Scott Tibbs

Facebook is no longer a platform

By Scott Tibbs, May 7, 2019

Congress was wise and forward thinking when they wrote Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, protecting online platforms from liability for user-generated content. The Internet would look very different today if that was not in place.

Some conservatives want to regulate social media to prevent them from censoring conservative voices, and that call got louder after Facebook banned Paul Joseph Watson and Laura Loomer. I have opposed such things in the past, and it is not necessary anyway.

Facebook's new editorial policy strictly regulates sharing content from Infowars. Facebook "will let users make posts complimentary about Infowars or reflecting them in a positive nature, but will not allow users to post links to Infowars videos, unless they are doing so to condemn the content."

Now, I cannot stand Alex Jones. But this is an absurd restriction on Facebook users. Now certain opinions are not allowed on the "platform."

But Facebook is a private company, you say. Facebook can allow or disallow what it wants. Correct. But with this new policy, Facebook is no longer a platform. Facebook is a publisher. This is not a policy where users of any political perspective are not allowed to post certain things, like doxxing or anything prohibited by law. This is explicitly targeting opinions Facebook does not want on its site. This is an editorial policy, not a user guideline.

This, of course, is fine. Lots of sites have editorial guidelines. But those sites are publishers and are therefore liable for the content published there. A platform would not be liable for that content, because it is (theoretically) somewhere that users can generate content and express their opinions. Since Facebook is now applying editorial guidelines on political content, Facebook should be treated like a publisher rather than a platform, and stripped of protections under Section 230.

It is true that content moderation in itself does not make a platform into a publisher, but this goes farther than anything Facebook has done before. Facebook is not censoring InfoWars videos. The videos can be shared... if you have the approved opinion about them. If not, then you are in violation of the new rules / editorial guidelines.

Facebook needs to make a choice. Either they are a platform where people can state their opinions - even opinions that Facebook employees and/or management find objectionable - or they are a publisher with editorial guidelines on what is published. Since they are acting like the latter, they should be treated like the latter - which will radically change the nature of the site and could destroy it altogether.

Update, August 17, 2019: Having thought about this, I have changed my position. I do not think that Facebook should be treated like a publisher. The implications for free speech online are too dangerous to have government start meddling in an interactive content provider’s moderation policy. We can always go elsewhere to post content.

Opinion Archives

E-mail Scott

Scott's Links

About the Author