Stop. Take a moment and think, “Where do you get most of your news from?” Ask your friends. Ask the person sitting next to you.
You all probably, and statistically, read up on current events through Facebook. Don’t feel bad. According to the Pew Research Center, 44 percent of Americans get their news specifically from Facebook.
Yet for a platform that serves as the go-to for news for so many people, Facebook gets to skip out on a lot of the rules other media companies don’t have the luxury to. Facebook refuses to call itself a media company, thus avoiding responsibility for the laws the content it hosts might break, like libel and slander laws. This is because as soon as Facebook defines itself as a media company, it loses its Good Samaritan Act status.
As of now, Facebook falls under what is called the Good Samaritan Act, or Communications Decency Act’s Section 230(c). The act states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” This act means that Facebook doesn’t have to meet the same legal standards as other news sources since it was not the original producer of that news.
So Facebook isn’t held responsible for content that breaks laws. They didn’t create the content in the first place, after all. Facebook is just the forum to view them on. I have two words to that: Fake. News. False, untrue, libelous — whatever you want to call it — fake news stories took a lot of the blame for Trump’s surprise victory. These are new stories like “Tens of thousands of fraudulent Clinton votes found in Ohio warehouse” and “NYPD Looking to Press Charges Against Bill Clinton for Underage Sex Ring” from the Christian Times Newspaper. These are stories completely fabricated and fair game for breaking libel laws. Facebook is used to quickly spread these falsehoods in a viral manner.
Imagine how many fakes news stories would have circulated through Facebook if the company was held liable to libel laws for materials on its site. It’s a much simpler solution than others presented by Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg. But that’s because it would require more legal responsibility on Facebook’s part.
When asked about Facebook calling itself a media company and being held to the standards of such, Zuckerberg has said, “News and media are not the primary things people do on Facebook, so I find it odd when people insist we call ourselves a news or media company…” The thing is, the argument isn’t if news and media are “primary things people do on Facebook” — it’s if they’re something people are doing at all. You can spend 23 hours looking at cat videos on Facebook, but if you spend just one hour reading fake news stories, you’ve been influenced by irresponsible media sharing. It is hard for Zuckerberg to argue that news and media don’t play a huge role in Facebook, considering the website has its own sidebar dedicated to trending news.
If Facebook really wants to fix its fake news problem, it must address it directly. In the past, Facebook has offered quick-fixes like adding fact-check boxes, creating algorithms, and using journalistic experts to vet stories. A simple solution is to define Facebook as a media company and hold them to the legal responsibilities of such. Nowadays, Facebook has too much sway over public sentiment to claim otherwise.