In written testimony, prior to his appearance Thursday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Facebook’s CEO said Congress should consider changing Section 230 to require companies to “earn” liability protection. It’s the latest example that Mark Zuckerberg isn’t interested in fixing what’s actually wrong with Facebook, but rather protecting it at all costs against both regulation and competition.
As a quick reminder, Section 230–also known as the “26 words that created the internet,” is the part of the Communications Decency Act that provides platforms with the ability to moderate content posted, and insulates them from liability over what users share or posts. Without the protection from Section 230, companies could be held liable for anything their users post.
Earlier this year, Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) introduced the Safe Tech Act, which would remove liability protection for content when there is money involved. While the lawmakers argue that the purpose is to target things like ads, it would make it almost impossible to operate any kind of online platform or even a website.
That’s obviously a problem for Facebook, considering it’s both the largest social media platform and the second-largest digital advertising platform. But Facebook, which is facing intense scrutiny over everything from antitrust investigations over its past acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp, to the control it exerts over the digital advertising markets, to the role it has played in amplifying extreme and misleading information, wants to at least seem like it’s a good digital citizen.
Of course, its interest in doing so isn’t about eliminating misinformation–the purported reason for the hearing in the first place. Facebook’s goal is to seize an opportunity to solidify its position and eliminate any competition.
Take, for example, this paragraph from Zuckerberg’s written testimony:
We believe Congress should consider making platforms’ intermediary liability protection for certain types of unlawful content conditional on companies’ ability to meet best practices to combat the spread of this content. Instead of being granted immunity, platforms should be required to demonstrate that they have systems in place for identifying unlawful content and removing it. Platforms should not be held liable if a particular piece of content evades its detection–that would be impractical for platforms with billions of posts per day–but they should be required to have adequate systems in place to address unlawful content.
There is, for sure, a lot to unpack in that statement, but what Zuckerberg is essentially saying is that platforms would only be protected from liability for content posted on their platforms if they have a system in place for removing content that might make them liable in the first place. Guess who has that sort of system in place? Facebook does.
Facebook’s Trust and Safety team has 35,000 people. Their job is largely moderating content. That means the company has roughly one person “identifying unlawful content and removing it” for every 80,000 users.
Even still, Facebook does a pretty terrible job of moderating content, which is why Zuckerberg is clear that a company should be evaluated not on whether it actually does anything about the content, but if it has “adequate systems in place.” If a company the size of Facebook, which has 35,000 people dedicated to the task, can’t effectively prevent objectionable content, how can a small startup with 15 employees, building the next social network or app?
That tells you everything you need to know about Zuckerberg’s real motivation. Without Section 230, you would have never had Google or Facebook or YouTube or Instagram, which Facebook bought in 2012.
There would also be no Etsy, or Shopify, or even a comments section on your favorite blog. There would certainly never be any startup with the ability to meet Zuckerberg’s requirement that might someday be able to challenge its size or scale.
That, of course, is the point–to eliminate any potential competition from a small startup that might challenge Facebook’s dominance in the future. And Zuckerberg just asked Congress to pass a law to do just that.