(CNN) — The Senate Commerce Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to issue subpoenas to the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter, in Washington’s latest attack on Big Tech.
The subpoenas aim to force Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Jack Dorsey to testify about the legal immunity the law affords tech platforms under Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934. That law, Republicans argue, unduly protects social media companies against allegations of anti-conservative censorship. There is little evidence such bias exists on a systemic basis. Democrats have argued tech platforms have failed to moderate enough content under the law.
Thursday’s charge was led by Sen. Roger Wicker, the Mississippi Republican who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee.
“I fear that Section 230’s sweeping liability protections for Big Tech are stifling true diversity of political discourse on the internet,” Wicker said. “On the eve of a momentous and highly charged election, it is imperative that this committee of jurisdiction and the American people receive a full accounting from the heads of these companies about their content moderation practices.”
Under Section 230, websites and tech platforms cannot be held liable for the content their users create, and companies are given wide freedom to moderate their sites as they see fit. The law has been described as a foundational pillar of the modern internet.
The effort to compel the executives’ testimony is part of a wider push, largely by Republicans, to make Section 230 a hot-button issue before the election. Lawmakers have introduced a series of bills designed to scale back the law’s protections and create greater legal exposure for tech companies. And last month, the Justice Department weighed in with its own draft legislation that it submitted to Congress.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the panel, urged caution amid her colleagues’ complaints of anti-conservative bias. Last week, as Wicker had been pushing internally for the subpoenas, Cantwell said she feared Republicans sought to “chill the efforts of these companies to remove lies, harassment, and intimidation from their platforms.”
On Thursday, Cantwell said she was pleased to move forward with the subpoenas after Wicker agreed to include the topics of Big Tech’s impact on media and privacy as issues of concern.
“What I don’t want to see is a chilling effect on individuals who are in a process of trying to crack down on hate speech or misinformation about Covid during a pandemic,” she said at Thursday’s markup.
Facebook declined to comment. Google and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.