Democrats ask cable and streaming providers about their role in spreading misinformation ahead of Capitol riot

The letters show lawmakers are looking to hold traditional information sources accountable for misinformation while they also grill social media executives.

Democrats ask cable and streaming providers about their role in spreading misinformation ahead of Capitol riot

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., speaks during a rally in the Capitol Building to call on the Senate to vote on House Democrats' prescription drugs and health care package on Wednesday, May 15, 2019.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

Lawmakers are looking beyond the social media companies when it comes to cracking down on misinformation.

Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., sent letters to top executives at AT&T, Verizon, Roku, Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Charter, Dish, Cox, Altice, Google parent Alphabet, and Disney-owned Hulu on Monday, urging them to address misinformation on their services. They linked disinformation and conspiracy theories to the radicalization of people who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as lawmakers moved to affirm President Joe Biden's victory.

"Misinformation on TV has led to our current polluted information environment that radicalizes individuals to commit seditious acts and rejects public health best practices, among other issues in our public discourse," the lawmakers wrote in the letters.

Eshoo and McNerney asked the providers how they determine whether to carry a channel and how they attempted to manage the spread of disinformation and incitement of violence between the 2020 election and Jan. 6 insurrection. Eshoo and McNerney identified Fox News, Newsmax and One America News Network as channels that aired misinformation in the lead-up to the riot and that have spread false information about Covid-19.

The lawmakers also asked the companies if they planned to continue carrying the channels and why.

The letters show that lawmakers are still looking to hold traditional information sources accountable while they grill executives from newer platforms such as Facebook and Twitter over their roles in amplifying lies. The letters come ahead of a hearing Wednesday, "Fanning the Flames: Disinformation and Extremism in the Media," hosted by a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which both Eshoo and McNerney sit.

"As the most watched cable news channel throughout 2020, FOX News Media provided millions of Americans with in-depth reporting, breaking news coverage and clear opinion," the company said in a statement. "For individual members of Congress to highlight political speech they do not like and demand cable distributors engage in viewpoint discrimination sets a terrible precedent."

Representatives for the other companies named in this article did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the letters. Comcast declined to comment.

Republicans quickly pushed back on the two Democrats, with Republican Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr calling it a "chilling transgression of the free speech rights that every media outlet in this country enjoys." Carr's fellow Republican Commissioner Nathan Simington echoed the same sentiment in a later statement.

A Republican aide for the House Energy and Commerce Committee said in a statement, "The Majority is flirting with violating the First Amendment. Should the government be pressuring private industries to censor legally protected content and suppress the freedom of the press? No. If a free and independent press is still valued and mainstream in America, this censorship campaign should alarm every single journalist and member of the media."

Disclosure: Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, parent company of CNBC.

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