File-This Nov. 9, 2017, file photo shows Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg meeting with a group of entrepreneurs and innovators during a round-table discussion at Cortex Innovation Community technology hub in St. Louis. Facebook is announcing its second major tweak to its algorithm this month, saying it will prioritize news based on users’ votes. The company said in a blog post and Facebook post from Zuckerberg Friday, jan. 19, 2018, that it will survey users about how familiar they are with a news source and if they trust it. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg isn’t backing down on his stance that people should be able to see political ads uncensored and unabated and judge for themselves whether or not they’re right or wrong.
Zuckerberg has been under fire from Democrats who largely blame him for Hillary Clinton’s loss to now-President Donald Trump in 2016 thanks to fake political ads that ran on his social network during the elections. The CEO has been called in front of Congress in order to answer for the crime of his platform acting as a platform and not a publisher.
Democrats grilled Zuckerberg on his business’s methods as well as asked him completely bizarre, unrelated questions revolving around the identity politics of the people he works with.
In an interview with CBS News, Zuckerberg sat down with Gayle King for an interview, and the issue came up. According to The Hill, Zuckerberg told King that it’s not his job to decide what is and isn’t right for a politician to say, and moreover, it’s not his platform’s position to decide what political ads his users get to see:
“[I]t’s really important that people can see for themselves what politicians are saying, so they can make their own judgments,” Zuckerberg told CBS’ Gayle King in a joint interview with his wife, Priscilla Chan. “And, you know, I don’t think that a private company should be censoring politicians or news.”
King pressed the CEO on criticisms the policy has faced, including nearly 200 Facebook employees who wrote a letter arguing that “free speech and paid speech are not the same.”
“Well, this is a clearly a very complex issue, and a lot of people have — have a lot of different opinions,” Zuckerberg responded. “At the end of the day, I just think that in a democracy, people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying.”
Pressed by King on whether that still applied in cases when the ads were spreading false claims, Zuckerberg repeated, “I think that people should be able to judge for themselves the character of politicians.”
Fascinatingly, despite Zuckerberg’s refusal to take a position, Facebook is currently being probed by state and federal agencies for anti-competitive practices.
The question boils down to whether or not Facebook is acting more like a platform or a publisher. The former allows for Facebook to remain neutral while its users post whatever content they want, so long as it falls within legal bounds and clearly laid out policy guidelines. Making each individual user responsible for his or her own content, be it true or false, takes the onus off of Facebook as to what appears on its platform as outlined in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
However, many Democrats seem to want to make Facebook into a publisher, which makes Facebook responsible for what appears on its platform, and thus, must fall under certain laws and regulations. A publisher is wholly liable for the misinformation and lies that appear on their site, so if someone posts a political ad that tells a falsehood, if Facebook doesn’t remove it, it could be sued by any number of people.
Facebook is a big site with millions of users posting content every day, and a solid chunk of it is likely political information that isn’t true, or may even be deemed offensive. Democrats would love for Facebook to become a publisher so that they can then bring it to heel and utilize this to make Facebook allow content that is only approved, ultimately, by them.