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Analysing Governance Structures of Social Media

Analysing Governance Structures of Social Media

Blogs, Wikipedia and social networks have lowered the barriers for publishing user-generated content. This can lead to conflicts if the right to informal self-determination or copyright is infringed upon. Researchers at the Hans-Bredow-Institut have analysed the factors that influence the uploading of a picture to Facebook in a pilot study. The study is carried out in collaboration with researchers from the Humboldt-Institut für Internet und Gesellschaft [The Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society] (HIIG) and colleagues from the University of Haifa. Their focus lies on the interaction between law, contracts, code – in other words, the elements of hard- and software that influence behaviour – as well as social norms. By using data from content analyses and online questionnaires, the researchers found out that “privacy management” works differently in Germany and Israel. Furthermore, the norms that influence Facebook users when managing their privacy settings were able to be determined.

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Project Description

The project concentrates on a heuristic theoretical model for governance factors in social media. In this context, it is important to clarify central concepts, such as “social media”, “norms” or “normativity” and “governance”.

The respective usage practices are framed by four structural dimensions central to the understanding of governance and regulation of social media: law, contracts, code and social norms. Therefore, different surveys were conducted on the behaviour of users when uploading pictures on Facebook. Laws, contracts, and code were examined in a qualified content analysis, while data on social norms was collected using an online survey in both Germany and Israel.

The findings show that the user’s behaviour when uploading pictures is not framed by a governance factor but realised in a normatively structured surrounding that is quite complex. Factors such as ‘law’ and ‘programming’ contain decidedly normative content.

The participating researchers further found significant differences in the social-normative framing of the use of Facebook in Germany. Those findings will be published in the near future. The research concerning “communicative figurations” will be continued. 

The findings have been published in: Oermann M, Lose M, Schmidt J-H, et al. (2014) Approaching Social Media Governance. Available from: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2498552 (accessed 12 October 2014).

Project Information


Duration: 2011-2016

Research programme:
RP2 - Regulatory Structures and the Emergence of Rules in Digital Communication

Third party

Contact person

Senior Researcher

Dr. Markus Oermann

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