US January 6 select committee subpoenas social media companies

Panel says companies such as Twitter, Reddit and Facebook provided 'inadequate' response to earlier requests for information

The US House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection has turned its attention to social media companies.

The committee has issued subpoenas to social media companies Alphabet, Meta, Reddit and Twitter, chairman Bennie Thompson said on Thursday.

The panel said the subpoenas were issued after “inadequate” responses to “prior requests for information” from the four companies.

The committee has spent months investigating the events of January 6, 2021, when a mob of angry supporters of former president Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol building, temporarily halting the certification of the Electoral College vote count.

The mob ransacked one of the most hallowed buildings in the US, causing more than $1 million in damage. At least five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died as a result.

After the events, it became clear that many far-right extremist groups had organised online, using social media platforms to spread their messages.

“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 radicalising people to violence,” Mr Thompson said.

Many who stormed the Capitol filmed and live streamed their involvement.

The committee members hope the subpoenas will show how Alphabet, the parent company of Google and YouTube, moderated videos and live streams of the event.

“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, demonetisation and other policies that may have affected the January 6, 2021, events,” the committee wrote to Alphabet’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai.

In the subpoena addressed to Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook parent company Meta, the panel said: “According to public reports, people used Meta’s platforms in the months and days before January 6, 2021, to share messages of hate, violence and incitement, to spread misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories.”

The subpoena also referred to Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen's revelations about how the company’s algorithms work.

The committee said the social media companies' failure to provide “documents and information necessary” to its investigation was “disappointing".

Alphabet responded to its subpoena, saying the company had been co-operating with the committee from the very beginning.

“We have strict policies prohibiting content that incites violence or undermines trust in elections across YouTube and Google's products,” the company said.

Meta said it was working with the committee and had provided the necessary information.

“Meta has produced documents to the committee on a schedule committee staff requested and we will continue to do so,” a company representative reported.

Updated: January 14th 2022, 1:22 AM