A slew of the world’s most powerful tech and social media companies failed to give the Jan. 6 Committee adequate information in response to an inquiry for records tied to the attack of the U.S. Capitol, prompting the panel on Thursday to issue a new tranche of subpoenas.
Reddit, Twitter, and the parent companies for Facebook and Google—Meta and Alphabet, respectively—first received requests in August when the select committee asked them to submit internal and external documents demonstrating what their companies did to study, report, analyze, or ultimately, combat the tidal wave of misinformation and violent extremism on their platforms in the run-up to Jan. 6.
“It’s disappointing that after months of engagement, we still do not have the documents and information necessary to answer those basic questions,” committee chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said Thursday.
The information sought from Google largely pertains to how the company moderated or failed to moderate content on YouTube, including a livestream of Steve Bannon’s podcast days before the Capitol attack, as well as streams of the riot as it was taking place.
“To this day, YouTube is a platform on which user videos spread misinformation about the election,” the committee noted in its letter to Google executive Sundar Pichai.
“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 Jan. 6, 2021 events,” the committee said.
Specifically, documents explaining how Google reached its decision to suspend Trump from YouTube are in question.
Over at Twitter, the committee noted to new CEO Parag Agrawal that when the company’s former CEO was in place, he acknowledged that Twitter “bore some responsibility for the violence” of Jan. 6.
Twitter received reports and warnings about burgeoning plans of violence for Jan. 6 and claims of election fraud were rampant on the site for weeks, including well after the electoral college votes were certified on Dec. 14.
On Dec. 19, Trump, the committee noted in its letter to Agrawal, tweeted that it was “statistically impossible” for him to have lost the election. Trump also used the platform that day to urge his followers to come to Washington, D.C., and protest on Jan. 6.
“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,” the committee said. “Finally, Twitter has failed to produce any documents that fully explain either its decision to suspend President Trump’s account on Jan. 8, 2021, or any other decisions the company made regarding President Trump’s account relating to the events of Jan. 6.”
For Reddit CEO Steven Huffman, questions remain over how Reddit decided to restrict and eventually shut down the popular subreddit “r/The_Donald.” Many of the president’s most fervent supporters had used the subreddit since 2015. By the end of its run on the platform, nearly a million users were on the channel. It hosted a seemingly countless number of conspiracy theories and amplified racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic content. Reddit banned the subreddit in 2020 after multiple site violations; eventually, the group moved to the now-defunct thedonald.win.
Representatives for Twitter and Meta/Facebook did not immediately respond to request for comment Friday, but a spokesperson for Google/Alphabet said in a statement Thursday that the company has “strict policies” prohibiting content inciting violence.
“We enforced these policies in the run-up to Jan. 6 and continue to do so today. We remain vigilant and are committed to protecting our platforms from abuse,” an Alphabet spokesperson said.
The company also said it was “committed to working with Congress through this process.”