Unpacking Content Moderation: The Rise of Social Media Platforms as Online Civil Courts

24 Pages Posted: 1 Dec 2021

See all articles by Catalina Goanta

Catalina Goanta

Utrecht University - Faculty of Law

Pietro Ortolani

Radboud University

Date Written: November 22, 2021


Social media platforms create and amplify conflicts, but fail to ensure adequate access to justice through content moderation when harms arise. This chapter focuses on a gap in current scholarship on platform governance, by addressing content moderation from the procedural perspective of dispute resolution. We trace the emergence of content moderation as a form of digital dispute resolution, proposing a theoretical framework for the understanding of social media platforms as private adjudicators, and illustrating how platforms have progressively embraced this role. This framework is further complemented by an empirical overview of the content reporting mechanisms of four social media platforms (Facebook, TikTok, Twitch and Twitter). Subsequently, we explore the current shortcomings of content moderation, pointing out three problems which currently affect the transparency and legitimacy of the dispute resolution activities carried out by platforms through content moderation. How can these shortcomings be corrected? The chapter identifies two complementary avenues, through which legitimacy and due process guarantees could potentially be injected into content moderation. On the one hand, social media platforms themselves could “judicialize” themselves, setting up structures and procedures that enhance the legitimacy of content moderation, and afford sufficient procedural rights to those affected by content moderation decisions. From this point of view, we analyze Facebook’s recent decision to institute a quasi-judicial body, the Oversight Board, to deal with delicate and significant content moderation disputes. On the other hand, legitimacy could be enhanced “from without”, by way of regulation. In order to explore this avenue, we conclude the chapter with some normative reflections relating to the possible future regulation of content moderation, with specific reference to the European Union and the proposal for a Digital Services Act.

Keywords: content moderation, dispute resolution, Digital Services Act, platform governance, procedural law

Suggested Citation

Goanta, Catalina and Ortolani, Pietro, Unpacking Content Moderation: The Rise of Social Media Platforms as Online Civil Courts (November 22, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3969360 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3969360

Catalina Goanta (Contact Author)

Utrecht University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Janskerkhof 3
Utrecht, 3512 BK

Pietro Ortolani

Radboud University ( email )

Montessorilaan 10

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