Social Justice, Social Norms and the Governance of Social Media
35 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2015
Date Written: March 11, 2015
Digital media generate a technological environment which allows for, and at times even creates, a thriving social discourse. Yet the rich information flows enabled by these applications also generate abuses and social wrongs. In response to the challenges posed by these realms, various forms of governance have arisen: rules that detail conduct which is permitted and forbidden throughout these digital settings, as well as an apparatus to enforce them. The online environment introduces governance measures applied through the internal actions of the private and commercial platforms which operate the relevant digital platforms.
The question whether forms of governance by “code” and “contract” are aligned with the users’ social norms is therefore crucial and was discussed by legal scholars for decades (most famously, perhaps, by Larry Lessig). This Article reports an initial discussion of findings produced by a team of legal scholars and sociologists from Germany and Israel which approached this challenge from an empirical perspective. This study, among others, applied tailored online surveys to establish the nature of social norms in the social and technological setting and context discussed here.
After setting the stage, this Article proceeds as follows: Part II briefly addresses the theoretical arguments regarding the pros and cons of various governance strategies. In Part III the Article describes, in general terms, the above-mentioned empirical study, presenting its methodology, the specific challenges to its design and implementation, and how these were met. Part IV notes a specific test case: whether pseudonymity should be permitted in social media or should “real names” be mandatory. Part V briefly discusses insights that the “real names” test case might provide for the broader questions regarding justice and fairness in social media governance. The Article concludes with yet another context, the “right to be forgotten,” which might provide additional insights into the important research questions this project and others begin to address.
Keywords: Online Governance, Social Media, Online Privacy, Company Towns, Regulation by Code, Online Social Norms, Real Names, Online Identity, The Right to Be Forgotten
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