Oct 1, 2020 - Technology

Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech CEOs

A photo of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying in Congress via videoconference
Photo: Graeme Jennings/Pool via Getty Images

The Senate Commerce Committee has voted to authorize subpoenas compelling Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai to testify before the panel.

Why it matters: The tech giants are yet again facing a potential grilling on Capitol Hill sometime before the end of the year, at a time when tech is being used as a punching bag from both the left and right.

Yes, but: The subpoenas will only be issued if the executives refuse to come voluntarily. The Commerce panel will first be reaching out to the companies to try to schedule a hearing, a committee aide told Axios.

Context: With Republicans centering their tech criticisms around claims that digital platforms stack the deck against conservatives, Democrats were expected to boycott today's subpoena vote. They did not.

  • Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said she was supporting the subpoena authorization after committee chair Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) agreed to add the topics of privacy and "media domination" to the list of topics to ask tech executives about.

Be smart: Partisan lines remain. Democrats supported the subpoena, but they urged Congress not to create a "chilling effect" on tech to remove misinformation from their platforms and dismissed the allegations of anti-conservative bias. They also pushed for votes on their own bills on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes platforms from liability for material their users post.

What they're saying: "This feels like an attempt to work the refs five weeks out from the election," said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). When conservatives bring up claims of bias, "that's when this conversation goes off a cliff," he said.

What's next: If the companies resist a voluntarily hearing, the subpoenas will have to actually be sent to the executives and a hearing date will have to be set.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include new information from the committee on the prospect of arranging a voluntary hearing.

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