New Paper: Internet governance by social media platforms

iStock_000027835386_FullIn scholarship on Internet governance, much attention has focused on the role of global institutions like ICANN as well as the policy decisions of nation-states and intergovernmental organizations in keeping the Internet operational and mediating citizen rights. More recently, scholarship has turned attention to the role of private intermediaries in governing civil liberties online. The current study examined transparency reports, user policies and technological design choices of dominant social media platforms to demonstrate their role in promoting and constraining values related to privacy and anonymity, free expression and innovation.

Results suggest that the data collection procedures underlying the platforms’ business models pose a significant challenge to values of privacy and anonymity. Relying on the disclosure of aggregated user data to advertisers and other third parties, these platforms reserve the right to collect user data ranging from personal information like names to metadata like IP addresses and locational data. Despite their immunity from liability for user content in the United States and various other countries, social media companies have also come under attack for intervening in political conflicts by censoring speech that complies with their policy designs. In the area of permissionless innovation and interoperability, social media companies and their policy designs undermine users’ ability to innovate. On a more fundamental level, the lack of open technical standards underlying these platforms also poses a threat to Internet interoperability, a value that has played a vital role in the evolution of the Internet.

The role of social media platforms’ policy and technological designs in mediating civil liberties not only has significant implications for global citizens’ abilities to participate in the digital public sphere, but also for the future of democracy. More research on this phenomenon is needed to understand how the constantly evolving policy and technological designs of these platforms shape the future of citizen rights online.

For full article, please refer to Telecommunications Policy, 5/09/2015

DeNardis, L., & Hackl, A. M. (in press). Internet governance by social media platforms. Telecommunications Policydoi: ​http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.telpol.2015.04.003i

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