A Bottom-Up Look at Internet Governance Starting with Organizational Uses of Social Media Platforms
2 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2016
Date Written: March 31, 2016
Internet governance has historically been conceptualized at an international level (van Eeten & Mueller, 2012) where a small set of officially recognized institutions, such as ICANN, IGF, and W3C, establish a very broad set of rules intended to promote and facilitate some uses of the internet and prohibit or constrain others. Stakeholders representing business, civic society and government exert influence over the construction of the rules through their status as direct participants in the rulemaking process, through their access to direct participants, or their influence over those with access to those with access to direct participants. A dynamic understanding of internet governance thus requires that we look at how the interests at all levels of this chain of influence are reflected in decisions made, institutions created, and positions taken by participants at each level (Williamson, 1996). The lower levels of this process have been understudied and under-conceptualized. This paper is an attempt to fill some of that gap.
The Internet and its many uses constitute a nested sociotechnical system (STS) and Internet governance can be viewed as a set of outcomes that reflect decisions made by actors at each level of the system. At the top level, organizations like ICANN set very broad rules of the road. These constrain actions that can be taken by lower level actors. Rules, whether formally stated or norms that evolve, serve to further constrain activities that individuals and organizations can engage in. Rules emerge to facilitate coordination among the actors that agree to use them. As we move from higher levels to lower levels of the governance stack, new rules are introduced that are limited to those who voluntarily agree to use them. Each set of rules preserves some range of freedom for action within the rules. However, there still may be narrower sets of activities that further constrain what can be done among this further reduced set of actors. Social media platforms are one context in which actors function within a set of rules and implement a set of rules.
We examine how organizations govern their carved out social media space within the larger Internet governance framework and consider methods for assessing the effects of organizational-level governance (Garicano & Rayo, 2016; Williamson, 2002) on individual users and on coordination among them in service of organizational goals. We propose a conceptual framework for understanding what happens at these lowest levels, how this is impacted by decisions higher up, and how interests of organizational users of social media are reflected in the usage rules and capabilities developed by social media services (DeNardis & Hackl, 2015; Obar & Wildman, 2015).
Findings reported focus on organizational uses of social media by the local county government of Oakland County, Michigan. Oakland County takes a multi-pronged strategy in governing social media through the implementation of a county-wide social media policy and department level social media accounts and controls. The county adheres to higher level governance from social media platforms, but also initiates social media governance within its space.
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Keywords: Internet Governance, Social Media Governance, Organizational Governance, Nested Sociotechnical System
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