Jan. 6 panel subpoenas Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and YouTube
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol subpoenaed some of the country’s largest social media and tech companies on Thursday, arguing they had not been forthcoming following an August request for information.
The four subpoenas were sent to Facebook parent company Meta, Twitter, Reddit and Alphabet’s YouTube.
“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,” Committee Chair 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.”
In one of its first formal actions, the committee in late August sent a request to 15 websites and tech companies, asking them to preserve records tied to the Jan. 6 riot.
The panel requested internal and external reviews of 2020 election misinformation or violent extremism, all content given to law enforcement related to those subjects and all relevant internal communications.
The goal has been to ascertain how social media was used to organize the attack, the extent the sites contribute to radicalization and the spread of disinformation, and what the companies know about their use in the attack itself.
But the sweeping request for information seems to have largely come to a standstill with some of the tech giants, the panel said.
“After over four months of good-faith negotiations on the part of the Select Committee, it has become clear that Twitter is unwilling to commit to voluntarily and expeditiously complying with the Select Committee’s requests,” the committee wrote in a subpoena to the company.
The committee saved some of its harshest words for Twitter, saying the company had failed to “even commit to a timeline” for turning over documents.
That includes a request about reported warnings the company received about “use of the platform to plan or incite violence on January 6th,” its decision to remove former President Trump from the platform, or any of its own internal analyses regarding how the site was used surrounding the 2020 election.
Twitter did not respond to request for comment.
The letter to Facebook, now under parent company Meta, says the tech giant likewise failed to commit to a timeline for turning documents over to the panel, which also requested internal analyses for how extremists used the platform leading up to the election.
“People used Meta’s platforms in the months and days before January 6, 2021, to share messages of hate, violence, and incitement, to spread misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories,” the committee wrote.
The committee cites public statements from former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen, who leaked internal company research that in part called into question the tech giant’s content moderation policies, especially in relation to activity of certain high profile public figures, including Trump.
Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, also told a Senate panel in October that Facebook dissolved the civic integrity team she worked on after the 2020 election and before the Jan. 6 attack.
Facebook has previously pushed back on the claim, stating it “did not disband Civic Integrity,” but rather “integrated it into a larger Central Integrity Team.”
The letter to YouTube, like Twitter, seeks information about the platform’s decision to suspend Trump’s account and “whether or why the platform did or did not act regarding President Trump’s account in advance of January 6th.”
It also asked about the company’s election misinformation content moderation policy, which initially included a suspension grace period that was done away with after Jan. 6.
Both Facebook and Alphabet sought to push back on the committee’s claims that they had not been cooperative.
“As Chairman Thompson said recently, ‘Facebook is working with [the committee] to provide the necessary information we requested.’ Since then, Meta has produced documents to the committee on a schedule committee staff requested – and we will continue to do so,” the company said in a statement, pointing to comments Thompson made to CBS News in October.
Alphabet said it has been cooperating with the committee since the start of the investigation and has responded “substantively to their requests for documents.”
“We have strict policies prohibiting content that incites violence or undermines trust in elections across YouTube and Google’s products, and we enforced these policies in the run-up to January 6 and continue to do so today. We remain vigilant and are committed to protecting our platforms from abuse,” the company added.
The letter to Reddit notes the company restricted the use of a page dedicated to Trump in both 2019 and early 2020 for violating its content rules before suspending the subreddit r/TheDonald in June of that year. Just two days after the Jan. 6, 2021 riot, the site shut down another similar page.
The request is part of an effort to understand what steps social media companies “could have taken or did take to limit the use of their platforms for those purposes; and what impact any such actions did or did not have.”
“We received the subpoena and will continue to work with the committee on their requests,” Reddit said in a statement.
— Rebecca Klar contributed.
Updated: 9 p.m.