WiRe: The University of Münster’s Fellowship Programme for Young Female Scientists (more)
Project title: Is there a constitutional justification to regulate social media with the aim to improve pluralism and diversity of the entire media scene? 

In the frames of the WIRE project I  explore the constitutional background behind the latest regulation of online communicative actions through platforms. Online platforms occupy a crucial space between speakers (or providers of content) and audience. They aggregate and organise information, and practically they make content selection decisions on behalf of their users. Platforms decide what should get more publicity and what should get suppressed. My research question is: where should the limits of platforms’ freedom to govern the public discourse lie? Who should be in charge of defining these priorities, or supervising platforms’ content management? 

An interview of 33 questions about womanhood in research and how to juggle it.

1. What motivated you to work in the field of law?

As a lawyer, I found inspiration in discussing why a law is like it is. Why does a society have the rules that they have? Why not others? Could law be better? And, as a purpose, I found interest in nothing else than making life better for as many people as possible, for which aim the protection of human rights seemed to fit the best.

Nov 2022

Research questions: 

1. How to achieve pluralism in the platform sphere? Is there a constitutional justification to regulate social media with the aim to improve pluralism and diversity of the entire media scene?

Social media platforms are regarded as intermediaries. However, they do significantly more than just mediate: they facilitate and govern the content exchange in their platforms. Platform interference into content shows a growing tendency: from mere intermediaries, they take ever bigger roles in the formation of user experience, and content selection. Even though they are still not authoring content, but their activity comes very close to editing. 

With their algorithmic content governance, removing and suspending certain content, while upranking and recommending others, they practically decide about the selection of information that billions of people see day by day. We have statistical and anecdotal evidence about how platforms' operation has influenced democratic processes, and the behavioural choices of people. 

The German Constitutional Court in its decision on the public service broadcasting's financing in 2018 has identified the deficiencies of the online content offer: facts and opinions are not separated; the driving criteria for content promotion is not content quality and diversity, but financial interests of advertising and popularity. According to the German principle of "formation" (Ausgestaltung), it could be legitimate to regulate social media platforms with the aim to create a more plural media environment which is necessary for democratic public discourse. 

Currently, the German Media State Treaty requires online social media platforms to refrain from systematic discrimination when transmitting journalistic-edited content

How is this regulation enforced? Could this be applied more broadly in an international level? 

2. Where should be the limits of social media platforms' freedom to govern the public discourse? 

Should social media platforms have the right to have an editorial line? To decide what should get publicity and what should get suppressed on the basis of values, rather than general lines? 

At a global level they already represent certain particular: those that are expressed in their terms of services (TOS). Their TOS express basic standard values of Western societies. However, they do not (openly) take sides in debates which divide those societies. At the smaller scale of the Euroatlantic geographical value zone, often called the "West", they pretend to be neutral, while there are doubts whether this is really the case. To decide in this, would require information on their content ranking policies, which are currently intransparent. 

In the future, the now finally passed Digital Services Act will require that all platforms provide information about the main parameters of their content ranking algorithms, and very large online platforms or very large online search engines will have to offer options for users to select between these, as well as apply testing of these algorithms. The testing will provide information not only to the platforms themselves, but - due to the supervision mechanisms - also to the authorities: the Digital Services Coordinators, the Commission, and vetted researchers. 

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