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Platform Councils as Tools to Democratize Hybrid Online Orders

Platform Councils as Tools to Democratize Hybrid Online Orders

Hamburg, 04.05.2022. How can platform councils ensure that public interests and democratic values are taken into account when setting and implementing private platform rules? The new co-operation project "Platform://Democracy", comissioned by the Stiftung Mercator, untertakes an inquiry into the meaning and limits of democracy online. The project is carried out by the Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI) with support from the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (Berlin) and the Department of Theory and Future of Law of the University of Innsbruck (Austria).

Who says what we can say online? Can we participate in the decisions on what can be said and what can’t be said in private communication spaces? Who decides on the rules and practices of digital platforms now that societal processes of self-determination are happening to a large part in these private spaces? Democratic principles cannot easily be translated to allow user participation in the design of recommender algorithms and moderation practices.

The project, conceived and led by Prof. Dr. Matthias C. Kettemann, head of research program 2 at HBI, aims to find out how the rules of discourse on platforms can be aligned with public values. Are forums such as platform councils suitable for this purpose?

The participation of citizens in the rules of what can be said has been a central demand and a great achievement of democratic revolutions. But what about our participation in communication-related decisions on digital platforms today, where significant parts of our public discourse have shifted?

 Prof. Kettemann explains: „Platforms themselves have become rule makers, rule enforcers, and judges of their decisions. This has led to tensions in the social discourse fabric. And this is where we want to start.“

David Alders, project manager with Stiftung Mercator’s Centre for Digital Society, adds: „How democracies deal with private platform power is a key question of our time. The German coalition government has announced that it will promote the establishment of platform councils. So far, however, it seems unclear how exactly such councils should look like. The project seeks to change that.”

In this project, the team will analyze and synthesize the institutional frameworks of successful societal responses to hybrid governance regimes. This will be done through a global review of best practice models of integrating public interests back into private (and public) regimes, such as those that have existed in different countries and in varying degrees, for example, in the field of public broadcasting or the protection of minors.

The researchers examine the possible spaces of institutionalized social feedback mechanisms for private power in an interdisciplinary manner and evaluate them normatively by organizing four regional research clinics in Asia/Australia, the Americas, Africa and Europe.

A final high-profile event will undertake a comparative review of regional best practices; a synthesis paper will summarize the project findings.

While the European Digital Service Act DSA contains important new rights for users and obligations for (very large online) platforms, including transparency rules for algorithmic recommender systems and assessment obligations regarding the platforms’ impact on, inter alia, democratic discourse and public health, the new European rules do not offer a convincing perspective on the inclusion of public values in the platform-internal norm-setting and enforcement processes. This is a gap the project aims to fill.

The outcomes will be translated into proposals on the future of platform councils in a dialog with representatives from politics and public administration.

A panel discussion on the project will take place on Tuesday, 7 June, 18.00. It will be streamed live.
The Project
Your can find more information about the project and the team here.
Press officer: Christiane Matzen, c.matzen@leibniz-hbi.de
Scientific lead: Prof. Dr. Matthias C. Kettemann, m.kettemann@leibniz-hbi.de


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