Digging deeper into social media

Michael Brendan Dougherty authors a National Review Online column with a simple, provocative headline: “What is Facebook?”

Right now the debate has been about the difference between platforms and publishers. National Review Online is a publication. Our comments section, though moderated, is a platform. A publication is legally liable if it prints libels or other forms of unprotected speech (a small category in America). A platform is not; only the individual posting to the platform is. …

… There are two conservative principles in tension here. On the one side, there is freedom. If you think Facebook simply is a platform — no different from a rented stage, or a web server, or a single post on an Internet forum — then the argument for the status quo is very straightforward. The user is the speaker, and if that user says something that is legally actionable, it is the user and not Facebook that is responsible. Facebook should be free to reject and moderate its content the way that forum hosts or stage companies can reject a speaker outright, but should not be in any way considered an endorser of those speech acts.

But on the other side is responsibility. Facebook may exist within existing conventions of speech law. But its revenue is generated in this strange legal zone where it is able to profit from media-like content, while disclaiming all the difficult parts of traditional-media judgment. In this way, it offends the primordial conservative conviction that right and responsibility go together. The result, I think, is calamitous to our public square.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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