The Challenge of Developing Effective Public Policy on the Use of Social Media by Youth

15 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2011 Last revised: 11 Mar 2014

Date Written: December 1, 2010


Legal scholarship in the United States has evolved greatly over the course of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.1 A recent trend is toward various forms of interdisciplinary scholarship in law, including the combination of legal methods with methods drawn from the social science. There are some good reasons for the growing popularity of this form of interdisciplinarity. One reason is that, in certain subfields of law, it is impossible for a lawyer to make strong policy arguments without a solid grounding in the data gathered by those who specialize in other disciplines. The field of youth media policy is one such subfield. This particular form of interdisciplinarity will be increasingly important in the future.

Policymakers working on matters related to youth media policy need to listen to the findings of the best social scientists in our shared field in order to make better decisions. The reasons for adopting this particular interdisciplinary approach - beyond mere methodological hipness - are substantive. The relevant youth practices are shifting very quickly. Social norms in digitally mediated environments are extremely powerful - often trumping law and public policy and, in turn, posing special problems for those who seek to impose traditional methods of direct regulation. Our public policy goals are often in tension with one another; reconciling them can be tricky. Social science research can help us to understand the broad frame in which these discussions are most helpfully grounded. And as we look to the future, it is important that we understand the substantial shifts in youth practice in order to be able to craft effective policy in this area.

In this paper, I set forth a broad framework, grounded in social science research, within which a policy conversation can be held. The paper also presents a case example examining privacy issues for youth where public policy might be improved by data-driven discussions.

Suggested Citation

Palfrey, John G., The Challenge of Developing Effective Public Policy on the Use of Social Media by Youth (December 1, 2010). Federal Communications Law Journal, Vol. 63, p. 5, 2010, Harvard Public Law Working Paper 11-10, Available at SSRN:

John G. Palfrey (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1545 Massachusetts Avenue
Areeda Hall 511
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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