In the Shadows of Content Moderation

63 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2021 Last revised: 2 Aug 2023

See all articles by Maroussia Lévesque

Maroussia Lévesque

Harvard University, Harvard Law School; Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Date Written: February 19, 2021


What do Rembrandt and social media platforms have in common? Light. Both judiciously use it to emphasize certain aspects and relegate others to obscurity, leveraging darkness to highlight flattering features.

This article assesses the accountability of social media platforms with regards to content moderation. It probes voluntary measures like the Facebook Oversight Board and transparency reports for similarities with the chiaroscuro painting technique. These two self-governance initiatives shed light on fairly uncontroversial aspects of content moderation, obscuring more problematic areas in the process. In that sense, chiaroscuro and self-governance actually travel in opposite directions; chiaroscuro uses darkness to create light while self-governance uses light to create darkness.

The United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP) could fill self-governance gaps by activating a clearer link between companies and user well-being. The notions of access to remedy and due diligence support the case for harmonizing accountability measures across moderation practices. External oversight should cover a broader array of moderation decisions, beyond individual content takedowns. It should also approach harms holistically, integrating privacy, equality and other human rights dimensions to the analysis. Transparency reports should provide more granular information about platforms’ informal collaboration with states.

Keywords: Facebook Oversight Board, content moderation, online platforms, transparency reports, internet referral units, United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, due diligence, access to remedy

JEL Classification: K20, K33, L86

Suggested Citation

Lévesque, Maroussia, In the Shadows of Content Moderation (February 19, 2021). Available at SSRN: or

Maroussia Lévesque (Contact Author)

Harvard University, Harvard Law School ( email )

Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

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

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