Facebook’s lawyers are arguing in a court case that the social media platform is a publisher, a designation that runs contrary to its standard line that it is a technology company, not a publisher or media website.
Facebook used the argument in defending its decision to not publish certain content on its site, which it said is within its free speech rights, according to The Guardian.
In Facebook’s lawyers claim that it is a “publisher” which gives it the right to decide “what not publish.”
The contradictory claim is Facebook’s latest tactic against a high-profile lawsuit, exposing a growing tension for the Silicon Valley corporation, which has long presented itself as neutral platform that does not have traditional journalistic responsibilities.
“The publisher discretion is a free speech right irrespective of what technological means is used. A newspaper has a publisher function whether they are doing it on their website, in a printed copy or through the news alerts,” Sonal Mehta, a lawyer for Facebook, said in court.
Facebook is defending itself against a lawsuit, filed by a former startup called Six4Three in 2015, that charges it maliciously and fraudulently scooped up user data and data on their friends, even ones that didn’t use Facebook. Six4Three alleges that Facebook read text messages, tracking their locations and accessing photos on their phones, as a part of a plot to run competitors out of business.
Facebook has said the “claims have no merit” and that it will fight them in court.
In court, Sonal Mehta, a lawyer for Facebook, even drew comparison with traditional media: “The publisher discretion is a free speech right irrespective of what technological means is used. A newspaper has a publisher function whether they are doing it on their website, in a printed copy or through the news alerts.”
The plaintiff, a former startup called Six4Three, first filed the suit in 2015 after Facebook removed app developers’ access to friends’ data. The company had built a controversial and ultimately failed app called Pikinis, which allowed people to filter photos to find ones with people in bikinis and other swimwear.
Six4Three attorneys have alleged that Facebook enticed developers to create apps for its platform by implying creators would have long-term access to the site’s huge amounts of valuable personal data and then later cut off access, effectively defrauding them. The case delves into some of the privacy concerns sparked by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Facebook has rejected all claims. Mehta argued in court Monday that Facebook’s decisions about data access were a “quintessential publisher function” and constituted “protected” activity, adding that this “includes both the decision of what to publish and the decision of what not to publish”.
David Godkin, an attorney for Six4Three, later responded: “For years, Facebook has been saying publicly that it’s not a media company. This is a complete 180.”
Questions about Facebook’s moral and legal responsibilities as a publisher have escalated surrounding its role in spreading false news and propaganda, along with questionable censorship decisions.
Eric Goldman, a Santa Clara University law professor, said it was frustrating to see Facebook publicly deny that it was a publisher in some contexts but then claim it as a defense in court.
“It’s politically expedient to deflect responsibility for making editorial judgements by claiming to be a platform,” he said, adding, “But it makes editorial decisions all the time, and it’s making them more frequently.”
In the Six4Three case, Facebook has also cited Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, US legislation that paved the way for the modern internet by asserting that platforms cannot be liable for content users post on their sites.
In court filings, Facebook quoted the law saying providers of a “computer service” should not be “treated as the publisher” of information from others.
“It just strikes me as fundamentally problematic,” said Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota. “On one hand, you’re trying to argue you’re this publisher making editorial judgments. But then they turn around and claim they are protected under [Section 230] because they are not publishers.”
Meanwhile, Mark Zuckerberg is coming to the realization that his 2.5 billion users aren’t even remotely close to that, because the constant censorship of free speech caused users to create “Alt Accounts”, resulting in nearly half of the users on Facebook either outright fake accounts that are bots, or users sneaking around the stringent censorship.
So far, Facebook disabled nearly 1.3 billion “fake” accounts over the past two quarters, many of them bots “with the intent of spreading spam or conducting illicit activities such as scams.”
Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
July 4th, 2018