Coronavirus and the frailness of platform governance
Magalhães, J. C., Katzenbach, C.
Major health crises, historian David S. Jones recently reminded us “put pressure on the societies they strike”. And this strain, he points out, “makes visible latent structures that might not otherwise be evident”. Something similar is happening now. As the novel coronavirus pandemic quickly morphs into an unprecedented global calamity, issues that not long ago seemed acceptable, fashionable, and even inescapable - such as fiscal austerity and science-scepticism, are increasingly called into question. Unsurprisingly in an era dominated in many ways by ‘Big Tech’, the pandemic has also helped to foreground how contestable – and, we argue, utterly frail – platform governance is. By this expression we mean the regimes of rules, patterned practices and algorithmic systems whereby companies govern who can see what in their digital platforms.While all eyes are on public health, the larger economic wellbeing and other emergencies, platform governance is far from being superfluous. In a moment where we all heavily depend on digital services to receive and impart news to make sense of the current situation, the way companies such as Facebook and YouTube manage the content on their platforms play an obvious role in how the very pandemic evolves. More than influencing the crisis, though, these services have already been changed by it.