On Tuesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared before two Senate committees to testify about the company’s much-ballyhooed problems with maintaining user privacy. Zuckerberg acquitted himself well – or at least as well as he had to, given the fact that most of those questioning him were septuagenarians whose last computers were abacuses. But Zuckerberg did screw up in two separate areas.
First, he acknowledged the problem of political bias at Facebook, explaining that Silicon Valley “is an extremely left-leaning place…I think it is a fair concern that people would at least wonder.” Second, under pressure from Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, Zuckerberg acknowledged that Facebook is “responsible for the content” posted on the platform.
In making both those statements, Zuckerberg may have put his company in a world of hurt legally. Platforms are generally not responsible for the material placed on them – for example, AT&T is not responsible for the content of calls made using AT&T phone lines. But publishers are responsible for such material – if a newspaper publishes an op-ed containing slanderous material, the newspaper could be held legally responsible.
So, how many slanderous Facebook posts are published per minute on the social media network? How many un-copyrighted photos make their way to Facebook? If courts decide to treat Facebook as a publisher rather than as a platform, they’re suddenly subject to tens of millions of dollars in legal liability, at minimum.