The rise of platforms: individual, institutional, and governance questions for communication research

The rise of platforms: individual, institutional, and governance questions for communication research

2019 ICA post-conference, Wednesday May 29, George Washington University

Organizers: Erika Franklin Fowler, Sarah Anne Ganter, Natali Helberger, Dave Karpf, Daniel Kreiss, Shannon McGregor, and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Platform companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter are increasingly central to most forms of mediated communication around the world and therefore to most of the individual, institutional, and governance questions with which communication research deals.

These companies – and their counterparts elsewhere like Alibaba and Tencent in mainland China and Yandex and VKontakte in Russia – have built large and diverse user bases around their global digital platforms that enable different types of interactions and content. In the process, in countries throughout the world these platforms host much public and commercial information, organize attention and access to it, create new formats for it, and collect and control data about this information and users. In doing so, these platforms shape the incentive structures around investments in public communication (including by news media, political campaigns, and social movements) as well as commercial communication (including much advertising, public relations, and entertainment) and represent governments and media regulators with new challenges.

By becoming a part (sometimes large, sometimes small) of what almost everybody does with media almost everywhere in the world, these platforms increasingly play an important role in everything from journalism and political communication to health and popular communication. While these platforms and their algorithms, policies, content, and organization are the subject of a growing volume of impressive scholarship in various communication subfields, there is a risk that substantive, theoretical, and methodological discussions around the rise of platforms and what they mean are fragmented as a consequence of scholarly specialization and that important insights from one field are overlooked elsewhere. This is of critical importance as these platforms continue to expand their outsized influence on political, economic, and social processes around the world.

The purpose of this post-conference is to bring together a diverse international group of scholars from a range of different ICA divisions and interest groups to advance our shared understanding of the societal, institutional, and governance implications of the rise of platforms. This post-conference will identify the questions platforms present to communication research and the challenges of studying them, and link discussions to existing debates in the field. In addition to bridging subfield divides, this post-conference seeks to bring researchers from different geographic areas together to provide comparative analyses of platforms across economic, political, and social contexts.

Post-conference schedule

8:30-9:00am – Welcome and Breakfast

9:00am-10:30am – Concurrent Panels One and Two

Internal Platform Governance (Panel 1)

Chair: Sarah Ganter

Amélie Pia Heldt. The Digital Agora – Utopia or Legal Reality?

Robyn Caplan. Platform or Podium? Tiered Structures Within Private Platform Governance

Anna Reepschlager and Elizabeth Dubos. A Cross-National Look at Opaque Policies on Harassment Across Social Media Platforms

External Platform Governance (Panel 2)

Chair: Shannon McGregor

Jens Pohlmann. A Comparative Analysis Platform for the Internet Policy Discourse in Germany and the United States

Katherine Haenschen & Jordan Wolf. Disclaiming Responsibility: How Platforms Deadlocked the FEC’s Efforts to Regulate Digital Political Advertising

Stefanie Fuchsloch, Tobias Gostomzyk, Jan Rensinghoff. Disinformation and Fake News on Social Platforms—Self-Regulation or Law? A Comparison of the EU and German Regulation Approaches

10:45-12:15pm –  Concurrent Panels Three and Four

User Governance and Uptake of Platforms (Panel 3)

Chair: Daniel Kreiss

Lucas Wright. Governing with the AutoModerator Bot: A Mixed Methods Study of Algorithmic Moderation on Reddit

Karoline Andrea Ihlebæk, Bente Kalsnes. Hiding hate speech – a study of political parties’ use of Facebook’s toolbox for comment moderation

Samantha McDonald. Congressional Staff Perspectives on the Value of Social Media

Platforms and Politics (Panel 4)

Chair: Erika Franklin Fowler

Fenwick McKelvey. Cranks, Clickbait and Cons: On the Acceptable Use of Political Engagement Platforms

Paddy Leerssen, Jef Ausloos, Brahim Zarouali, Claes de Vreese: The role of online ad archives in platform governance: why advertisers should have nothing to hide

Jessica Baldwin-Philippi. Data campaigning and platform-provided analytics

12:30-1:30pm – Lunch Panel

Platform Perspectives: The Role of Platforms in Society

Participants TBD

2:00-3:30pm – Panel Five

The Political Economy of Platforms (Panel 5)

Chair: Rasmus Kleis Nielsen

Heidi Tworek. The Platforms and Their Predecessors: How History Helps Us to Understand Their Rise

Carl-Gustav Lindén, Katja Lehtisaari, Mikko Villi, Mikko Grönlund. Helping Hand? It’s Google’s World of Media and Journalism Now

Katherine Reilly. Dynamics of Platform Economy Regulation: Comparative analysis of patterns of industry disruption and regulatory reform in 4 countries in Latin America

3:45-4:45 pm – Closing Discussions on the Trajectory of the Research Community

Facilitators: Natali Helberger and Dave Karpf


Financial Sponsors

Social Science Research Council Media & Democracy Program

Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford

School of Media and Journalism, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

School of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University

Institute for Information Law (IViR), University of Amsterdam


ICA Division Sponsors

Journalism Studies Division

Communication Law and Policy Division

Political Communication Division