Facebook Employees Counter Zuckerberg’s Ambivalence

image credit: The New York Times

By Chand Bellur

June 1, 2020 at 3:07 p.m. PT

  • Mark Zuckerberg refuses to moderate Donald Trump’s content on Facebook and associated platforms.
  • Facebook, Instagram, and other related social media platforms routinely delete messages and block non-celebrity users.
  • Many Facebook employees virtually walked off the job today to protest Zuckerberg’s hypocrisy and unwillingness to moderate Donald Trump.

Zuckerberg Claims Facebook Fights for Free Speech

The past few weeks have been trying times for social media. Elections have consequences. With what most psychiatrists would consider to be a narcissistic sociopath in the White House, his over-the-top social media provocations produce varying polarizing reactions.

It’s a sad old tactic of divide and conquer; however, a poorly educated faction of America can’t detect the ruse. Instead, they’re energized by hate speech, blaming their lives’ outcomes on minorities, socialists, and other perceived bogeymen. To these people, Donald Trump is an honest man who tells it like it is. He’s given a voice to people the Democrats have disregarded for decades. The problem is, his messages are mostly dishonest and easily countered by simple fact checks.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently decided to lightly moderate Trump. While most users would have been deleted and banned from the platform entirely, Trump’s incendiary tweets are adorned with links to the truth or covered up with a thin veil, only to appear with one click.

Even more hypocritical, Mark Zuckerberg refuses to moderate Trump at all, claiming his platform is dedicated to free speech. This is patently false. Facebook routinely moderates user content and deletes offending users. They force users to reveal their true identity, deactivating those who wish to remain anonymous unless they fit into a politically correct category. If you even try to connect to too many people at once, the system will freeze your account.

Facebook’s moderation of regular people is oppressive. If you’re famous, you can get away with anything. Facebook needs famous users, as they create more compelling content for the platform.

Facebook is a Publisher, Not a Distributor

Facebook’s (and Twitter’s) heavy-handed moderation makes them content publishers, not distributors. Unlike Google or Microsoft’s Bing, their direct content hosting and manipulation can be considered publishing. As such, companies like Twitter and Facebook are unraveling section 230 protections of the Communications Decency Act, as lawmakers from both parties seek reform.

Passed in 1996, the Communications Decency Act sought to reign in the emerging Internet’s anarchy. Section 230 of the law specifically provides tech companies protection against lawsuits. With a few sentences, the law absolved tech corporations of responsibility for content or moderation. They can delete your posts for any reason and also give celebrities free rein.

Section 230 allows such broad freedoms, as it considers most tech companies to be distributors, not publishers. For example, Medium.com hosted an article that plagiarized Appledystopia. After reaching out to the company, they told me they’re not responsible for it, but would take it down (after several days) with a DMCA request.

Medium.com plagiarized my most viewed article, which ranked higher than mine. I lost significant traffic and revenues, but I could not take legal action, as they’re considered distributors, not publishers. At the same time, Medium.com moderates content and monetizes it with ads, acting like a publisher.

Search engines such as Google and Bing serve as excellent examples of distributors. Google cannot moderate anything on Appledystopia, but if they find my content to be fraudulent, their algorithms can rank my pages lower or deindex me altogether.

Twitter, Facebook, Medium.com, and other corporations don’t pass the duck test. They look and act like publishers in every regard. Hiding behind section 230 of the DCA, they can keep or delete content and users as they see fit. Shaping content in this way amounts to publication, not distribution.

Facebook Employees Virtually Walk Off the Job

After witnessing Mark Zuckerberg’s blatant hypocrisy and disregard for social justice, several Facebook employees virtually walked off the job. As most are working from home, participating employees used auto-replies to indicate that they’re not working out of disgust with their leadership.

Although Mark Zuckerberg is the CEO of Facebook, his leadership is under question. The board of Facebook has been trying to remove Zuckerberg for years. The way Facebook shares are structured created a powerless board. Mark Zuckerberg has a majority of the voting power. Unlike most public corporations, the board cannot remove him.

Zuckerberg has also garnered the ire of many employees. While Silicon Valley isn’t as liberal as it used to be, most tech workers lean to the left. Donation data shows that they overwhelmingly support Bernie Sanders and dislike Donald Trump. Facebook employees are well aware that the company moderates, censors and deletes non-celebrity users. Zuckerberg, however, is utterly tone-deaf to the politics of his employees.

Is Social Media Doomed?

Both parties actively seek to reform section 230 of the DCA. Although this law allowed tech corporations to flourish, it also allows them to be biased and spread fake news. Given that Facebook and Twitter have more reach than cable news organizations, it’s hard to consider them as underdogs anymore. Protections that allowed them to grow and thrive are no longer necessary. Perhaps it’s time to remove the training wheels.

The DCA was signed into law back in 1996, before Twitter, Facebook, and even MySpace. Back then, companies like AOL and CompuServe struggled with how to approach content. If they moderated it, they would be considered publishers and be accountable for the content. Instead, they let offensive and objectionable material fester like an open wound.

Social media has existed for decades. Bulletin board systems connected people before the public Internet even existed. Users would dial into a BBS server, exchanging messages and files with other users.

The Internet ushered in websites with comment forms. This is the blueprint for all social media. Users interact with posted content by sharing or commenting. Modern-day social media has added much superfluity to this process, with ridiculous photo filters, stickers and other, virtual frivolities.

Search engines like Google offer a clear separation between content and the service provider. Google doesn’t moderate websites or delete offensive material. It’s difficult to argue that they’re publishers, as they don’t even host the content.

Twitter and Facebook are entirely different and seem to be abusing section 230 of the DCA. Every user account and post is created by and for their platform. They moderate content and users, deleting anything deemed offensive by non-celebrity users. Double-standard aside, Twitter and Facebook ARE publishers. They control the content directly and monetize it to earn revenues. It’s as if no one bothered to revisit section 230, and these corporations abused it to the point of jeopardizing others, hoping no one would notice.

Both Republicans and Democrats seek to reform section 230. Unfortunately, this reform may have some collateral damage. As sloppy as section 230 may seem, changing it may break it some more. Corporations like Google, who genuinely conform to the ideals of section 230, may be impacted due to the greed and arrogance of Twitter and Facebook.

Reform of section 230 is on the horizon, and it will change the way social media operates. As with many businesses, lawsuits and regulations are the only way to change behavior. Twitter and Facebook will be opened to litigation as they become reclassified as publishers responsible for content and moderation decisions. Some politicians want social media platforms to undergo audits for political bias.

Twitter and Facebook don’t matter. Much like MySpace, they can disappear tomorrow, and another social media presence will fill the void. Future social media companies, however, cannot reuse the Twitter and Facebook blueprint.

Reforming section 230 may mean that content providers need some firewall between content creators. Google already has this. Publishers create and host their own websites. Google indexes them and makes them available for search.

Future social media may need to follow the same pattern, where providers don’t host the content or control user accounts. This will both ensure that they don’t act like publishers and also give them good reason to eschew moderation. No one owns email, the web, or file transfer protocols. Has anyone every moderated your email or banned you from using it? Why should social media be any different? CDA 230 reform, done correctly, should return social media to the people while preserving essential tech corporations that have not abused the law.

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