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Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech CEOs

The Senate Commerce Committee has voted to authorize subpoenas compelling Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai to testify before the panel.

Why it matters: The tech giants are yet again facing a potential grilling on Capitol Hill sometime before the end of the year, at a time when tech is being used as a punching bag from both the left and right.


Context: With Republicans centering their tech criticisms around claims that digital platforms stack the deck against conservatives, Democrats were expected to boycott today's subpoena vote. They did not.

  • Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said she was supporting the subpoena authorization after committee chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) agreed to add the topics of privacy and "media domination" to the list of topics to ask tech executives about.

Be smart: Partisan lines remain. Democrats supported the subpoena, but urged Congress not to create a "chilling effect" on tech to remove misinformation from their platforms and dismissed the allegations of anti-conservative bias. They also pushed for votes on their own bills on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes platforms from liability for material their users post.

What they're saying: "This feels like an attempt to work the refs five weeks out from the election," said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). When conservatives bring up claims of bias, "that's when this conversation goes off a cliff," he said.

What's next: The subpoena will have to actually be sent to the executives and a hearing date will have to be set.

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Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

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