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Thursday, June 13, 2024

In rare show of force, senators enlist U.S. marshals to subpoena tech CEOs

A Senate panel announced Monday it subpoenaed the CEOs of Discord, Snap and Elon Musk’s X to testify at a hearing on children’s online safety next month after “repeated refusals” by the tech companies to cooperate with its investigation into the matter.

In a rare show of force, the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee are seeking to compel X’s Linda Yaccarino, Discord’s Jason Citron and Snap’s Evan Spiegel to appear at the Dec. 6 session, which the panel said in a news release would “allow Committee members to press CEOs from some of the world’s largest social media companies on their failures to protect children online.”

The move marks a major escalation by lawmakers probing how social media platforms may harm children’s mental health, an area of broad bipartisan interest on Capitol Hill.

The committee announced that it also expects Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew to appear voluntarily. Meta and TikTok declined to comment.

Wifredo Fernandez, X’s head of government affairs for the United States and Canada, said in an emailed statement that the company has “been working in good faith to participate in the Judiciary committee’s hearing on child protection online as safety is our top priority at X.”

“Today we are communicating our updated availability to participate in a hearing on this important issue,” Fernandez said. It would mark Yaccarino’s first time testifying in Congress as X’s CEO.

“Snap’s CEO has already agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and our team is coordinating with Committee staff on potential dates,” Snap spokesman Pete Boogaard said in a statement.

Ross LaJeunesse, Discord’s global head of public policy, said the company has “been actively engaging with the Committee on how we can best contribute to this important industry discussion.”

While top tech executives such as Zuckerberg have repeatedly testified in Congress on an array of issues in recent years, they have typically appeared voluntarily.

The committee said that in a “remarkable departure from typical practice,” it had to “enlist the assistance of the U.S. Marshals Service to personally serve the subpoenas” to the CEOs of Discord and X, formerly Twitter, after their chief executives “further refused to cooperate.”

Judiciary spokeswoman Emily Hampsten said in an email that the committee anticipates that Meta’s Zuckerberg and TikTok’s Chew will testify separately sometime next year.

Senate Judiciary leaders and lawmakers on other congressional panels for months have been pushing for legislation intended to create new guardrails for children and teens on the internet, but the push has stalled amid policy disagreements between House and Senate lawmakers.

The hearing is set to focus on child sexual exploitation online.

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