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The sheer scale of the nefarious crap that litters Facebook is astonishing. As Michal Lev-Ram relates in her new feature on the company, in just the first quarter Facebook found that it had published 837 million instances of “spam, false advertising, fraud, malicious links, or promotion of counterfeit goods.” That’s merely the beginning of how a site that began as a way for Harvard undergrads to scope each other out online has polluted our lives, endangered democracy, and generally made the world a safer place for bigots and scammers.
I encourage you to read Lev-Ram’s meticulously and exceedingly fairly reported article. Facebook was somewhere between late (a generous assessment) and negligent (less generous) in acknowledging its problems. Now it is throwing considerable resources of the human and AI variety at the task of cleaning up its soiled publishing platform. To wit, by the end of 2018 it has pledged to hire nearly 20,000 human “moderators” to police content its users have posted that violates Facebook’s terms of service.
I’m more than willing to give Facebook, a media company, the benefit of the doubt. But I can’t help thinking that fielding several brigades of fake news fighters is the proverbial Band Aid on a festering wound, a finger in the dyke if you prefer that metaphor. You’ll note that I don’t call Facebook a “social network” or a “social media” company. It is a publisher that is wholly inadequate to the task of managing the “content”—also known as essays, opinion articles, photographs, and videos—it publishes. Five times the number of moderators wouldn’t be up to the job either because Facebook is so mammoth.
Free speech is great, but it has its limits. Publishers are responsible for staying within those limits. I applaud Facebook (FB) for belatedly attempting to do so too—after it made a $500-billion killing nurturing a noxious free for all.
Until it is legally liable for the filth it publishes, however, just as other publishers are, Facebook’s efforts will make little difference.