AG Rokita takes further action in Big Tech censorship investigation

Indiana

Attorney General Todd Rokita has served civil investigative demands to eight additional individuals as part of his ongoing investigation into censorship practices by Big Tech companies, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Twitter.

The latest civil investigative demands apply specifically to Facebook. They are directed to people believed to have participated in an October 2019 meeting with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives. The eight individuals are not themselves targets of the investigation but rather are believed to have information that would be helpful to the larger probe.

Civil Investigative demands, like subpoenas and the discovery process in litigation, include the ability to ask interrogatories and request documents to further the investigation and determine whether or not to file a lawsuit. In this case, Attorney General Rokita aims to ascertain whether any of the five companies have potentially harmed Indiana consumers through business practices that are abusive, deceptive and/or unfair.

“In a free society, few assets are more important to consumers than access to information and the opportunity to express political viewpoints in meaningful forums,” said Attorney General Rokita. “Hoosiers deserve to have a robust and open debate on the issues we’re confronting – and Big Tech shouldn’t get in the way by acting as arbiters of truth. When that happens, it chips away at our individual liberties.”

The Office of the Indiana Attorney General is examining whether these Big Tech companies have manipulated content in ways that violate the Indiana Deceptive Consumer Sales Act. It is potentially harmful and unfair for these companies to limit consumers’ access to certain content or restrict their ability to interact on platforms in ways the companies do not publicly disclose or that consumers don’t fully understand.

The eight individuals receiving the latest civil investigative demands are:

  • Al Sharpton — founder/president, National Action Network;
  • Kristen Clarke — nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division (formerly led the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law);
  • Rashad Robinson — president, Color of Change;
  • Farhana Khera — president/executive director, Muslim Advocates;
  • Derrick Johnson, president/CEO, NAACP;
  • Sherrilyn Ifill — president/director-counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund;
  • Marc Morial — president/CEO, National Urban League; and
  • Janet Murguia — president/CEO, UnidosUS

Also reportedly present at the October 2019 meeting with Facebook executives was attorney Vanita Gupta, who at the time led a civil rights organization. She now has become associate U.S. attorney general — the third-highest-ranking official at the U.S. Department of Justice.

At the meeting, Gupta and others urged Facebook to adopt “more rigorous rules and enforcement,” to use Gupta’s words as quoted in Time. Gupta, according to the Time article, stressed that it was important for social media platforms to be “tagging things and taking them down.”

The Office of the Attorney General already served a civil investigative demand to Gupta at the same time it launched its investigation into the Big Tech companies in April. Like the eight other individuals, Gupta is not herself a target of this investigation.

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