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Governing Communications Between 2,7 Billion Users: A Pilot Study of How Facebook Sets and Legitimizes its Content Moderation Rules

Governance
Policy Analysis
Qualitative
Social Media
Technology
Policy-Making
Matthias Kettemann
Leibniz Institute for Media Research Hans Bredow Institute, Hamburg
Matthias Kettemann
Leibniz Institute for Media Research Hans Bredow Institute, Hamburg

Abstract

This paper presents the outcome of a pilot study into the private order of communication developed by a major social network provider, Facebook Inc., and its policy development process. It is part of a broader research focus on the evolution and application, the legitimacy and contestation of norms in private online communication spaces and their public impact, both in terms of individual rights and societal cohesion. With first-of-a-kind access to the internal processes of policy development (norm production) at Facebook, this paper is able to offer a unique empirical analysis of the development of content-related policies through phases of participant observation, expert interviews, and normative analyses. By combining legal theory with governance and regulation scholarship, this case study makes an important contribution to the understanding of the challenges posed by creating private rules for what are essentially global digital communication spheres. We outline the interactions between rule-making processes within and outside Facebook, Inc., as a popular social media company that sets rules for 2.7 billion users, and the (self)-conception (and production) of legitimacy in norm-development through proceduralization and external stakeholder involvement. Facebook, we argue in this case study, is developing its own normative order, and its norms (known as community standards) are closely intertwined with its platform. The results of the analysis have significant implications for platform regulation at the EU level, as national legal systems need to be more intricately connected to the diversified (and still rapidly diversifying) order(s) of private communication.