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 Cantwell (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 Wicker (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 Zuckerberg 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 Trump 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 Graham (R-S.C.) and Marsha Blackburn (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.

Tags Donald Trump Facebook Google Lindsey Graham Maria Cantwell Mark Zuckerberg Marsha Blackburn Roger Wicker Twitter
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