WASHINGTON – The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation unanimously voted on Thursday to compel the CEOs of Google, Facebook, and Twitter to appear before the committee amid concerns over the tech giants’ monopolistic powers and legal immunity.
The Republican-led Senate Commerce Committee found common ground with the Democrats and sent bipartisan subpoenas to Google’s Sundar Pichai, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey as all three executives declined the committee’s previous invitation to appear for testimony.
Social media companies have long enjoyed legal protections provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a provision that prevents websites like Facebook and Twitter from being held liable for third-party content that users post. Section 230 also allows the companies to decide what can stay, or be taken down, from their platforms.
Both sides of the aisle have called for the amendment of Section 230. Republicans claimed anti-conservative bias in Silicon Valley, while Democrats pressed for a stricter moderation on hate speech and fake news on social media.
In his opening remarks, Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said the decision fulfills the committee’s obligations “to increase transparency and accountability among Big Tech companies who determine what millions of Americans read, view, and hear every day.”
Ranking member Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., initially objected to Wicker’s plan to resort to subpoenas but voted aye as the issue of privacy and “media domination” by the platforms were added to the subpoena language as discussion points.
“Ceding the power to the star chamber of Silicon Valley is profoundly dangerous,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, following the committee’s vote. “There has never been such an aggregation of power in the history of humankind as Big Tech enjoys today, with money and monopoly power and the hubris that comes with the unchecked use of power.”
All three top executives have testified before Congress in the past. The chiefs of Google and Facebook testified in July, along with the heads of Amazon and Apple, and Twitter’s CEO faced questions by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in 2018.
Google, Facebook, and Twitter’s stock prices initially plunged on the news of the subpoenas, but all rebounded minutes later.