Senate Republicans voted Thursday to subpoena Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as part of a stepped-up assault on social media’s handling of online political content.
The Senate Judiciary Committee move comes a week after the internet platforms came under fire for limiting the reach of a New York Post article critical of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.
The 12 Republican senators voted for the subpoena, with Democrats boycotting over the accelerated hearings on Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
No date was immediately given for a hearing. The tech platforms have still to comment.
Politico reported that Republicans want to haul the tech bosses in front of Congress before the November 3 elections.
Committee chairman Lindsey Graham said that despite the abstentions from Democrats, ‘I think there’s a lot of interest on the other side [in] getting some of the social media folks here to answer questions about their platforms.’
He said the panel wanted to question the executives on their actions ‘relating to online content moderation.’
The Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham (pictured) voted to subpoena Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
Senate Republicans want answers from Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey (left) and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (right) after social media companies limited the reach of a New York Post article revealing Hunter Biden’s laptop
The move comes amid an intense assault on Big Tech from political leaders from both parties ahead of November 3.
Earlier this week the Trump administration filed a landmark antitrust suit against Google.
House Democrats meanwhile issued a lengthy report this month outlining what they considered monopoly abuses by major tech firms.
CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google are already slated to testify next week at a separate Senate panel examining the Section 230 law which offers liability protection for content posted by others on their platforms.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said last week he wanted Facebook and Twitter ‘explain why Twitter is abusing their corporate power to silence the press.’
President Donald Trump has made it a rallying cry with supporters on the campaign trail, railing against ‘big tech’ in the same breath as his assaults against the media.
The issue exploded with the move by Twitter to stop distribution of the first New York Post story about Hunter’s laptop. Facebook also limited users’ ability to post the story.
More than a week on, the New York Post’s Twitter account remains locked as the social media giant demands the Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid delete six tweets linking to its stories on Hunter Biden’s emails.
A Twitter representative told the newspaper that while the site has lifted restrictions that banned users from circulating the link to the Biden story, the Post is still required to remove the tweets so that it could use its account.
Twitter and Facebook had moved quickly to limit the spread of the story published by the conservative-leaning Post, which cited unverified emails from Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son that were reportedly discovered by President Donald Trump’s allies.
San Francisco-based Twitter initially responded by banning users from sharing links to the article in tweets and direct messages because it violated the company’s policy prohibiting hacked content.
But it didn’t alert users about why they couldn’t share the link until hours later.
But by Friday, people were free to post the links again.
Twitter said that was because the ‘once-private’ information in the article is now ‘widely available’ in the press and on other platforms.
While the Post’s Twitter account remains locked for the time being, the tech giant’s executives expressed regret this week over the controversy.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said the company was wrong to block web links to the unverified political story.
The admission came as the company responded to criticism over its handling of the story that had prompted cries of censorship from the right.
‘Straight blocking of URLs was wrong, and we updated our policy and enforcement to fix,’ he tweeted.
‘Our goal is to attempt to add context, and now we have capabilities to do that.’
After initially blocking people from sharing links to the story Wednesday, on Friday Twitter was letting its users to post the link.
GOP senators fumed that users were unable to share information from the New York Post about the Bidens and alleged secret emails
It served as demonstration of how quickly things can change when it comes to social media, misinformation and the coming US election as companies try to navigate unprecedented times.
Dorsey was weighing in after an executive at the social media company announced changes late Thursday to its policy on hacked content following an onslaught of criticism.
Twitter will no longer remove hacked material unless it’s directly shared by hackers or those working with them, the company’s head of legal, policy, trust and safety, Vijaya Gadde, said in a Twitter thread.
And instead of blocking links from being shared, tweets will be labeled to provide context, Gadde said.
‘We want to address the concerns that there could be many unintended consequences to journalists, whistleblowers and others in ways that are contrary to Twitter’s purpose of serving the public conversation,’ she said.
Dorsey had first tweeted that it was ‘unacceptable’ the company hadn’t provided more context around its action.
A little over 24 hours later, Gadde announced the company was making changes after receiving ‘significant feedback (from critical to supportive)’ about how it enforced the policy.
Facebook said it was ‘reducing’ the story’s distribution on its platform while waiting for third-party fact-checkers to verify it, something it regularly does with material that’s not banned outright from its service, though it risks spreading lies or causing harm in other ways.
