News publishers have long battled the world’s top internet search engine for compensation for using their content.
A US Senate committee unanimously voted on a plan to subpoena the chief executives of Twitter, Alphabet’s Google and Facebook for a hearing about the legal immunity they enjoy over content posted by users of their platform.
The hearing, which will likely be held before the United States elections, will discuss reforming Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act, which offers tech companies protection from liability over content posted by their users.
The top Democrat on the US Senate Commerce Committee, Maria Cantwell, opposed the move last week, saying she was against using “the committee’s serious subpoena power for a partisan effort 40 days before an election”. But Cantwell changed her mind and voted to approve the move on Thursday.
“I actually can’t wait to ask Mr Zuckerberg further questions,” Cantwell said. “I welcome the debate about [Section] 230.”
The committee, chaired by Republican Senator Roger Wicker, had originally asked the executives to come on October 1 on a voluntary basis but was ready to issue subpoenas last week should the CEOs decline to appear.
“After extending an invite to these executives, I regret that they have again declined to participate and answer questions about issues that are so visible and urgent to the American people,” Wicker said on Thursday.
The committee’s vote means the CEOs can now be subpoenaed to appear.
Wicker said Section 230’s “sweeping liability protections” are stifling diversity of political discourse on the internet.
US President Donald Trump has made holding tech companies accountable for allegedly stifling conservative voices a theme of his administration. As a result, calls for a reform of Section 230 have been intensifying ahead of the elections, but there is little chance of approval by Congress this year.
Last week, Trump met nine Republican state attorneys general to discuss the fate of Section 230 after the Justice Department unveiled a legislative proposal aimed at reforming the law.
The chief executives of Google, Facebook, Apple Inc and Amazon.com Inc recently testified before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel. The panel, which is investigating how the companies’ practices hurt rivals, is expected to release its report as early as next Monday.