Beware of 'Algorithmic Regulation'

36 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2019 Last revised: 12 Mar 2019

See all articles by Sylvie Delacroix

Sylvie Delacroix

University of Birmingham - Birmingham Law School; Alan Turing Institute - Alan Turing Institute

Date Written: February 1, 2019

Abstract

Among the structural elements that enable social media platforms to durably influence our moods and behaviour, their answering a widespread desire to be liked and accepted - a desire which is seldom transparent to us - greatly increases their manipulative power. So does their ability to harvest fine-grained information about their users (and acquaintances). This data puts such platforms in a position where they can not only covertly influence our thoughts, moods and behaviour: they can do so in a way that is maximally effective given our respective traits, vulnerabilities etc. This paper argues that if we are to stand any chance of taming these platforms’ considerable manipulative potential, some conceptual spring-cleaning is needed.

First, we need to stop confusing regulatory power and regulation. Whereas in mechanics or cybernetics there is no need to distinguish between the two -since there are no agents whose autonomy is infringed by regulation- when the concept of regulation is applied to human behaviour this distinction becomes crucial, and hinges upon the concept of authority. Since social media platforms do not - yet - claim authority, they do not regulate us: they have regulatory power over us. Our task is to regulate that power.

To succeed in the latter task, we also need to acknowledge that the type of influence exercised by social media platforms is not merely non-deliberative: it is also covert. While the former is often unproblematic from an ethical/legal perspective, the latter not only threatens our right to freedom of thought, it also compromises our commitment to moral equality.

Keywords: regulatory power, regulation, autonomy, normative agency, social media, cybernetics, algorithmic regulation, manipulation, social cruelty

Suggested Citation

Delacroix, Sylvie, Beware of 'Algorithmic Regulation' (February 1, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3327191 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3327191

Sylvie Delacroix (Contact Author)

University of Birmingham - Birmingham Law School ( email )

Edgbaston
Birmingham, AL B15 2TT
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/law/delacroix-sylvie.aspx

Alan Turing Institute - Alan Turing Institute ( email )

96 Euston Road
London, NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

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