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Is Facebook a platform or a publisher?

By Scott Tibbs, April 17, 2018

Some conservatives are setting up a false dichotomy between being a platform and a publisher, and it has dangerous implications for free speech - not just on Facebook, but across the entire Internet.

Facebook is, for the most part, a platform. Facebook produces virtually no content itself. The vast majority of content is produced by either Pages or personal profiles. Almost no content is screened by Facebook before it goes on the site, so unlike sites like the Daily Wire or the Federalist, Facebook does not have an editorial policy for what is posted. In terms of content produced, Facebook is not a publisher.

Where Facebook starts to act like a publisher is curation of content in the news feed and sometimes overly aggressive censorship of content. But of the second item is what applies the "publisher" standard to Facebook, then every forum, every small time blog, and every newspaper or website comment section becomes vulnerable to the same regulations and legal liabilities (including damages in a lawsuit) as a traditional publisher.

Yes, Facebook censors content. But the reality is that every website or forum censors comments, posts and/or threads. I banned a Nazi a few weeks ago on my blog. I have deleted comments and banned others from commenting. If censorship of certain content is the standard, this is a bad and dangerous path.

What that means is this: If every site that allows reader comments or user-created content but also disallows certain content is actually a publisher, then that is the end of the Internet as we know it. Do not fool yourself into thinking that this will only impact Big Tech. In fact, Big Tech will be harmed the least because they can afford lawyers. Small-time websites and blogs will be subject to the whims of authoritarian politicians for threads or comments on those sites. This has frightening implications for free speech.

Congress was shockingly wise and forward thinking in the 1990's when they made sure interactive content providers were not liable for content their readers posted. Now, two decades later, politicians who really do know better are threatening to undo the good that law created. This is because politicians hate free speech and they hate it when the average person can criticize them. Do not think this is about anything other than the political establishment trying to protect itself.