice system as sexual assault reform builds momentum 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.


Republicans hold a 14-12 majority on the panel. 

Wicker, along with Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump's biggest political obstacle is Trump The Hill's Equilibrium — Presented by NextEra Energy — Tasmanian devil wipes out penguin population The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden support, gas tax questions remain on infrastructure MORE (R-S.C.) and Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnGOP senator introduces constitutional amendment to ban flag burning Fauci on Blackburn video: 'No idea what she is talking about' Pentagon report clears use of drones made by top Chinese manufacturer 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.

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.