Facebook, in court filings defending itself from a lawsuit filed by activist and congressional candidate Laura Loomer, has cited its first amendment rights as a “publisher,” contradicting public claims by the company that its social media service is a platform.
The distinction between publisher and platform is central to the legal protections enjoyed by big tech companies, and is frequently cited by Republican lawmakers in their criticism of Silicon Valley’s political bias.
Under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, tech platforms have immunity from lawsuits arising out of their decisions to host (or not to to host) user-generated content. Unlike publishers, which are liable if their writers defame someone, a tech platform is not held liable for content created by its users.
Yet Facebook appears to be jettisoning this categorization in its court filings, saying it has a First Amendment right as a publisher not to carry Loomer’s content.
Via Facebook’s legal filings (p2):
Under well-established law, neither Facebook nor any other publisher can be liable for failing to publish someone else’s message.
This contradicts public statements made in a Senate hearing last year by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who insisted that Facebook is a platform and not a publisher.
From Breitbart News’ 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
Loomer’s case, which Facebook is attempting to have dismissed, claims that the company defamed her when it labeled her a “dangerous individual” to justify its ban of her account.
Are you an insider at Google, Facebook, Twitter or any other tech company who wants to confidentially reveal wrongdoing or political bias at your company? Reach out to Allum Bokhari at his secure email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News.