WASHINGTON (AP) – Months after requesting documents from more than a dozen social platforms, the House committee investigating the Capitol insurrection has issued subpoenas targeting Twitter, Meta, Reddit and YouTube after lawmakers said the companies’ initial responses were inadequate.
The committee chairman, Representative Bennie Thompson, demanded records on Thursday from the companies relating to their role in allegedly spreading misinformation about the 2020 election and promoting domestic violent extremism on their platforms in the lead-up to the insurrection on January 6, 2021.
“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,” Thompson, D-Mississippi, said in the letter.
Thompson added that it’s “disappointing that after months of engagement”, the four companies have not voluntarily turned over the necessary information and documents that would help lawmakers answer the questions at the heart of their investigation. In his letter, Thompson outlined the way the companies were complicit in the deadly insurrection perpetrated by supporters of Donald Trump and far-right groups.
YouTube, owned by Alphabet, was the platform where a significant amount of communication took place “relevant to the planning and execution” of the siege against the Capitol, “including livestreams of the attack as it was taking place”, the letter stated.
In a statement to the Associated Press (AP), a YouTube spokesperson said it is “actively cooperating” with the committee and is committed to stopping content that incites violence or undermines faith in elections.
“We enforced these policies in the run-up to January 6 and continue to do so today,” the spokesperson wrote.
The committee also outlined how how Meta, formerly known as Facebook, was reportedly used to exchange hateful, violent and inciting messages between users as well as spread misinformation that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent in an attempt to coordinate the ‘Stop the Steal’ movement.
In response, Meta said it too was working with the committee to get lawmakers the information they requested. On Reddit, the r/The_Donald “subreddit” community grew significantly, the letter said, before members migrated to an official website where investigators believe discussions around the planning of the attack were hosted.
A spokesperson for Reddit said on Thursday that the company had received the subpoena and “will continue to work with the committee on their requests”.
The letter further detailed how Twitter was warned about the potential violence that was being planned on its platform in advance of the attack and how its users engaged in “communications amplifying allegations of election fraud, including by the former President himself”.
One specific tweet from Trump on December 19, 2020 was highlighted, “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election” as he urged followers to come to Washington to engage in a “wild” protest on January 6, 2021.
A spokesperson for Twitter declined to comment on the subpoenas. The committee made its initial request for the documents from 15 social media companies in August, which also included TikTok, Parler, Telegram, 4chan and 8kun.