Answering Impossible Questions: Content Governance in an Age of Disinformation

Bowers, John; Zittrain, Jonathan (2020). Answering impossible questions: content governance in an age of disinformation. The Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Misinformation Review. DOI:10.37016/mr-2020-005

11 Pages Posted: 10 Feb 2020

See all articles by John Bowers

John Bowers

Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Jonathan L. Zittrain

Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government; Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; Berkman Center for Internet & Society; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: January 16, 2020

Abstract

The governance of online platforms has unfolded across three eras – the era of Rights (which stretched from the early 1990s to about 2010), the era of Public Health (from 2010 through the present), and the era of Process (of which we are now seeing the first stirrings). Rights-era conversations and initiatives amongst regulators and the public at large centered dominantly on protecting nascent spaces for online discourse against external coercion. The values and doctrine developed in the Rights era have been vigorously contested in the Public Health era, during which regulators and advocates have focused (with minimal success) on establishing accountability for concrete harms arising from online content, even where addressing those harms would mean limiting speech. In the era of Process, platforms, regulators, and users must transcend this stalemate between competing values frameworks, not necessarily by uprooting Rights-era cornerstones like CDA 230, but rather by working towards platform governance processes capable of building broad consensus around how policy decisions are made and implemented. Some first steps in this direction, preliminarily explored here, might include making platforms "information" or “content” fiduciaries, delegating certain key policymaking decisions to entities outside of the platforms themselves, and systematically archiving data and metadata about disinformation detected and addressed by platforms.

Suggested Citation

Bowers, John and Zittrain, Jonathan, Answering Impossible Questions: Content Governance in an Age of Disinformation (January 16, 2020). Bowers, John; Zittrain, Jonathan (2020). Answering impossible questions: content governance in an age of disinformation. The Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Misinformation Review. DOI:10.37016/mr-2020-005, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3520683

John Bowers (Contact Author)

Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Jonathan Zittrain

Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Berkman Center for Internet & Society

Harvard Law School
23 Everett, 2nd Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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