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Why the Jan. 6 committee’s report was a tremendous gift to Big Tech

The House committee reportedly omitted detailed findings in its final report about how extremists used social media platforms to try to overthrow democracy.


Did the House Jan. 6 committee bend the knee to Big Tech in its final report

Evidence and allegations published in The Washington Post on Tuesday suggest members did just that. In the article, the Post shared a 122-page draft memo compiled by investigators to detail the role that social media platforms played in spreading extremist views ahead of the deadly Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

But sources told the Post that some committee members — particularly, California Democrat Zoe Lofgren and Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney — had resisted having a focus on social media platforms in the final report. Lofgren, whose district is home to several Big Tech companies, denied the claim; a spokesperson previously defended Cheney against criticism that she was too focused on former President Donald Trump.

According to the Post

[I]n the end, committee leaders declined to delve into those topics in detail in their final report, reluctant to dig into the roots of domestic extremism taking hold in the Republican Party beyond former president Donald Trump and concerned about the risks of a public battle with powerful tech companies, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the panel’s sensitive deliberations.

The fact of the matter is that the unreleased memo goes deeper than the final report on the social media front, examining Twitter and Facebook officials’ refusal to deploy certain policies that could have discouraged right-wing extremism after the 2020 election; Twitter’s and Facebook’s weakened moderation protocols due to fears of conservative blowback; as well as extremists’ use of social platforms — such as Reddit, YouTube and TikTok — to spread violent rhetoric and misinformation.

Omitting the memo’s key findings in detail was a tremendous gift to Big Tech. Doing so showed willful ignorance of social platforms’ role in undermining American democracy — and remarkably, at the same time that Democrats and Republicans alike are showing a bizarre obsession with banning TikTok over national security claims. 

As I’ve written previously, this exclusive focus on TikTok makes no sense, given that bad actors have used Twitter and Facebook extensively in their attempts to undermine U.S. presidential elections (in 2016 and again in 2020). To activists’ dismay, Congress has yet to pass any meaningful legislation aimed at curbing the influence of either company.

Think back to 2018.

Remember when then-Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, face-planted during Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony by showing that he knew little about how social platforms worked? Back then, the late senator could have claimed plausible deniability if someone were to accuse him of running defense for social media companies. After all, he barely understood them.

That excuse doesn’t fly today. Nearly five years later, social media companies’ corrosive influence on society is an inescapable truth, hammered into the American consciousness through repeated reports of manipulation campaigns waged on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. 

Lawmakers truly interested in America’s well-being would try to fix that reality — not hide it.