In a shocking turn of events, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, testifying before the Senate after weeks of enduring attacks over the company’s privacy policies, acknowledged that the company could indeed be seen as a publisher rather than merely a platform. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) asked, “We’ve been told that platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like are neutral platforms, and the people who own and run them for profit … bore no responsibility for the content. Do you agree now that Facebook and other social media platforms are not neutral platforms but bear some responsibility for the content?”
Zuckerberg answered, “I agree that we’re responsible for the content.”
Zuckerberg may have just opened himself up to a world of legal hurt. Platforms are generally not held legally responsible for the content posted on those platforms — so liability issues ranging from copyright violation to slander aren’t serious concerns for platforms. You can’t sue AT&T if somebody slanders you on a telephone call carried by their satellites. But that’s not the case with publishers. Publishers are responsible for the content that is added to their platforms. The Daily Wire bears legal liability for the content that goes up at The Daily Wire.
If the same were held to be true for Facebook, the company would immediately become subject to hundreds of millions of dollars in legal liability. For example, copyright violation bears a statutory penalty of between $750 and $30,000 per violation. How many unlicensed photos are posted on Facebook daily? On a minute-by-minute basis? Now, instead of a photo journalist suing the person who posted the photo, the photo journalist could sue Facebook itself. And Facebook’s pockets are a lot deeper.
This is the problem with determining that you are going to treat your platform as a political outlet. Zuckerberg made that decision months ago in response to the 2016 election, as Wired detailed. Now his company could pay the price.