By Jack Phillips
A top House Republican indicated that Meta Platforms and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg could face a contempt of Congress citation if he doesn’t cooperate with an investigation into allegations that Meta colluded with the federal government to censor speech.
During an appearance on Fox News on Monday, House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was asked by host Laura Ingraham about reports suggesting he is “strongly considering holding Zuckerberg in contempt of Congress” over censoring “protected speech” due to government agencies’ requests. “Are you going to really move forward on this?” she asked.
“If he doesn’t give us the information, we will” bring contempt charges against Mr. Zuckerberg, said Mr. Jordan in response to the question. “We know Facebook was censoring Americans because a Federal Court told us so two weeks ago, laid out 86 pages of facts with the Facebook and federal agencies pressuring them and other Big Tech companies.”
He further alleged that the new Meta venture Threads, which has been described as a competitor to Elon Musk’s Twitter, is “using the same guidelines that Facebook used” to censor people. “This is a direct attack on the First Amendment. And we want the information we’ve asked for months ago, and if they don’t give it to us, we can move ahead with contempt if we need to,” the chairman added.
There were reports on Monday that cited anonymous sources claiming Mr. Jordan would consider holding Mr. Zuckerberg in contempt. Earlier this year, Mr. Zuckerberg and other big tech executives received subpoenas from House Republicans to hand over documents and communications relating to their interactions with the federal government.
At the time, the House Judiciary Committee was specifically seeking communications about content-moderation decisions that were made around COVID-19 and whether the government requested Meta delete posts or suspend users. In May, Mr. Jordan wrote in a letter that the information that Meta provided to Republicans wasn’t good enough and failed to comply.
“Meta’s rolling productions to date have not included material the Committee knows is, or has reason to believe may be, in the company’s possession and that is responsive to the subpoena … if Meta fails to comply in full with the subpoena’s demands, the Committee may be forced to consider the use of one or more enforcement mechanisms,” Mr. Jordan wrote in his May letter.
In a statement to news outlets on Monday, a Meta spokesperson said it gave about 50,000 pages of documents in response to the request. What’s more, the company has “made nearly a dozen current and former employees available to discuss external and internal issues,” the spokesperson said, adding Meta does “look forward to continuing to work with the committee moving forward.”
In a separate letter to Mr. Zuckerberg, Mr. Jordan also expressed concerns that Threads, which launched earlier in July, was censoring users. Neither Meta nor Threads have issued a public comment about the letter’s claims.
“Given that Meta has censored First Amendment-protected speech as a result of government agencies’ requests and demands in the past, the Committee is concerned about potential First Amendment violations that have occurred or will occur on the Threads platform,” Jordan said.
Earlier this month, Mr. Zuckerberg announced that more than 100 million users signed up for Threads. But a report published late last week indicated that engagement is down sharply and that there is an exodus of users.
Last Tuesday and Wednesday, Threads’ number of daily active users was down 20 percent from Saturday, analytics firm Sensor Tower told CNBC. But more seriously, the time spent by a user was down 50 percent, down 20 minutes to 10 minutes in that same time, the company told CNBC.
“These early returns signal that despite the hoopla during its launch, it will still be an uphill climb for Threads to carve out space in most users’ social network routine,” Anthony Bartolacci, the managing director at Sensor Tower, said. “The backing of Meta and the integration with Instagram likely gives Threads a much higher flood than other services, but it will need a more compelling value proposition than simply ‘Twitter, but without Elon Musk.’”
But that hasn’t worried Mr. Zuckerberg. In a post on Monday, he claimed that tens of millions of people “come back daily.”
“Early growth was off the charts, but more importantly 10s of millions of people now come back daily,” he wrote. “That’s way ahead of what we expected. The focus for the rest of the year is improving the basics and retention. It’ll take time to stabilize, but once we nail that then we’ll focus on growing the community. We’ve run this playbook many times (FB, IG, Stories, Reels, etc) and I’m confident Threads is on a good path too.”