The implications of being a "publisher" or a "platform"

By Scott Tibbs, December 14, 2018

When you want the federal government to "do something," always assume that proposed action will eventually be used against you. It is terribly na´ve to do otherwise. The power you grant the government when controlled by people you like will also be available to the government when it is controlled by people you do not like. That is the primary lesson I wish conservatives would take from designating Twitter and Facebook as "publishers" instead of platforms.

There is a lot of talk on the Right about designating both Facebook and Twitter as "publishers" instead of a "platforms." This is not totally without merit, especially as both platforms are increasingly using editorial standards for content. Facebook's algorithm controls what you see in your news feed, and Twitter is moving toward making dissent on transgender ideology unwelcome on the site. A site like the Daily Wire, which screens every post, is liable for content posted there. Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, message boards and blog/website comment sections are not. If Facebook and Twitter are going to be implementing editorial standards on user posts, should they be treated as publishers?


They are protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and changing that law is a very bad idea. Congress was shockingly forward thinking in 1996, recognizing the potential of the Internet to expand the marketplace of ideas and the people who could speak publicly. They knew that treating "interactive content providers" (where users generate content that is instantly posted) as publishers would crush them and greatly restrict freedom of speech. The Internet as we know it would be radically different today and would have been radically different over the last 20 years without Section 230.

We need to be very clear here: The same tactic proposed against Facebook and Twitter could easily be used against conservative websites that allow comments if there are any rules beyond forbidding content that is illegal. Suddenly libelous or harassing comments would make the publisher legally liable, no matter what the editorial standard is for articles. You better believe that well-funded Leftists like George Soros would be filing numerous nuisance lawsuits against conservative websites and forums for what is said in comments, forcing the sites to either disallow reader engagement or (in the case of forums) shutting them down completely. Remember that huge corporations like Facebook and Google can hire an army of attorneys to protect themselves while smaller websites and blogs cannot.

Furthermore, as Elizabeth Nolan Brown explains, cracking down on social media to leverage a more open comment policy is just as likely to lead to the reverse: Even more censorship and restrictive rules. That is, unless those sites are shut down altogether.

The answer is not to give the Leviathan federal government even more power over what we can say, read and post. The answer is voluntary decentralization of social media. Set up a blog, which you can do without knowing code. Gab is not for everyone, but they are committed to allowing users to speak freely. Use e-mail. Use other services which are not as strict. For wealthier conservatives, setting up alternative social media sites is a possibility, and there is certainly a market for sites like that. Do not allow the federal government to meddle, because they will only make it worse. Always remember that politicians hate free speech and love the idea of silencing the rubes. Do not give them more tools to do that.

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