Social media policy in two dimensions

Heesoo Jang, Bridget Barrett, Shannon C. McGregor

Information, Communication & Society

Digital Infrastructures

(research summary by Felicity Gancedo)

American public opinion on who should be responsible for that governance is complicated. In “Social media policy in two dimensions: understanding the role of anti-establishment beliefs and political ideology in Americans’ attribution of responsibility regarding online content,” Heesoo Jang, Bridget Barrett, and Shannon McGregor answer the question “If partisanship doesn’t explain content governance opinions, then what does?” Jang, Barrett, and McGregor argue that it is political attitudes beyond partisanship, a lack of partisan ties, and lack of political interest in general that shape attitudes towards content governance.

Jang, Barrett, and McGregor investigated three possibilities of the public’s support for who should be doing the governance: the government (content regulation), social media companies (content moderation), or individual users (individual responsibility). They found that those with anti-establishment beliefs (regardless of their partisan leaning) are less likely to support government regulation and social media content moderation, but they are more likely to be in favor of individual responsibility. On the other hand, those who believe in a more active government role, government regulation of content is an appealing option.

The authors discussed how “anti-establishment beliefs are relational, reflecting a deep distrust between an individual and society… Those against government regulation are concerned less with protecting free speech for all and more driven by protecting their rights as an individual.”

The individual responsibility view is the commonly held content governance preference of those who hold anti-establishment beliefs. But belief in individual responsibility assumes that all users have the ability and capability to be ‘responsible’. The individual responsibility model puts “a particular burden on those most affected by harmful content online – women, people of color, and other historically marginalized groups.”

Individual responsibility is not only likely to “exacerbate existing inequalities”, but it is also the least effective model of platform governance, as the scholarly and regulatory discussion is rapidly moving towards a co-governance model with an increase in government regulation and decrease in self-regulation.

As the authors noted:

“The public's perspective on platform regulation holds significance, even though current debates often revolve around think tanks, political actors, journalists, and academics… Any form of platform governance, whomever the responsible actor – whether it be governments, platforms, or individuals themselves – impacts both the formation and content of public opinion.”

Understanding these underlying beliefs that influence how the public prefers to understand content governance provides helpful and needed insight into public opinion and may suggest promising new approaches to defining content governance regulations or approaches.