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The Emergence of Platform Regulation in the UK

By 26 January 2023No Comments

The UK’s Online Safety Bill has finally arrived in the Lords.

How did these online rules expand to 262 pages of impenetrable legislation, conflicted between obligations to prevent harm, freedom of expression and due process?

Our paper “The Emergence of Platform Regulation in the UK: An empirical-legal study” (co-authored by Martin Kretschmer, Ula Furgał and Philip Schlesinger) has some of the answers. The paper is now published in a Special Issue “Democracy in Flux – Order, Dynamics and Voices in Digital Public Spheres” of the Weizenbaum Journal of the Digital Society. Various versions of the paper have been in circulation since we launched CREATe’s Platform Regulation project at the BIICL in London in 2020, and wrote a discussion paper and policy briefing for the AHRC Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre (PEC) in 2021.

Below follows a Twitter thread released today (we are still considering our ‘federated’ identity).

1/The UK’s Online Safety Bill has finally arrived in the Lords. https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3137
How did these online rules expand to 262 pages of impenetrable legislation, conflicted between obligations to prevent harm, freedom of expression and due process? A Thread.

2/ Kretschmer, Furgał and Schlesinger’s new article in the Weizenbaum Journal of the Digital Society explains the emergence of UK style platform regulation, using empirical-legal content analysis under the (Bourdieu) concept of a regulatory field. https://ojs.weizenbaum-institut.de/index.php/wjds/article/view/2_2_4

3/ “We offer a diagnosis how platforms emerged as a regulatory object of a new kind from the beginning of the current regulatory cycle in 2018; by examining eight official reports issued by the government, parliamentary committees and regulatory agencies.”

4/ “We (a) code over 80 distinct online harms to which regulation is being asked to respond; we (b) identify eight domains of law (data protection and privacy, competition, education, media and broadcasting, consumer protection, tax law and financial regulation, intellectual property law and security law);”

5/ “We (c) analyse nine agencies for their statutory and accountability status in law, and identify their centrality in the regulatory network;”

6/ “We (d) assess their regulatory powers (advisory, investigatory, enforcement); and the regulatory toolbox of potential measures ascribed to agencies; we (e) quantify the number of mentions platform companies received in the reports.”

7/ “We find that Ofcom (communications) and CMA (competition) are the most central actors in the regulatory field, with the Information Commissioner (data) following close.”

8/ “We find that security and terrorism related interventions remain particularly murky, and hard to capture with a socio-legal analysis of public documents.”

9/ “We find that the political focus is on a handful of US multinational companies. Just two companies, Google and Facebook, account for three quarters of references. Six Chinese firms are mentioned, and two EU firms. No UK headquartered companies appear.”

10/ “We find that the regulatory agenda is driven by an ever wider list of harms, with child protection, security and information concerns surfacing in many different forms, but also an amorphous disquiet with lawful but socially undesirable activities.”

11/ “We suggest that this ‘moral panic’ leaves an epistemic blind spot on the process questions that should be at the core of rule governed regulation: how to monitor, trigger, remove, prevent.”

12/ “Filtering technologies, processes of notification, redress mechanisms, transparency and audit requirements need to be understood, as online platform appear to acquire authority to exercise state powers.”

13/ An earlier version was written for the AHRC Creative Industries Policy & Evidence Centre (PEC).
https://pec.ac.uk/policy-briefings/the-regulation-of-online-platforms-mapping-an-emergent-regulatory-field

Further publications on Platform Regulation from CREATe authors: