PHOTO BY PAUL K. SCHWARTZ

Mark Zuckerberg readily admitted to the Senate panel that he does take full responsibility for, in a sense, policing the content of Facebook and shoulders the blame for not having done a better job of preventing misuse of user information. He testified that he is in the process of instituting controls to better oversee and monitor instances of hate speech and its removal from the site. The challenges involved in this effort, he pointed out, deals with nuances in language.

He indicated he is totally committed to monitoring any access of large amounts of data and the use of comprehensive audits to ensure proper use of the information accessed. This step, he admitted, should have been done with regard to Cambridge Analytica and would likely have prevented that scandal. Zuckerberg also indicated he is not against some regulation and supports the bipartisan “Honest Adds Act” sponsored by Senators Klobuchar, McCain and Warner requiring verification of advertisers running political ads.

Encouraging. We now have the head of likely the largest social media platform in the world declaring that he and his company are, indeed, responsible for the content on that platform. We are making progress.

But what about other providers of platforms? What responsibility to manage content of their sites do they have? Take for example Armslist.com, which is an internet site devoted to bringing together individuals looking to purchase firearms with those individuals seeking to sell firearms.

“Engaging in the business of selling guns” is specific language from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that determines whether a seller is required to have an FFL, or federal firearms license. Sales by a federally-licensed dealer comes with it the requirement of a background check in the NICS, National Incident Criminal System, database of the prospective buyer.

Forty percent of gun sales are conducted at gun shows and over the internet and are done without background checks. If any of the sales transacted through Armslist.com turn out to be connected in any way to a mass shooting, for example, what responsibility, if any, should Armslist.com bear?

Armslist.com’s position is that it is not directly involved in the firearm transaction and, therefore, has no responsibility regarding the actual sale. The terms of use for Armslist.com includes the following wording: “1.I understand that ARMSLIST does not become involved in transactions between parties and does not certify, investigate, or in any way guarantee the legal capacity of any party to transact. 2. I am responsible for obeying all applicable enforcement mechanisms, including, but not limited to federal, state, municipal, and tribal statutes, rules, regulations, ordinances, and judicial decisions, any applicable Presidential Executive Orders, including compliance with all applicable licensing requirements. 3. I will not use Armslist.com for any illegal purposes. 4. If I am at all unsure about firearms sales or transfers, I will contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives at 1-800-ATF-GUNS and visit the ATF website at http://www.atf.gov.”

In other words, Armslist.com shirks all responsibility by placing all responsibility with the users of its site. It’s unlikely that the next mass shooter will pay much attention to Armslist.com’s terms of use.

So, regardless of the testimony and the commitment of Mark Zuckerberg to take his responsibility for the content on Facebook more seriously than had previously been done, the question for all other information exchanging platforms regarding their responsibility for content still remains. Is managing platforms such as Armslist.com or Craigslist or Twitter or Google or any other similar information exchanging platforms any different than managing a mammoth social media platform like Facebook? If so, why?

It seems to me that providing a platform whether to share cat photos or purchase firearms comes with it the responsibility to ensure the information exchanged via that platforms are not misused and protocols to ensure proper use falls to the platform provider in every case.

@PKSpaul

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