Section 230, Facebook and Newspapers

I suspect we need to hold the social media companies responsible for their decisions, not the postings of their readers.

If it were a traditional newspaper, Facebook would be responsible for what it chose to write on its front page and what it stuck on page 9. Similarly, it would be responsible for what ads it accepted, and whether it placed winter clothing ads beside an article on skiing. More importantly, it would have a real responsibility around what articles it wrote itself, and which ones it took money to print.

If section 230 applied to newspapers, it would affect letters to the editor, a very small part of what it takes to run a newspaper.

If I’m to get my news from Facebook, then I need Facebook to be responsible for everything except the postings of individuals, the “letters to the editor”. Right now, Facebook pretends everything is the “letters” page. It’s not.

In a word, Facebook is responsible for the editorial decisions it makes. I think this is key.

I’m of the opinion that we and the regulators should understand, publicize and hold responsible:

  • Facebook, for how it chooses to deliver postings and ads.
  • Google for its ads, not searches. It can keep it’s magic sauce, but it should let its advertisers audit every single ad placement, not including PII.
  • YouTube, for how it keeps you engaged, by selecting what to show by its ability to enrage.

In none of these cases does section 230 apply: the social media companies are not providing information from “another information content provider”, they’re making editorial decisions to maximize their benefit.

If they chose to display an article attacking Mi’kmaq fishermen on the first page I see instead of the Osiris-Rex asteroid probe, that’s not speech by Halifax Today or NASA: that’s an editorial placement decision by Facebook.

And for that, they’re responsible, and as subject to suit as if they were a printed newspaper who had chosen to put false stories about the Mi’kmaq on their front page.

One thought on “Section 230, Facebook and Newspapers

  1. In a later discussion, I paraphrased it this way:

    There is a problem with media companies representing their own decisions as those of their commentators. If I am a traditional newspaper, and chose to put a letter to the editor on the front page, I have exercised editorial judgement.

    If the letter is a criticism of a police constable for murdering an innocent black man, many will agree with me, and say I should publish it, and should not be held responsible for the opinion of the writer.

    If, on the other hand, I happen to be in a certain western province, many will disagree, say the police were in the right, and that I cannot chose to feature my correspondents saying such things without taking responsibility for my choice.

    Which case applies? Facebook arguably chooses to put evil on their “front page”… are they a publisher? Am I?


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