The House committee investigating the January 6th attack on the Capitol has issued subpoenas to four major tech companies, including Alphabet, Meta, Reddit and Twitter, for documents related to the spread of election disinformation on social media and the use of platforms by violent extremists.
Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the committee, said they were examining whether 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.”
But he said that the four companies have not been forthcoming in fully responding to committee requests.
“It’s disappointing that after months of engagement, we still do not have the documents and information necessary to answer those basic questions,” he said.
At least part of the committee’s inquiry was inspired by the recent testimony of Frances Haugen, a former Facebook executive who has since been a company whistleblower, testifying last year of how the company had fallen short of curbing disinformation. In a letter to Meta’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Thompson cited Haugen’s testimony that Facebook disbanded a Civic Integrity team following the 2020 election and before January 6th.
“However, despite repeated and specific requests for documents related to these matters, the Select Committee still has not received these materials,” Thompson wrote in his letter.
In a letter to Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, Thompson wrote that they were seeking records from Alphabet, parent company of YouTube, on how it “developed, implemented, and reviewed its content moderation, algorithmic promotion, demonetization, and other policies that may have affected the January 6, 2021 events.” Thompson wrote that YouTube was a platform for “significant communications by its users that were relevant to the planning and execution of January 6th attack on the United States Capitol.” He specifically cited Steve Bannon, who live streamed his podcast in the days before and after the riot, as well as livestreams that appeared on the platform as it unfolded.
The committee is seeking documents from Twitter related to warnings it received regarding the use of its platform to incite violence, Thompson wrote, as well as records related to its decisions on Donald Trump’s account, which was permanently suspended on January 8, 2021.
As for Reddit, Thompson noted that the platform was the host of “r/TheDonald.” Reddit shut in down in 2020, but it had migrated to the website TheDonald.win, where Thompson said it hosted online discussion and planning related to the Capitol attack. He wrote in a letter to Reddit CEO Steven Huffman that the company had refused to produce documents “to support its conclusory public statements that Reddit played no role in January 6th.”
A Twitter spokesperson declined comment.
A Meta spokesperson said, “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.”
Alphabet also said that they have been “actively cooperating with the Select Committee since they started their investigation, responding substantively to their requests for documents, and are committed to working with Congress through this process.” A spokesperson said that they “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.”
A Reddit spokesperson said, “We have received the subpoena and will continue to work with the committee on their requests.”