"A Genealogy of Digital Platform Regulation"
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Elettra Bietti, SJD Candidate, Harvard Law School.
Co-sponsored by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
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Sheila Jasanoff, Faculty Associate. Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School.
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In this paper, I adopt a genealogical methodology to trace the evolution of digital platform regulation efforts and controversies. I connect current efforts to 1990s controversies around the regulation of cyberspace: contestations around the meaning of freedom, law, power and democracy in digital spaces. I isolate three paradigmatic views, or moments, in early Internet regulation discourse: anarcho-libertarian, liberal and critical views. I ask how these three views or moments have influenced and led to a symmetric spectrum of views on how to regulate digital platforms, their power and how to promote freedom and emancipation in digital spaces: libertarian aversion to regulation, liberal perspectives on self-regulation, fiduciary obligations, data protection, competition and utility regulation, and critical accounts of platform governance. The move from an Internet of networks to an Internet of platforms represents a significant shift: from a hybrid decentralized environment where freedom seemed the norm, to a centralized and privately controlled space where the default is enclosure and digital life is dependent on a few commercial actors. I show that 1990s understandings of digital freedom, power and law have been durable and have enabled private power to consolidate opaquely in digital environments.