BOSTON (CBS) — Most of us like to think we take responsibility for our own actions, don’t we?
We shovel our front sidewalks after a storm so others won’t slip and fall on them.
We stop at stop signs so we won’t endanger other drivers.
If we run a restaurant, we follow the health codes so we won’t poison our customers.
And even when the rules don’t require it, I’d like to think most of us will do what we can to preserve order and protect others, because it’s the right thing to do.
But what about Twitter, Facebook, Google and YouTube? These four major online gatekeepers are being investigated and sued over their failure to keep their sites clear of terrorist activity.
Three families of victims of the Orlando nightclub massacre are suing Google, Facebook and Twitter claiming they didn’t do enough to deny ISIS access to its products to recruit henchmen like the Orlando shooter. The family of a victim of the Paris massacre are also suing. German prosecutors are investigating Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg because of hate speech concerns.
And on it goes.
The legal cases here are unlikely to overcome a 1996 law exempting websites from liability for third-party content, although a smart lawyer could argue that these platforms have much more technical ability to edit themselves than they did 20 years ago.
But the lawsuits are a warning to these companies that with great power – and, in most cases, huge profits – comes great responsibility to see that your product isn’t exploited to the detriment of the broader community.
Whatever they’ve been doing about it, it hasn’t been enough.
And they’d better sink a bit more of those profits into cleaning up their act, unless they think blood on your hands is a good corporate look.
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