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Setting Rules for 2.7 Billion. A (First) Look into Facebook’s Norm-Making System

Setting Rules for 2.7 Billion. A (First) Look into Facebook’s Norm-Making System

For the first time, Facebook has given scientists direct access to internal decision-making bodies. PD Dr. Matthias C. Kettemann and Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schulz from HBI have investigated how Facebook develops communication rules for its platform. The results of this pilot study have now been published:

Kettemann, Matthias C.; Schulz, Wolfgang: Setting Rules for 2.7 Billion. A (First) Look into Facebook’s Norm-Making System: Results of a Pilot Study. Hamburg: Working Papers of the Hans-Bredow-Institut | Works in Progress # 1, January 2020 (pdf).

Download complete study

They regulate what can be said on the Facebook platform and what has to be deleted, thus influencing how 2.7 billion users can contact each other: Facebook's community standards are an example of the great influence that rules of private actors have on public communication.
 
In a pilot study, researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Media Research have now examined how Facebook develops its rules and which standards and interests are involved in this process. Matthias C. Kettemann, research program director and senior researcher at the HBI, spent a week as an observer at all meetings of the Product Policy Team, which is responsible for developing community standards at Facebook's headquarters in California. In addition, he conducted extensive interviews with the people responsible to explore what motivates the emergence of new rules and their design, and how Facebook seeks to increase the legitimacy of the private set of standards through consultation with social stakeholders
 
"We know a lot about the emergence of laws, but we did not know anything about the development of self-imposed rules, according to which Facebook deletes content, for example," says Kettemann. "For a long time this was a black box," says Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schulz, Director of the HBI, "into which we could now shed some light.”

Results at a Glance

One of the findings of the pilot project is that processes of rule-setting on Facebook are initiated from many different directions, such as by the company's own employees, by user comments (flagging), by press articles, etc. It is a process that is essentially independent of national and international law, but which - as the researchers were able to show - is modelled on the legitimacy-producing effect of state regulation. Even within states, interest groups are consulted when laws are passed.
 
The development of norms on Facebook is now a complex, multi-stage process with clear roles and timelines. "The mechanisms for balancing interests are similar to those in a legislative process," says Schulz. "External stakeholders in the Facebook network have a much more important function than we suspected". For example, the Facebook team responsible for "stakeholder engagement" regularly consults a large network of civil society actors who are asked for input on new moderation rules.

"The results show," says Institute Director Wolfgang Schulz, "how a central social media company designs its communication space. Facebook has constructed an autonomous and private normative order for public communication, which - apart from some anchoring in US law due to Facebook's origin as a US company - is largely conceived without reference to state law or international human rights standards." Of course, if the company operates in Germany, it is also bound by German (and European) law - such as the Network Enforcement Act. At the same time, it is building up an increasingly differentiated, separate and independent set of standards that defines what can be said on the platform.

This is characteristic of online communication, adds Kettemann: "This takes place mainly in private rooms. For too long, society has regarded the private norms of Facebook as those of Edeka or Budni and has not questioned the platform's domestic authority. The fact is that Facebook's rules are part of the product. This can already be seen from the fact that at Facebook, the Product Policy Team is entrusted with rule development: a linguistic reference to the fact that Facebook's "product" is also the socio-communicative space it makes available to the public, including the communicative infrastructure and community standards.
 
Both media law experts emphasize, "Given the impact that private regulatory approaches have on the spheres of communicative freedom of individuals and the social cohesion of society, we need to better understand how these normative processes function. Our research lays the foundation for this."

Outlook

The pilot study is a first step towards researching the development of standards on Facebook. In 2020, Facbook will have an "Oversight Board", a global body of experts on freedom of expression, which will act as a quasi-judicial body to which difficult issues of content deletion or non-deletion can be submitted, but which can also make recommendations to Facebook on the rules to be applied for content moderation. The analysis of the Oversight Board and its impact on Facebook's private communication order will be the next task of the researchers from Hamburg.

Background

The Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut did not receive any money for the project from Facebook, but financed the study itself. Facebook had the right to inspect the study before publication in order to avoid the inadvertent publication of protected information (especially regarding the privacy of users).  No changes to the text were requested by Facebook.

Persons Mainly Responsible / Contacts for the Study

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schulz is Director of the Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI) and Director of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society in Berlin. He is Professor of Public Law at Universität Hamburg and holds the UNESCO Chair for Freedom of Information and Media. He also acts in an advisory capacity, for example for the German government and multi-stakeholder bodies such as the Internet&Jurisdiction Policy Network.

PD Dr. Matthias C. Kettemann, LL.M. (Harvard) is head of the research programme "Regulatory Structures and the Emergence of Rules in Online Spaces" at the HBI and project manager for "International Law of the Net" at the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society in Berlin. In 2019, he became the first researcher in Germany to habilitate on "Internet Law" at the Goethe University Frankfurt. He currently represents the Hengstberger Professorship for Fundamental and Future Issues of the Rule of Law at the University of Heidelberg.

Both media law experts have extensive research experience with regard to intermediaries. Wolfgang Schulz was chair and Matthias C. Kettemann rapporteur of the Council of Europe's Committee of Experts on Internet Intermediaries. Both were heard as experts in the German Bundestag on the issues of the regulation of intermediaries and the Network Enforcement Act.

In this pilot study, they were supported by an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the HBI (from media sociology, anthropology and ethnology).

The HBI has a data protection officer who ensures that data protection standards are observed in all research projects.

Research results are published as Open Access publications in the spirit of the Leibniz Association in order to promote free social access to knowledge.

