Science, Technology, and Society Seminar: STS Circle at Harvard (Zoom)


Monday, November 15, 2021, 12:15pm to 2:00pm


Online Only

"A Genealogy of Digital Platform Regulation"

Attend this event via Zoom (advance registration required)

Elettra Bietti, SJD Candidate, Harvard Law School.


Emily Neill

Co-sponsored by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

This event is online only. Please click the "Read More" link for full instructions on how to attend this seminar.


Sheila JasanoffFaculty Associate. Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School.

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Please note: This event requires registration in advance in order to receive the meeting link and password.


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.