Senate panel moves to compel 3 social media CEOs to testify

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FILE - This July 30, 2019 file photo shows an update information of Facebook application on a mobile phone displayed at a store in Chicago. Facebook, Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020, says its banning any ads that seek to question the validity of an election, including those claiming widespread voter fraud, in its latest move to crack down ahead of the U.S. presidential election. (AP Photo/Amr Alfiky, File)

WASHINGTON – A Senate panel voted Thursday to compel testimony from the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Twitter as lawmakers opened a new front in the battle over hate speech, misinformation and perceived political bias on social media a month before the presidential election.

The Senate Commerce Committee authorized subpoenas for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai of Google and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey to force them to appear at a planned hearing if they do not agree to do so voluntarily.

The executives' testimony is needed “to reveal the extent of influence that their companies have over American speech during a critical time in our democratic process," said Sen. Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican who heads the committee.

The committee's unanimous vote marked the start of a new bipartisan initiative against Big Tech companies, which have been under increasing scrutiny in Washington and from state attorneys general over issues of competition, consumer privacy and hate speech.

Facebook, meanwhile, is expanding restrictions on political advertising, including new bans on messages claiming widespread voter fraud. The new prohibitions laid out in a blog post come days after President Donald Trump raised the prospect of mass fraud in the vote-by-mail process during a debate with Democratic rival Joe Biden.

A new review by The Associated Press found that Facebook and Twitter still aren't enforcing even the limited restrictions they've recently put in place to stem the tide of dangerous material from QAnon, with an audience of millions on their platforms. The two companies had promised to stop encouraging the growth of the baseless conspiracy theory, which fashions Trump as a secret warrior against a supposed child-trafficking ring run by celebrities and government officials.

A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment Thursday on the committee's subpoena action. Representatives of Google and Twitter did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

With Trump leading the way, conservative Republicans have kept up a barrage of criticism of Silicon Valley’s social media platforms, which they accuse without evidence of deliberately suppressing conservative views.