Setting Rules for 2.7 Billion. A (First) Look into Facebook’s Norm-Making System

For the first time, Facebook has given scientists direct access to internal decision-making bodies. PD Dr. Matthias C. Kettemann and Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schulz from HBI have investigated how Facebook develops communication rules for its platform. The results of this pilot study have now been published:

Kettemann, Matthias C.; Schulz, Wolfgang: Setting Rules for 2.7 Billion. A (First) Look into Facebook’s Norm-Making System: Results of a Pilot Study. Hamburg: Working Papers of the Hans-Bredow-Institut | Works in Progress # 1, January 2020 (pdf).

Download complete study

They regulate what can be said on the Facebook platform and what has to be deleted, thus influencing how 2.7 billion users can contact each other: Facebook's community standards are an example of the great influence that rules of private actors have on public communication.
 
In a pilot study, researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Media Research have now examined how Facebook develops its rules and which standards and interests are involved in this process. Matthias C. Kettemann, research program director and senior researcher at the HBI, spent a week as an observer at all meetings of the Product Policy Team, which is responsible for developing community standards at Facebook's headquarters in California. In addition, he conducted extensive interviews with the people responsible to explore what motivates the emergence of new rules and their design, and how Facebook seeks to increase the legitimacy of the private set of standards through consultation with social stakeholders
 
"We know a lot about the emergence of laws, but we did not know anything about the development of self-imposed rules, according to which Facebook deletes content, for example," says Kettemann. "For a long time this was a black box," says Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schulz, Director of the HBI, "into which we could now shed some light.”

Results at a Glance

One of the findings of the pilot project is that processes of rule-setting on Facebook are initiated from many different directions, such as by the company's own employees, by user comments (flagging), by press articles, etc. It is a process that is essentially independent of national and international law, but which - as the researchers were able to show - is modelled on the legitimacy-producing effect of state regulation. Even within states, interest groups are consulted when laws are passed.
 
The development of norms on Facebook is now a complex, multi-stage process with clear roles and timelines. "The mechanisms for balancing interests are similar to those in a legislative process," says Schulz. "External stakeholders in the Facebook network have a much more important function than we suspected". For example, the Facebook team responsible for "stakeholder engagement" regularly consults a large network of civil society actors who are asked for input on new moderation rules.

"The results show," says Institute Director Wolfgang Schulz, "how a central social media company designs its communication space. Facebook has constructed an autonomous and private normative order for public communication, which - apart from some anchoring in US law due to Facebook's origin as a US company - is largely conceived without reference to state law or international human rights standards." Of course, if the company operates in Germany, it is also bound by German (and European) law - such as the Network Enforcement Act. At the same time, it is building up an increasingly differentiated, separate and independent set of standards that defines what can be said on the platform.

This is characteristic of online communication, adds Kettemann: "This takes place mainly in private rooms. For too long, society has regarded the private norms of Facebook as those of Edeka or Budni and has not questioned the platform's domestic authority. The fact is that Facebook's rules are part of the product. This can already be seen from the fact that at Facebook, the Product Policy Team is entrusted with rule development: a linguistic reference to the fact that Facebook's "product" is also the socio-communicative space it makes available to the public, including the communicative infrastructure and community standards.
 
Both media law experts emphasize, "Given the impact that private regulatory approaches have on the spheres of communicative freedom of individuals and the social cohesion of society, we need to better understand how these normative processes function. Our research lays the foundation for this."

Outlook

The pilot study is a first step towards researching the development of standards on Facebook. In 2020, Facbook will have an "Oversight Board", a global body of experts on freedom of expression, which will act as a quasi-judicial body to which difficult issues of content deletion or non-deletion can be submitted, but which can also make recommendations to Facebook on the rules to be applied for content moderation. The analysis of the Oversight Board and its impact on Facebook's private communication order will be the next task of the researchers from Hamburg.

Background

The Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut did not receive any money for the project from Facebook, but financed the study itself. Facebook had the right to inspect the study before publication in order to avoid the inadvertent publication of protected information (especially regarding the privacy of users).  No changes to the text were requested by Facebook.

Persons Mainly Responsible / Contacts for the Study

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schulz is Director of the Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI) and Director of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society in Berlin. He is Professor of Public Law at Universität Hamburg and holds the UNESCO Chair for Freedom of Information and Media. He also acts in an advisory capacity, for example for the German government and multi-stakeholder bodies such as the Internet&Jurisdiction Policy Network.

PD Dr. Matthias C. Kettemann, LL.M. (Harvard) is head of the research programme "Regulatory Structures and the Emergence of Rules in Online Spaces" at the HBI and project manager for "International Law of the Net" at the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society in Berlin. In 2019, he became the first researcher in Germany to habilitate on "Internet Law" at the Goethe University Frankfurt. He currently represents the Hengstberger Professorship for Fundamental and Future Issues of the Rule of Law at the University of Heidelberg.

Both media law experts have extensive research experience with regard to intermediaries. Wolfgang Schulz was chair and Matthias C. Kettemann rapporteur of the Council of Europe's Committee of Experts on Internet Intermediaries. Both were heard as experts in the German Bundestag on the issues of the regulation of intermediaries and the Network Enforcement Act.

In this pilot study, they were supported by an interdisciplinary team of researchers at the HBI (from media sociology, anthropology and ethnology).

The HBI has a data protection officer who ensures that data protection standards are observed in all research projects.

Research results are published as Open Access publications in the spirit of the Leibniz Association in order to promote free social access to knowledge.

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