Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) zeroed in on Facebook’s official status during Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate hearing today, grilling the Facebook CEO on whether his company was a “tech company” or a “publisher.”
After asking Zuckerberg if he thought Facebook was “too powerful” and required regulation, Sen. Sullivan went on to ask what kind of company Facebook is, and what kind of regulation it required.
“You mention you’re a tech company, a platform, but there are some who are saying you’re the world’s biggest publisher — I think about 140 million Americans get their news from Facebook, and when you [responded] to Senator Cornyn, you said you are responsible for your content.”
“So — which are you? Are you a tech company, or are you the world’s largest publisher? Because I think that goes to a really important question on what form of regulation or government action, if any, we would take.”
Zuckerberg gave a mealy-mouthed response, saying he “views [Facebook] as a tech company, because the primary thing we do is build technology and products”
Sullivan interjected: “But you said you’re responsible for your content. Which makes you kind of a publisher, right?”
Zuckerberg’s response: “I agree that we’re responsible for the content, but we don’t produce the content. I think that when people ask us whether we’re a media company or a publisher, my understanding of the heart of what they’re getting at is, do we feel responsibility for the content that’s on our platform.”
“The answer to that I think is clearly yes, but I don’t think that’s incompatible with [what’s] fundamentally at our core, being a technology company where the main thing that we do is have engineers and build products.”
Sullivan’s question has significant implications for Facebook. If the social network is indeed a publisher, and not a tech company, it will no longer have legal immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a point also raised by Sen. Ted Cruz. Without this immunity, Facebook would be legally liable for all content posted on the platform — a profound threat to its business model.