Congressional investigators looking into the attempted coup d’etat on January 6, 2021, issued subpoenas to Twitter, Reddit and the parent companies of Facebook and YouTube and accused them of failing to provide complete information on how their platforms spread Donald Trump’s lies that fomented the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The move, a sharp escalation in a long-brewing standoff between investigators and the companies, came after months of seeking data that yielded “inadequate responses,” the chairman of the House committee investigating the Capitol siege, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), said.
After inadequate responses to prior requests for information, the Select Committee is demanding records from Alphabet, Meta, Reddit, and Twitter relating to the spread of misinformation, efforts to overturn the 2020 election, domestic violent extremism, and foreign influence in the 2020 election.
“We cannot allow our work to be delayed any longer,” said Thompson. “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 to radicalizing people to violence.”
Trump and his supporters used social media sites to spread falsehoods about the validity of Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in the November 2020 presidential election, with many posts calling for extraordinary action — including violence, in some cases — to prevent Biden from ascending to the White House.
On Jan. 6, Congress was meeting to certify the election’s results, a procedural formality, when a mob of terrorists comprised of hundreds of Trump supporters forced their way into the building in clashes that left five people dead.
No social media company has provided a full account of its role in spreading those falsehoods, and on Aug. 26, the committee requested information from 15 companies seeking data on what their internal studies had shown about the role their platforms had in the Jan. 6 attack and its origins. The August letters requested evidence be submitted by Sept. 9.
The Select Committee issued subpoenas for records to the following social media companies:
Alphabet’s YouTube was a platform for significant communications by its users that were relevant to the planning and execution of January 6th attack on the United States Capitol, including livestreams of the attack as it was taking place.
Meta platforms were reportedly used to share messages of hatred, violence, and incitement; to spread misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories around the election; and to coordinate or attempt to coordinate the Stop the Steal movement. Public accounts about Facebook’s Civic Integrity Team indicate that Facebook has documents that are critical to the Select Committee’s investigation.
Reddit was the platform for the “r/The_Donald” ‘subreddit’ community that grew significantly on Reddit before migrating to the website TheDonald.win in 2020, which ultimately hosted significant discussion and planning related to the January 6th attack.
Twitter subscribers reportedly used the platform for communications regarding the planning and execution of the assault on the United States Capitol, and Twitter was reportedly warned about potential violence being planned on the site in advance of January 6th. Twitter users also engaged in communications amplifying allegations of election fraud, including by the former President himself.
The letters to the social media companies can be found here:
In the image above, Chairman Bennie Thompson is flanked by Rep. Zoe Lofgren left, and Rep. Liz Cheney, during a meeting of the House Select Committee to Investigate January 6th Committee