The House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed executives from the five major U.S. technology firms on Wednesday as the panel deepens its probe into alleged collusion between Big Tech and the federal government to suppress free speech.
Committee Chairman Jim Jordan is demanding that the chief executive officers from Facebook parent, Meta Platforms; Google parent, Alphabet; Microsoft; Apple and Amazon.com turn over any communication between their companies and the federal government relating to content moderation or suppression.
In letters accompanying the subpoenas, Mr. Jordan wrote that his committee aims to “understand how and to what extent the Executive Branch coerced and colluded with companies and other intermediaries to censor speech.” He said the goal is to develop new legislation “such as the possible enactment of new statutory limits on the Executive Branch’s ability to work with Big Tech to restrict the circulation of content and deplatform users.”
Mr. Jordan, Ohio Republican, requested last year that the companies cooperate voluntarily with a Republican-led probe into the matter, before the GOP gained the majority in the House, giving the party subpoena power.
The companies failed to adequately respond “without compulsory process,” the chairman wrote.
Not included in the list of CEOs receiving subpoenas is Elon Musk, who began releasing a trove of internal documents following his takeover of Twitter. The documents revealed the liberal bent among Twitter employees that led to the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story on the platform weeks before the 2020 presidential election and the suspension of former President Donald Trump’s account days after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
Republicans have long suspected a concerted effort on behalf of the platforms to silence conservative voices online through so-called shadow bans or by bending internal content moderation policy to outright ban certain users. Those suspicions have largely been proven true, in Twitter’s case, by Mr. Musk’s steady drip of internal documents.
The “Twitter Files” have also unveiled the extent to which the platform’s executives worked with federal law enforcement and intelligence officials to moderate content.
Republicans on the House Oversight and Accountability Committee grilled Twitter’s former chief legal officer Vijaya Gadde, former deputy general counsel James Baker and former head of trust and safety Yoel Roth in a hearing earlier this month focused on their decision to suppress The New York Post’s story on Oct. 14, 2020, exposing the Hunter Biden laptop.
The executives told lawmakers that they made a mistake when they censored the Hunter Biden laptop computer story weeks before the 2020 presidential election, but they brushed off accusations that they were directed to do so by the federal government.
Mr. Jordan, who also serves on the oversight panel, seized on the witnesses as they dismissed concerns that the government was involved. He noted that the FBI held weekly meetings with Twitter executives before the company suppressed the Post’s report.
In his letters on Wednesday, Mr. Jordan noted the “benchmark” that Mr. Musk set on “how transparent Big Tech companies can be about interactions with government over censorship.”
“The Twitter Files have exposed how Big Tech and the federal government have worked hand in hand in ways that undermine First Amendment principles,” he said. “Numerous internal documents from Twitter reflect the weaponization of the federal government’s power to censor speech online.”
He said it is “necessary for Congress to gauge the extent to which this occurred” at the five other companies as well.
Democrats have dismissed the Republican-led probes into Big Tech as a political stunt and have gone on the attack against Mr. Jordan, specifically, for doling out subpoenas after bucking those sent his way by the Democrat-led House Jan. 6 committee.
“He is playing partisan politics in the most obvious and ham-handed way,” Congressional Integrity Project Executive Director Kyle Herrig said of Mr. Jordan. “After defying his own subpoena to appear before the committee investigating an insurrection against the United States, an insurrection that he lent a hand in, Jordan is handing out subpoenas like candy on Halloween.”