The lawmakers’ letter asks the companies, “What steps did you take prior to, on, and following the November 3, 2020 elections and the January 6, 2021 attacks to monitor, respond to, and reduce the spread of disinformation, including encouragement or incitement of violence by channels your company disseminates to millions of Americans?”
“Are you planning to continue carrying Fox News, OANN, and Newsmax on your platform both now and beyond the renewal date?” the letter continues. “If so, why?”
Blair Levin, who served as the F.C.C.’s chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, said a hearing could be a first step toward meaningful action. “You have to establish a factual record that on both the election and Covid, tens of millions of Americans believe things that are just factually not true, and then try to figure out: ‘What are the appropriate roles for the government in changing that dynamic?’” Mr. Levin said.
Harold Feld, the senior vice president at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit group focused on telecommunications and digital rights, suggested that legislators might not have easy options to exert influence over Fox, Newsmax or OAN.
“You have a lot of people who are very angry about it, you have a lot of people who want to show that they’re very angry about it, but you don’t have a lot of good ideas yet about what you ought to be doing about it,” he said.
For now, defamation lawsuits filed by private companies have taken the lead in the fight against disinformation promoted on some cable channels.
Last month, Dominion Voting Systems, another election technology company that has figured prominently in conspiracy theories about the 2020 vote, sued two of Mr. Trump’s legal representatives, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, in separate lawsuits, each seeking more than $1 billion in damages. Both appeared as guests on Fox News, Fox Business, Newsmax and OAN in the weeks after the election.
On Monday, Dominion sued Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow, alleging that he defamed Dominion with baseless claims of election fraud involving its voting machines.