Social media platforms have created private communication orders which they rule through terms of service and algorithmic moderation practices. As their impact on public communication and human rights has grown, different models to increase the role of public interests and values in the design of their rules and their practices have, too. But who should speak for both the users and the public at large? Bodies of experts and/or selected user representatives, usually called Platform Councils or Social Media Councils (SMCs), have gained attention as a potential solution.
Examples of Social Media Councils include Meta’s Oversight Board but most platform companies have so far shied away from installing one. This survey of approaches to increasing the quality of platform decision-making and content governance involving more than 30 researchers from all continents brought together in regional “research clinics” makes clear that trade-offs have to be carefully balanced. The larger the council, the less effective is its decision-making, even if its legitimacy might be increased.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, the project demonstrates that procedures matter, that multistakeholderism is a key concept for effective Social Media Councils, and that incorporating technical expertise and promoting inclusivity are important considerations in their design.
As the Digital Services Act becomes effective in 2024, a Social Media Council for Germany’s Digital Services Coordinator (overseeing platforms) can serve as test case and should be closely monitored.
Beyond national councils, there is strong case for a commission focused on ensuring human rights online can be modeled after the Venice Commission and can provide expertise and guidelines on policy questions related to platform governance, particularly those that affect public interests like special treatment for public figures, for mass media and algorithmic diversity. The commission can be staffed by a diverse set of experts from selected organizations and institutions established in the platform governance field.