While Facebook is losing its younger audience, like Generation Z (post-Millennials), to other social networks, it still remains a dominant platform. Shrinking audience aside, there’s a growing belief that Facebook isn’t a platform, but a publisher — one with social and legal responsibilities.
The New York Times reported on the debated topic by profiling the high-profile lawyer Paul Tweed, who is known for representing various Hollywood stars, suing CNN, Forbes and The National Enquirer, and winning defamation suits on his clients’ behalf. He did so, the Times points out, by “hopscotching among Belfast, London and Dublin,” which have more favorable defamation or privacy laws.
In 2017, the “impish” Mr. Tweed met with the Dublin-based lawyer Richard Woulfe representing Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks in Ireland. He asked counsel about public sentiment, especially in light of fake news, hate speech, revenge porn and more, and whether it was turning against these companies. Evidently, Mr. Tweed was getting a feel for his financial future because not long after, he left his law partnership in Britain and founded a new firm, focused on suing Facebook, Twitter and the like.
As the Times reported, the public backlash against social media networks has been great amid allegations that Facebook aided Russia in interfering with U.S. and European elections, allowed user information to be sent to Cambridge Analytica, the voter-targeting company, incited ethnic violence in other countries, broadcasted a gang rape and more.
“The British information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has told Facebook, ‘It’s not just a platform anymore; there are some legal and social responsibilities, too.’”
In Germany, social media companies are required to remove any hate speech within 24 hours after they’ve been notified of its posting. In April, Congress asked tough questions of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and is now considering whether to require Facebook and other Internet companies to reveal political advertising buyers, like traditional news media outlets are required to.
But those who favor the current laws in place argue that if the social media companies and their platforms no longer have legal immunity, it “would destroy their business models and end a golden era of freedom of expression.” In fact, say these supporters, they could never have emerged without this very immunity.
So, is Facebook a platform or a publisher? Ad Age argues that the company’s critics “don’t understand” that it’s a platform. Zuckerberg’s testimony revealed that he considers his company a tech company, not a publisher. Perhaps NPR said it best when it called the company’s identity “blurry.”