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Facebook, Google, Twitter and Reddit subpoenaed by Jan. 6 committee

Company responses so far have been 'inadequate,' according to the committee.
An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump riot in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021.  Reuters photographer Leah Millis: "Thousands of supporters of then-President Donald Trump, a Republican, stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in a failed attempt to overturn the recent election and prevent Joe Biden, a Democrat, from becoming the next president. It was the worst attack on the seat of the U.S. government since the War of 1812. I arrived at the west side of the U.S. Capitol before the Trump supporters overwhelmed police lines, and I documented the chaos that ensued for the next seven hours. At one point I heard the crowd chanting "heave-ho" and thought they must be breaking in through the doors. I didn't want to risk getting crushed or injured by the massive crowd, which was hostile toward members of the media and had already assaulted several of my colleagues that day. I chose to risk climbing some scaffolding that had been erected for the upcoming inauguration to give me a better view. The Capitol had already been breached via different entrances, but the fight for this entrance went on for hours. Capitol and D.C. Metropolitan police officers engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the mob of Trump supporters and in the process multiple officers were severely injured. Four people would die that day and a police officer attacked by protesters died the next day. Four officers later took their own lives. Eventually, law enforcement was able to successfully push the crowd back. At 5:04 p.m. to disperse the remaining protesters, they used a flash-bang grenade, which released a blinding light that illuminated the U.S. Capitol building. To me, the explosion of the grenade captured the violence and shock of the day: American citizens attacking and breaching their own country's Capitol building. The haunting sight of the American flag flying above the entire scene, casting a shadow onto
Leah Millis / reuters
Karissa Bell
Karissa Bell|@karissabe|January 13, 2022 4:24 PM

Facebook, Google, Twitter and Reddit have been subpoenaed by the Congressional select committee investigating the Jan. 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. In a statement, the committee said the companies’ responses so far have been “inadequate.”

“Two key questions for the Select Committee are how 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,” committee chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said.

“It’s disappointing that after months of engagement, we still do not have the documents and information necessary to answer those basic questions. The Select Committee is working to get answers for the American people and help ensure nothing like January 6th ever happens again. We cannot allow our important work to be delayed any further.”

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The committee is looking for a range of records related to users’ activity on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Reddit, as well as internal documents about the companies’ handling of Jan. 6th. As a stipulation of these new subpoenas, all of the companies have been given a deadline of January 27th to turn over documents to the committee.

In a letter addressed to Mark Zuckerberg, Thompson addresses Facebook’s handling of the “Stop the Steal” movement that was organized on its platform. An internal memo detailed how Facebook failed to recognize the danger posed by the groups until after the violence on January 6th. The letter also references testimony from whistleblower Frances Haugen, who told Congress last year that Facebook disbanded its civic integrity team after the election.

In a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Thompson says that the select committee “believes Alphabet has significant undisclosed information that is critical to its investigation, concerning how Alphabet developed, implemented, and reviewed its content moderation, algorithmic promotion, demonetization, and other policies that may have affected the January 6, 2021 events.” He notes that some rioters live streamed the attack on YouTube and that misinformation about the election spreads on the platform “to this day.”

Thompson’s letter to recently installed Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal notes that Jack Dorsey testified that Twitter had played a role in the events on January 6th. “Twitter has failed to fully comply or even commit to a timeline for complying with the Select Committee’s request for internal company analyses of misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation relating to the 2020 election, efforts to challenge or overturn the election, and the use of Twitter by domestic violent extremists or foreign malign influences to affect the 2020 election,” Thompson writes.

For Reddit, the committee seems primarily concerned with the r/The_Donald subreddit, which was banned in June of 2020, as well as r/donaldtrump, which was kicked off the platform on January 8th 2021. The letter notes that the r/The_Donald community migrated to TheDonald.win, where there was a “significant amount of online discussion and planning” related to the insurrection.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on the subpoena. Representatives for Meta, Reddit and Google didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Update 1/13 7:50pm ET: In a statement, a Google spokesperson said the company is "committed to working with Congress through this process." "We 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."

Update 1/13 8:22pm ET: "As Chairman Thompson said recently, 'Facebook is working with [the committee] to provide the necessary information we requested,'" a spokesperson for Meta said in a statement. "Since then, Meta has produced documents to the committee on a schedule committee staff requested - and we will continue to do so."

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