It is time for government to remove the undeserved protections for social-media giants that operate not as platforms but rather publishers.
For more than a decade; Google, Twitter, and Facebook (GTF), and others have bloated to their current prominence and dominance through a very specific agreement between the government and the social-media giants: a “platform-privilege” law.
As platforms, GTF enjoy several massive benefits from the government, especially in the form of two protections:
(1) significant protection against GTF’s ordinary civil liability when users commit defamation (libel) on the so-called platforms; and
(2) significant protection against GTF’s ordinary civil liability when users commit copyright infringement on the so-called platforms.
The difference between a publisher and a platform is that a company operating as a “publisher” operates with editorial authority—deciding the content that users may submit to the publisher for publication; but a company that operates as a “platform” allows anyone to publish anything, as long as it is lawful.
GTF have enjoyed the benefits of the platform-privilege law—while failing to obey its rules: while enjoying protections as “platforms,” GTF (and others) have clearly also been enjoying the editorial authority of operating as publishers (and politically partisan publishers at that). So it is time for government to remove the undeserved protections from GTF—because GTF are not platforms: they are publishers (and politically partisan publishers at that).
The hypocrites who run GTF have been enjoying an unlawful double-benefit: the protection of being platforms, and the authority of being publishers. This hypocrisy contradicts the purpose of the platform-privilege law. GTF have been breaking the law: by misrepresenting themselves as platforms to benefit from platform-privilege, while operating significantly as publishers—GTF are committing fraud.
Government must recognize GTF as publishers—and must end the platform-privilege for GTF, and for any other company found to operate not as a platform but rather as a publisher.
Cure. Congress could give GTF reasonable time to cure their current illegal double-benefit structure—time enough to immediately restructure themselves as actual platforms by removing all the publisher-based editorial authority currently infused into GTF’s structures and practices. Otherwise, if GTF prefer editorial authority—then let them man-up and admit it: admit that they are publishers, and cease sneaking and slithering around pretending to be platforms.
The law that now provides GTF with their undeserved protections is 47 U.S. Code § 230(c)(2), aka Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
Congress must immediately move to end GTF’s enjoyment of that law’s protections: GTF operate significantly as publishers, and thus should not be treated as though GTF operate as platforms.
Antitrust. Setting aside GTF, which are in fact not platforms but rather publishers: there are plenty legitimate platforms—possible alternatives to GTF. But those legitimate platforms have been rendered non-competitive against hypocritical, double-dealing publishers like GTF, due to GTF’s quasi-monopoly against the would-be competitors, who cannot compete against GTF’s lock on advertisers, which GTF secured while surviving only by protections from a law that GTF no longer follow. As Adam Candeub observed in The American Conservative on June 21, 2019: the dominance of GTF “has gutted the advertising revenue streams of local, regional, and even national media outlets—outlets that do not enjoy the privileges of Section 230.”
As Candeub further notes, Facebook Co-founder Chris Hughes has powerfully and reasonably criticized GTF’s abusive and unlawful structures and GTF’s hypocritical bosses. Interested parties can find Hughes’ criticism of GTF in the 2019 New York Times article, “It’s Time to Break Up Facebook.”
It is not that GTF are “too big to fail”—rather GTF are too hypocritical and illegal to succeed: GTF dominate as they now do ONLY by continued protections from a law that GTF do not follow.
Candeub summarizes the entire situation nicely:
“[W]hat is particularly bizarre, ironic, and deeply destructive to public discourse is that . . . Congress passed Section 230 to promote a free and open internet, [but] Facebook, Twitter, and Google now use [that law] to advocate for an open internet while at the same time justifying their censorship regimes.”
It is time for government to remove the platform-privilege from Google, Twitter, and Facebook—because these are not platforms: they are publishers.