Is Facebook in the wrong, or the right?
What are a telecommunication company’s responsibilities?
Recently, the Facebook Russian Ad Scandal has been making big headlines across the country. The cause of contention, in short, is that later-confirmed Russian operatives manipulated the system and purchased around $100,000 in political ads on Facebook during the election season. According to CNN, the government is discussing getting involved. This could range anywhere from a few new regulations to establishing an entire agency to actively police companies like Facebook. But are we missing the point? Many people assume that Facebook is in the wrong and proceed from there. But what is this telecommunication company’s actual responsibilities?
Facebook is not a news company
One important distinction to make in the aftermath of the Facebook Russian Ad Scandal is that Facebook is not a news company. They are a telecommunications company – allowing users to interact with each other, while also selling advertisements on the side. News companies are required to vet their sources, whether for a story or an ad. A telecommunications company is not. While that may open up another argument whether that is the way it should be or not, the point remains that Facebook is not responsible for the content posted by others. The poster should be held responsible for their content, not Facebook. Vetting everything would be a violation of free speech or press, however you see the social media platform.
This is not to say that a telecommunications should not have terms and conditions to manage their content. Facebook does, in fact. They even implement a fairly sophisticated system in place to catch content that could break their rules before it’s ever posted. This is a far cry from the general attitude and claims of outlets like the Washington Post that largely demonize Facebook for allowing such a thing to happen. Facebook can take down the posts, and close an account that breaks the rules and regulations. But their role is, and should be, largely reactive.
What should the reaction to the Facebook Russian Ad Scandal be?
According to The Atlantic, it’s unlikely anything much was even accomplished by these ads. Facebook has already said they plan on tweaking their system to catch manipulations such as this in the future. The long and short of the matter is that Facebook is ultimately not responsible for the content that’s posted. Such as the New York Times states, it’s the result of their structure. They’re responsible for policing content, and should comply with the government when requests are made. This last point is Facebook’s biggest faux pax in the matter, but if that’s the worst of it, then many people are blowing Facebook’s role in the scandal largely out of proportion.