Here’s a debate, shaping up perhaps into a true controversy, that’s not going away any time soon: are social media platforms actually publishers?
The significance of the answer to this is not trivial, because in case they are, the likes of Facebook and Google would become legally liable for any content they host. That would change the face of the internet in pretty comprehensive terms, as the giants would no doubt expunge any content that even hints at any kind of legal trouble.
For now, though, in the US, social media platforms are treated as platforms, and remain protected by safe harbor rules of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) Section 230.
It doesn’t help in defending their position as non-publishers, though that these giants themselves, for example, Facebook, sometimes meander between the two definitions to satisfy some current issue, while apparently losing sight of their own long-term best interest.
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But they’re not the only ones trying to speak out both sides of their mouth. Judging by a post over on Techdirt, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff would like to have the Section 230 rug pulled from under Facebook’s feet, seemingly as a precursor to breaking the company up, a policy that Benioff subscribes to. But he’s fine with using it to protect his own company.
Because Facebook decided to allow Trump campaign advertisements instead of banning them on grounds that they contain “false claims” – Section 230 should be abolished as “the most dangerous law on the books right now” he has said.
Facebook is a publisher. They need to be held accountable for propaganda on their platform. We must have standards & practices decided by law. FB is the new cigarettes—it’s addictive, bad for us, & our kids are being drawn in. We need to abolish section 230 Indemnifying them. pic.twitter.com/OHVDVVd1jt
— Marc Benioff (@Benioff) October 16, 2019
And the reason for breaking free speech on the internet – today made possible by this legislation – would be to make Facebook a liable publisher and be done with it.
But at the same time, Benioff doesn’t mind invoking the very same Section 230 to defend his company against a sex trafficking lawsuit. The case concerns Backpage, a classified ad website, that used Salesforce to track customers, the report said.
However, Salesforce lawyers have said they want the company to be, well, “indemnified” under Section 230, adding that “despite the claims of the plaintiffs in the case the protections of 230 clearly do not apply to content provided by 3rd parties on a platform such as Salesforce.”
Benioff might want to put his criticism of Section 230 on hold at least until a judge dismisses the lawsuit against Salesforce based on the said legislation – which is likely to happen.