Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Facebook, as a platform, has been under siege of late. Accusations of extreme data mining and marked political bias have eroded both the company's credibility and its stock-market profile. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO and the face of Facebook, has been summoned to Washington, DC, to testify before Congress. He only just suffered a severe grilling from conservative Senator Ted Cruz (here's that link again), who relentlessly questioned Zuckerberg (whose surname is German for "Sugarmountain" or "Sugarpile"—a testament to the insubstantiality of his online creation) as to Facebook's tendency to censor conservative voices while allowing liberal voices free rein. It was during this questioning by Cruz and others that Zuckerberg made the following statement regarding Facebook's relationship to the content that is hosted on the platform: "I agree that we're responsible for the content."

Conservative talking head Ben Shapiro pounced on this immediately, as did legions of others. As Shapiro wrote:

Zuckerberg may have just opened himself up to a world of legal hurt. Platforms are generally not held legally responsible for the content posted on those platforms – so liability issues ranging from copyright violation to slander aren’t serious concerns for platforms. You can’t sue AT&T if somebody slanders you on a telephone call carried by their satellites. But that’s not the case with publishers. Publishers are responsible for the content that is added to their platforms. The Daily Wire bears legal liability for the content that goes up at The Daily Wire.

If the same were held to be true for Facebook, the company would immediately become subject to hundreds of millions of dollars in legal liability. For example, copyright violation bears a statutory penalty of between $750 and $30,000 per violation. How many unlicensed photos are posted on Facebook daily? On a minute-by-minute basis? Now, instead of a [photojournalist] suing the person who posted the photo, the [photojournalist] could sue Facebook itself. And Facebook’s pockets are a lot deeper.

I think it's premature for conservatives to declare victory. Zuckerberg's a crafty one, and he's got his own team of lawyers, so he certainly won't go down without a fight. Still, I think righties like Shapiro may have a point that Zuckerberg has scored an own-goal; he may indeed have opened up a legal Pandora's box by essentially affirming under oath* that Facebook itself can be sued based on the content it posts. Still, Zuckerberg the CEO probably has a board of directors who will vehemently disagree with his claim, thus making it difficult for the litigious to attack Facebook and draw blood.

Stay tuned. If we suddenly see a torrent of lawsuits against Facebook, then we'll know that Mark Zuckerberg did somehow manage to unleash hell upon himself and his empire.

*Correction: Zuckerberg was not under oath.


Charles said...

Ha! I never thought about the German meaning of Zuckerberg's name. Good one.

Facebook can die a fiery death as far as I'm concerned--but I'll be surprised if it does.

Kevin Kim said...

Yeah, this may be a case of "too big to fail," though perhaps not in the sense in which that expression was originally intended.