Facebook, Free Speech, and the Responsibility of Power

The many arguments adduced to spare Facebook the responsibility of monitoring its content, of removing content that leads to physical violence all the way down to false political advertising, fail because they are based on under-developed understandings of responsibility itself. To argue that Facebook should be spared almost all regulatory expectations because it is a technology like the telephone rather than a media site like the New York Times or that Facebook should not be entrusted with taking down false advertising or striking down violent speech because those are tasks best left to the government is a failure of imagination and a failure to imagine what (civic) responsibility entails. As the word suggests (respons-ibility), the responsibility of any company or person who provides the possibility of speech, who can take it away from any given user and makes billions in profits off it, is to answer for and consider the admittedly unpredictable and deeply complex ramifications of the speech spoken under the company’s or person’s auspices.