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Research Programme 2 “Regulatory Structures and the Emergence of Rules in Online Spaces”

  • What factors shape the normative structures of digital communication spaces?

  • What processes and practices lead to the emergence of regulative structures?

  • Who are the actors and how are they involved in the rule-making processes?

The central conceptual interest of Research Programme 2 is the social order in digital communication spaces. Therefore, the programme addresses questions concerning regulative structures and rule-making processes from a social science and jurisprudential perspective. Social media and other information intermediaries allow and facilitate participation in public communication, whether as web services or apps, and thus, create new forums and practices of social self-understanding. They facilitate “low-threshold” forms of personal or collaborative public spheres, which shift the boundaries between private and public communication. At the same time, phenomena like “hate speech” or interactions with software, such as algorithms or “social bots”, raise questions about the rules that influence this communicative action but should serve as an orientation.

Such digital communication spaces and their rules can be analysed from different perspectives, which are reflected by the basic research questions of the programme: Which normative aspects of digital communication spaces can be distinguished – and what are the resulting regulatory structures with regard to the practices of the actors (structural perspective)? What processes and practices lead to the creation of rules in digital communication spheres, and what are the interactions between rule-making processes within and outside these spheres (process perspective)? Who are the actors – and in which constellations are they involved in the rule-making and the emergence of regulative structures? How is the power structure constituted, and how are responsibility and legitimacy attributed (stakeholder perspective)?

First findings of the programmatic research show that a differentiation of statutory law, contracts, social norms and technical code as normative factors is analytically strong and empirically profitable. They form complex regulation structures that are not consistent, for example, regarding the typical behaviour of users in social media concerning the differentiation between privacy and the public sphere. Building on the dissolution of the four normative factors, Research Programme 2 will also address questions that are relevant for the further development of Internet Governance. This includes questions on how normative structures emerge in such intermediary organisations, which play a key role in the relevant constellation of actors – for example search engines or social network sites.




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