WASHINGTON — The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol on Thursday issued subpoenas to four major social media companies — Alphabet, Meta, Reddit and Twitter — criticizing them for enabling extremism to spread on their platforms and saying that they did not cooperate adequately with the investigation.
In letters accompanying the subpoenas, the panel named Facebook, a unit of Meta, and YouTube, which is owned by Alphabet’s Google subsidiary, among the worst offenders who have helped spread misinformation and slander. violent extremism. The committee said it had investigated how the companies “contributed to the violent assault on our democracy, and what steps – if any – social media companies have taken to prevent their platforms from becoming a ground conducive to the radicalization of people towards violence”.
“It is disappointing that after months of engagement, we still do not have the documents and information needed to answer these fundamental questions,” said panel chair Rep. Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi.
The committee sent letters in August to 15 social media companies – including sites where misinformation about voter fraud has spread, such as pro-Trump website TheDonald.win – seeking documents relating to efforts to nullify the election and any domestic violent extremist associated with the January 6 rally and attack.
After months of talks with the companies, only the big four companies received subpoenas on Thursday, as the committee said the companies were “unwilling to commit to voluntarily and expeditiously cooperating” with its work. A committee aide said investigators were in various stages of negotiations with the other companies.
In the year since the events of January 6, social media companies have come under scrutiny to determine whether their sites were instrumental in staging the attack.
In the months surrounding the 2020 election, Meta employees raised warning signs that Facebook posts and comments containing ‘combustible election misinformation’ were spreading rapidly on the social network, according to a cache of documents and photos reviewed by The New York Times. Many of those employees criticized Facebook management’s inaction regarding the spread of conspiratorial group QAnon, which they say also contributed to the attack.
Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee turned whistleblower, said the company relaxed its safeguards too quickly after the election, which later led to it being used in the Capitol storming.
Critics say other platforms have also been instrumental in spreading misinformation while contributing to the events of January 6.
In the days following the attack, Reddit banned a chat room dedicated to former President Donald J. Trump, where tens of thousands of Mr. Trump’s supporters regularly gathered to express their solidarity with him.
On Twitter, many of Mr. Trump’s supporters have used the site to amplify and spread false allegations of voter fraud, while connecting with other Trump supporters and conspiracy theorists using the site. And on YouTube, some users streamed the January 6 events using the platform’s video streaming technology.
Representatives of the tech companies have held discussions with the investigative committee, although it is unclear how much evidence or user records the companies have turned over.
The committee said letters to the four companies accompanied the subpoenas.
The Panel says youtube served as a platform for “important communications from its users that were relevant to the planning and execution of the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol,” including live streams of the attack as it unfolded.
“To this day, YouTube is a platform where user video spreads misinformation about the election,” Thompson wrote.
The Panel says Facebook and other Meta platforms were used to share messages of “hate, violence and incitement; to spread misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories around the election; and to coordinate or attempt to coordinate the Stop the Steal movement.
Public records on Facebook’s Civic Integrity Team indicate that Facebook has documents critical to the select committee’s investigation, the panel said.
“Meta has refused to commit to a deadline for producing or even identifying these materials,” Mr. Thompson wrote to Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive.
Key figures from the January 6 survey
The Panel said he was focused on Reddit because the platform hosted the r/The_Donald subreddit community which grew significantly before migrating in 2020 to the TheDonald.win website, which eventually hosted important discussions and planning related to the January 6 attack .
Investigators says twitter the subscribers used the platform for the planning and execution of the assault on the Capitol, and Twitter was reportedly warned of the potential violence planned at the site. Twitter users have also engaged in communications amplifying allegations of voter fraud, including those made by Mr. Trump.
“Unfortunately, the select committee finds that Twitter failed to disclose critical information,” the panel said.
In recent years, Big Tech and Washington have had a habit of butting heads. Some Republicans have accused sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter of silencing conservative voices.
The Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether a number of tech companies have outgrown themselves and, in doing so, abused their market power to stifle competition. And a bipartisan group of senators and representatives continues to say sites like Facebook and YouTube aren’t doing enough to curb the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories.
Google said in a statement that it cooperated with the committee and that the company had “strict policies prohibiting content that incites violence or undermines confidence in elections” that it enforced before and after Jan. 6. .
Meta said he had “produced material to the committee at the request of the calendar committee staff – and we will continue to do so.”
A Twitter spokeswoman declined to comment.
A Reddit spokeswoman said the company received the subpoena and “will continue to work with the committee on their demands.”
The panel interviewed more than 340 witnesses and issued dozens of subpoenas, including for bank and phone records.