In order to study how online platforms decide what can be said online, the Leibniz Institute for Media Research sets up a "Private Ordering Observatory".
In co-operation with researchers from across the world the Observatory will investigate the interaction of private rules and public laws in public communication spaces. Private online communication platforms decide whether presidents can communicate with millions of followers – or whether their accounts are suspended, whether Corona-related disinformation is deleted or conspiracy theories are amplified. The private rules merit close scrutiny and their application deserves careful watching.
Building on decades of research experience on the rules of communication, the Hamburg-based Leibniz Institute for Media Research will host the Private Ordering Observatory (PrObs)
as an academic hub focused on pulling together the growing body of research on the norms and practices employed by private online platforms in ordering internet-enabled speech. “The Observatory”, says HBI’s director Wolfgang Schulz
, “will provide expertise and analysis for policy-makers, practitioners and the public. We are dealing with a new type of norms with massive impact on public communication”. The added value, explains Matthias C. Kettemann
, head of research for private ordering at the HBI, “lies in the overview the Observatory can provide for a quickly changing regulatory field that governments have more recently stepped into - with Germany’s Network Enforcement Act, and the EU’s Digital Services Act”.
The Observatory will build on the expertise developed at the HBI and will cooperate with the Platform Governance Archive
hosted by the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society
The now launched project will also explore the needs in academia and policy-making and work out how a sustainable observatory should look like. Questions affecting online governance indeed abound, as 2021 starts: Can Twitter and Facebook ban a US President? Can Apple decide to throw Parler, a conservative social network, out of its App store for failure to implement a stronger anti-hate speech policy? This is why, as Dr. David Morar
, Data Policy Postdoctoral Fellow at the NYU Steinhardt School and fellow at the HBI and the Observatory’s project manager, says “2021 is exactly the right time to launch the Observatory”.