Systematic multistakeholder governance in response to the plight of digital platforms

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RE16/Hanyu Zhang(510566106)/Tutor:Chika Anyanwu

Topic:Bullying, harassment, violent content, hate, porn and other problematic content circulates on digital platforms. Who should be responsible for stoping the spread of this content and how?

In contemporary times, the exponential growth of Internet technology has expanded the influence of digital platforms with the emergence of unsophisticated and ingenious applications. However, the networked society has accelerated the spread of negative information such as falsehood and hatred, which requires an in-depth understanding of digital platform trends and relevant issues. Therefore, multistakeholder governance of the Internet is the ideal method. It needs to pool the efforts of different actors, such as the government, platforms, and audiences, to achieve systematic governance of the ethics of digital platforms. 

Digital platforms

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A digital platform is a media aggregator that facilitates the operation of various applications in its own online domain, thereby enhancing the user’s experience. Globally, it enables the linking of information resources to web users in the form of a data broker. Compared to traditional portals, digital platforms possess superior media linking capabilities, greater scope, and better efficiency. Jacoby(2018) reveals that American society has become anti-intellectual and anti-rational in both the traditional and new media eras, especially in the age of digital communication. While people have become more connected to each other, they have lost the opportunity for deeper dialogue and have become accustomed to “speaking with their thumbs” while diminishing their ability to use their reflective brains to interact. Moreover, digital platforms have deepened the ideological influence of online media on human beings and weakened the degree of control on human self-consciousness. Consequently, emerging digital platform formations are typically associated with malicious incidents like cyberbullying and hate propaganda.

  • Cyberbullying

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The despicable act of bullying others on the internet based on differences of opinion or a feeling of superiority is a universal phenomenon, which primarily stems from the negligible barrier of entry. Celebrities such as Selena Gomez had experienced the body-shamed after the gaining weight. (IANS, 2019) Moreover, this is not an isolated incident—the general public frequently vilifies internet celebrities regardless of their opinion owing to a narrow-minded perception.

“SelenaGomez says being body-shamed after gaining weight “ by IANS is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.Retrieved from:
  • Hate and conspiracy websites

“QAnon | ADL BackGrounder” by Anti-Defamation League. All rights reserved. Retrieved from

Facebook is notorious for serving as a medium for inciting hatred and targeting every demographic. Notable examples include:

QAnon(2020): Paige believes that a faction of pedophiles controls the governments of the world.

Neo-Confederate Groups: Such webpages are dedicated to celebrating the Confederacy and its controversial battle flag. While certain groups emphasize patriotic themes such as personal history, others embody racial controversy.

In theory, these groups actively propagate hate speech and demean other groups through online mediums. Specifically, their disparaging comments and acts of spreading misinformation adversely affect a healthy online environment. Furthermore, such users leverage the power of anonymity to brazenly act out their ill intentions of hurting others.

Designated responsibility to regulate digital platforms

Governance practices are inherent to the conventional operations of platforms, as their generated values exist beyond the scope of the company. Also, government regimes should be tasked with coordinating with multiple entities in a multilateral marketplace, dictating the value propositions of various parties (e.g., content publishers, advertisers, and website users), and assessing potential conflicts during collaborative efforts.

Based on the ‘early right fusion’ of the Internet around ‘free minds and free markets’ (‘Californian Ideology ‘), ‘liberal policies’ lack relevance in their current state.(Barbrook & Cameron, 1995) In actuality, In the framework of modern social media platforms, Internet-centric measures like creating a limited liability company, leveraging safe harbors, temporary shutdown of search engines, and periodic maintenance of Internet service providers (ISPs) may prove to be unfeasible. (MacKinnon et al, 2014) The challenges that technology represents for our societies must be addressed in a multi-stakeholder manner. Accordingly, The Internet Society (ISOC) has introduced the concept of multistakeholder governance, thereby uniting various institutions and people in a transparent and collaborative manner. 

