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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 CantwellHillicon Valley: Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives | Amazon says over 19,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19 | Democrats demand DHS release report warning of election interference Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives Hillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns 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.

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"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 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.) 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 ZuckerbergConservatives seize on New York Post story to push Section 230 reform Hillicon Valley: Trump refuses to condemn QAnon | Twitter revises its policy, lets users share disputed article | Google sees foreign cyber threats Chairman: Senate Judiciary to vote on subpoena for Mark Zuckerberg 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 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.

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Republicans hold a 14-12 majority on the panel. 

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.

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.