Fewer than two months before Facebook announced its plan to publish exclusive content from establishment media outlets, its CEO was assuring congress that the platform “isn’t a publisher.”
Questioned by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Zuckerberg insisted that Facebook did not “produce the content” that populates the platform, implying that it was therefore not subject to the usual regulations that publishers face (including legal liability for their content).
From Breitbart’s article at the time:
[Sen. Sullivan:] “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.”
Now that Facebook has announced its program of publishing exclusive news content from establishment and left-leaning outlets, it will be much harder for the company to escape the charge that it is no longer a neutral, unbiased platform. This could mean Facebook falls outside the bounds of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which currently grants it legal immunity for content posted by Facebook users.
If Facebook is held legally responsible for the billions of posts published on the platform, it would be a fundamental threat to its business model.