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January 6 panel targets social media companies with subpoenas after ‘inadequate responses’

The subpoenas were sent to Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Alphabet, the parent company to Google and Youtube, Twitter and Reddit.

“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,” Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson who chairs the committee said in a statement.

“It’s disappointing that after months of engagement, we still do not have the documents and information necessary to answer those basic questions,” he continued.

The committee writes to Alphabet that it believes the company has “significant undisclosed information that is critical to its investigation” about how it moderated its content and how those policies impacted what was on the platform on January 6.

Although Thompson in his letter acknowledges that the committee and Alphabet have had “subsequent engagements” since the panel’s initial reach out in August, he writes that Alphabet “has not demonstrated a commitment to voluntarily and expeditiously” produce the documents being requested.

Thompson states that Alphabet has yet to explain the decision-making process to take down former President Donald Trump’s YouTube account and whether the platform did anything with Trump’s account prior to January 6.

“Additionally, Alphabet has not produced documents relating to YouTube’s policy decisions that may have had an impact on the planning, coordinating and execution” of the January 6 attack, the letter from the committee reads. The panel specifically raises questions about how YouTube’s election misinformation content moderation policy worked.

To Meta, the committee states that the parent company of Facebook has still not turned over key documents or responded to specific requests for information.

Thompson highlights in the letter that Meta has still not explained to the committee why Facebook disbanded its Civic Integrity team following the November 2020 election.

“Despite repeated and specific requests for documents related to these matters, the Select Committee still has not received these materials,” Thompson said in his letter to Meta.

The committee also highlights that Meta has “failed to provide critical internal and external analyses conducted by the company regarding misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation relating to the 2020 election, efforts to challenge or overturn the election, and the use of Meta by domestic violent extremists to affect the 2020 election.”

“Despite repeated and specific follow-up requests on September 28, 2021, and October 29, 2021, Meta has declined to commit to a deadline for producing or even identifying these materials,” the committee adds.

In August, the committee sent requests to 15 social media companies, including those receiving subpoenas Thursday, seeking to understand how misinformation and efforts to overturn the election by both foreign and domestic actors existed on their platforms. The panel’s 14-pronged request asked for a wide-ranging set of documents and information.

“The Select Committee requests that you produce the documents described in the attached schedule in your custody, control, or possession,” Thompson said in his letter to these companies over the summer.

At the time, the panel specifically asked for data and analysis on domestic violent extremists affiliated with efforts to overturn the 2020 election, particularly around the January 6 attack and asked for information to be provided in two weeks.

In addition to requesting a paper trail of information, the select committee also asked these social media companies in August to provide information on how they tried to address the misinformation that existed on their platforms and where the holes in doing so might have been.

In the days directly after the attack at the US Capitol, major social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter suspended the accounts of influential promoters of election conspiracy theories — including Trump himself. A number of those in the mob were White supremacists, QAnon conspiracy theorists and members of right-wing groups like the Proud Boys.

But since the attack, many questions have been raised about whether social media companies could have done more to stop the spread of misinformation on their platforms.

This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.

Read More: January 6 panel targets social media companies with subpoenas after ‘inadequate responses’

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