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Google, Facebook and Twitter CEOs face possible subpoena from Senate panel

A Senate panel is preparing to subpoena the chief executive officers of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. if they don’t agree to appear voluntarily to testify on a controversial legal shield that benefits social media, said a spokesperson for the Senate Commerce Committee.

The panel is asking Sundar Pichai, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey to address Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which allows the platforms to avoid lawsuits over content that their users post, the spokesperson said.

The CEOs have been invited to testify at the hearing, which is planned for Oct. 1, said two Senate aides who asked not to be named because the date hasn’t been officially announced. The committee spokesperson declined to confirm the date.

Google and Twitter didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Facebook declined to comment. Politico reported the panel’s subpoena threat earlier on Thursday.

The legal shield is increasingly under attack in Washington. The Justice Department unveiled its latest proposal to overhaul the law on Wednesday. The Federal Communications Commission is also considering changes via a rulemaking requested by President Donald Trump in response to Twitter’s fact-checking of some of his posts.

Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress are seeking their own changes to Section 230, although they have differed on the approach and the goals.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker recently sponsored a bill to narrow the companies’ discretion over what content they take down.

Conservatives have been seeking to change the law to address what they say is bias by the big tech companies against right-wing views. Trump met Wednesday with Republican state attorneys general on the alleged bias issues and the gathering emphasized concerns about Section 230.

The companies have denied they are biased and argue that the provision protects free speech while allowing them to take down the most vile content without fear that they’ll be subject to litigation for doing so.

Pichai and Zuckerberg also recently voluntarily testified remotely before a House subcommittee probing competition in tech. Dorsey has previously testified before Congress.

Sen. Josh Hawley, another tech critic in the GOP, introduced a motion on Thursday to pass his recent bill that seeks to prohibit companies from receiving Section 230 protections unless they update their terms of service to operate in good faith. That bill has no Democratic cosponsors. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who helped author Section 230, blocked Hawley’s motion.

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