Actors include:

– Technologists, engineers, architects, creatives, and relevant firms

– Global and local civil society organisations

– Operators, engineers, and vendors (companies)

– Internet users, educators, and capacity-builders

– Policymakers and regulators

– National and international

Governance responses to the problem of online digital platforms

  • Establish a multistakeholder governance coalition

A single nation-state is incapable of transforming the Internet. As such, expertise must originate from multiple sources (companies, governments, civil society, scientists, etc.,) to reinforce the decision-making process. (Bray and Cerf, 2020, p. 416) However, the apparent concentration of power upheld by tech giants stemming from techlash and policy reforms has reiterated the demand for greater accountability by platforms and action against digital monopolies. The Internet architecture has trivialised the timely resolution of emerging challenges. Notably, the permanence, mobility, anonymity, and cross-jurisdictional nature of online content, the diversity of platform architectures, and the pluralistic internet governance systems involving multistakeholder governance act as major hurdles. Despite overwhelming obstacles, resolute groups and individuals are retaliating by adopting preventive measures to showcase their resilience.

  • Government-led building regulations legislation

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The government needs to strengthen its control over social media through both legal administration and commercial regulation. Theoretically, a proper method of understanding diverse governance models is through the platform governance triangle, developed by Mr. Robert Gorwa(2019). The negative effects of online information and public opinion can have an impact on public administration and public policy, endangering social stability and affecting the credibility of governments. Some countries have even used social media to incite ‘colour revolutions’, endangering the regimes of other countries. An important way to address this is through direct legal recourse by the government. For example, Germany’s Netz DG (Böttcher, 2018) requires mandatory takedowns of content inciting racial hatred; European countries place great importance on privacy and data protection and have introduced the right to erasure; the US has introduced a clean net initiative to prevent citizens from being affected by a polluted information environment. In the context of legal recourse, limited power upheld by governments over the online digital space is a major obstacle. Therefore, effective responses to cyber-related issues can’t be limited to national legal recourse.

  • Reinforcing the ethical responsibility of the platform

Reinforcing ethical responsibility on digital platforms and improving their degree of transparency is necessary. According to Professor Balkin(2017), online service providers are perceived as “information fiduciaries”. Subsequently, he proposed that stringent regulations should be imposed on such parties owing to their unrestricted access to sensitive end user data. For example, coding a “lie detection” mechanism into social media platforms to enable users to assess the credibility of relevant posts and maintain a responsible attitude. As a result, the dissemination of factual data through the evolving algorithm mitigates adverse effects such as information cocooning and social polarization. As social media platforms aren’t geographically restricted, their conformity to their own terms of service is merely speculative. Generally, measures taken by social media platforms range from removing content to restricting or banning their activities on the platform. Additionally, community standards are constantly evolving to the point of reliance on automated vetting methods compared to outdated manual procedures. In view of these challenges, a multi-stakeholder movement has called for greater transparency from Internet firms to improve accountability. Additionally, companies have begun to implement steps to enhance transparency. In 2020, Access Now indexed over 70 companies that regularly publish transparency reports.(Oribhabor& Micek, 2020)

  • Inculcate media and information literacy and digital skills through educational programs

Despite varying measures, education-based initiatives are vitally important as they emphasize long-term prevention. In particular, educational intervention creates awareness pertaining to the consequences of harmful online behaviour and tackling the root cause. In accordance with sociologist Barry Wellman’s book, “Networked :The New Social Operating System” (2012), he postulates the novel concept of “networked individualism”. Intrinsically, his proposed notion represents the dynamic nature of human interactions owing to technological advancements. Based on the aforementioned concept, inherent social hierarchy is illustrated by means of social networks. As a result, on a global scale, media and information literacy programmes have been developed for web users to critically perceive online content, curb the incitement of hatred, and identify false information. Similarly, counter-speech efforts have been undertaken to combat hate speech through active counter-propaganda, such as the 2017 Facebook-led Online Civil Courage Initiative (OCCI) in Germany, the UK, and France. Furthermore, other civil society initiatives actively advocate for revolutionary changes to online platforms.

Digital technologies are creating technological networks that are more intimate with people, and platforms are becoming a new kind of power, offering all kinds of new possibilities, but also challenging traditional notions of ethics and morality. Therefore, through multistakeholder governance, governments legislate to reduce hurtful and anti-intellectual speech; digital platforms increase the transparency of their algorithms to prevent new online elites from controlling public opinion, and educate citizens on media literacy to maintain a more secure online public sphere. The ethical construction of digital information platforms should be a shared responsibility of governments, platform companies, and citizens.



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IANS. [@ians_india]. (2019, November 12). #SelenaGomez says being body-shamed after gaining #weight really messed her up. In an episode of her friend #RaquelleStevens’ video podcast [Image attached] [Tweet]. Twitter.

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