Publisher or platform? You can’t be both.
Facebook has continuously claimed to be a platform, and not a publisher. This is an important distinction. As a platform, Facebook and other social media entities enjoy protections which other media does not. This is due to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
Because of Section 230, platforms which allow users to upload their own content freely, cannot be held liable for that user generated content. This is a very powerful protection. This is very different from a publisher, which utilizes editorial control over what is published. In other words, Facebook has protection which a magazine or television does not. Think about that as Facebook delves into news. Because of Facebook’s protection by Section 230, Facebook cannot be held liable for maliciously fake news being spread on it’s site, whereas CNN or Fox News can be held liable.
However, there comes a caveat with this protection, and that is editorial control. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is seen as a win for free speech, and is meant to allow for free speech. Section 230 did allow for platforms to remove “obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable” user generated content. This was in no way intended to be used against political discussion. And yet that is exactly what Facebook, Twitter, etc. have done.
Facebook has continued to claim it is a platform, and protected from being held liable for content hosted on it’s site, even while practicing some heavy handed editorial control. Facebook has continued to ban conservative accounts, and deny advertising based on the politics of it’s advertisers.
Facebook is currently being sued for $3 billion by conservative citizen journalist and congressional candidate Laura Loomer. Loomer had been removed from Facebook under it’s “Dangerous Individual” policy. In Facebook’s response to the claim, Facebook has finally admitted to being a publisher. Even after Mark Zuckerberg himself had previously sat in front of the US Congress stating otherwise. In the claim, Facebook states;
The First Amendment protects Facebook’s decision to disable Ms. Loomer’s accounts.
“[O]nline publishers have a First Amendment right to distribute others’ speech and exercise
editorial control on their platforms.”
Facebook wishes to have the protections of a platform, and the control of a publisher. Facebook’s argument essentially states that their first amendment rights allow them to infringe on other’s first amendment rights.
As the government rushes to legislate the internet, and create new laws which transfer more power from the people to the government, the issues which we are currently experiencing online can be corrected by simply enforcing the laws which are already there. Facebook should be given a choice. Be a platform or a publisher. If they choose to be a platform, then the politically motivated bannings must be halted, and the platform must be open to all free speech, whether Zuckerberg likes it or not. If they choose to be a publisher, then they should be held liable for the distribution of “fake news” and for the multiple instances of violence being live streamed on their site.
See Facebook’s legal response here.