Trump is now incorporating Twitter’s action into his campaign rallies, pleading with his supporters to send a message on Election Day to what he described as ‘censors.’
‘We’re not just running against Joe Biden. We’re running against left-wing media and we’re running against big tech,’ Trump said.
HOW HUNTER’S EMAILS EXPLODED AS TWO WORLDS COLLIDED
January 2009: Hunter Biden (right) quits lobbying because his father has become vice president, and sets up investment and advisory firm firm Rosemont Seneca with friends Christopher Heinz – John Kerry’s stepson – and Devon Archer (left), a former Kerry aide
July 2010: Ukrainian oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky, who owns its biggest natural gas company Burisma joins the government of its president Viktor Yanukovych
February 2014: Yanukovych is deposed in a revolution which claims scores of lives and Burisma Zlochevsky is thrown out of government too
April 16: Burisma is secretly accused of money-laundering by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office. On the same day Archer meets Joe Biden at the White House. Six days later Archer joins the board of Burisma
April 28: Britain’s Serious Fraud Office freeze $23 million of Burisma’s cash, every dollar which exists in the UK’s banking system
May 12: Hunter joins the board of Burisma to improve ‘corporate governance.’ Hunter’s salary is later revealed to be $50,000-a-month. Burisma board advisor Vadym Pozharskyi who had met Hunter in Lake Como, Italy, days earlier, emails him asking to ‘use his influence’ to stop prosecutions. During the summer, the new prosecutor-general of Ukraine opens an investigation into Burisma
February 2015: Senior diplomat George Kent, on temporary assignment to Kyiv, learns of Hunter’s role. He phones a staffer at Biden’s office to it could ‘create perception of a conflict of interest.’ That month Viktor Shokin takes office as Ukraine’s prosecutor general, despite already being the subject of questions about his own links to corruption
April 17: Email from Hunter’s laptop shows Pozharskyi writing Hunter: ‘thank you for inviting me to DC and giving an opportunity to meet your father and spent some together.’
Summer: The Burisma investigation appears to become dormant
January 2016: Biden travels to Ukraine amid mounting international disgust at Shokin failing to tackle corruption. One of the concerns raised by the European Union and IMF is that he has failed to investigate Burisma. Biden tells Poroshenko he needs to go. He later boasts: ‘I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch. He got fired.’ Shokin in fact is finally removed from office in March after internal turmoil in Kyiv
2018: Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani starts ‘investigating’ the Bidens’ links to Ukraine, enlisting the help of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who are now indicted on fraud charges. Ukraine’s latest prosecutor general announces he will investigate Burisma early the next year
April 12, 2019: Hunter – or a man saying he is Hunter – takes three damaged Macs to John Paul MacIsaac’s Apple repair shop in Wilmington, Delaware. MacIsaac puts data from one on a new hard drive
April 25: Joe Biden announces presidential run
July 11: The laptops have not been picked up and are now considered ‘abandoned’ according to MacIsaac’s terms and conditions
Summer: MacIsaac claims he becomes worried about what he has seen on the laptop whose contents he put on a disk, and thinks he might be killed by a Biden associate for having it in his shop
Fall: MacIsaac either contacts the FBI or is contacted by them; he has said both
December 9 or 19: The FBI pick up the laptop, but MacIsaac has made a copy for himself. Giuliani later says the shopowner has made four. They give him a grand jury subpoena to hand it over, even though he was going to anyway
Early January 2020: The FBI tell MacIsaac not to talk to anyone and to stall if a Biden representative comes to get the laptop back
February: Trump is acquitted at end of his impeachment trial
May: On Giuliani’s account, MacIsaac hands over the hard drive to Robert Costello, Giuliani’s attorney, by this month at the latest as well as trying to give it to other Republicans
September: Steve Bannon, Trump’s ex-aide and now indicted on fraud charges, tells New York Post about existence of laptop
September 28: Bannon boasts to a Dutch TV interviewer ‘I have Hunter’s hard drive’
October 11: Giuliani gives Post the hard drive
October 14: Post publishes emails and partially-clothed pictures of Hunter from the laptop – one of them with an apparent crack pipe – and says it has an 11-minute sex-and-drugs video. Giuliani promises there is ‘more to come,’ Republican senators promise to investigate but Democrats say the former New York mayor has ‘paraded with Russian agents’