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Workshop: Governance and Social Media

At the heart of the technological innovations and the advanced forms of social interaction, there are two central features: Firstly, the articulation of the social graph and, secondly, lower barriers for user generated content and social production. However, there is still lack of knowledge about the system of norms, rules, laws and factual restrictions of similar effect that guide and restrain the activities on social media – i.e. social media governance.

The draft paper
The workshop was based on a draft paper prepared for the Symposium summarizing research activities initiated by Wolfgang Schulz, Jan-Hinrik Schmidt (both Hans-Bredow-Institut for Media Research, Hamburg), Karl-Heinz Ladeur (University of Hamburg, Faculty of Law), Niva Elkin-Koren, Tal Zarsky (both University of Haifa, Faculty of Law) and Gustavo S. Mesch (University of Haifa, Department of Sociology). The reflections about “Governance in Social Media” presented in the paper have already led to certain research schemes and describe a starting point for future research in this field.

The latest version of the Exploring_Governance-Structures-Paper is available here.

The workshop
According to Prof. Elkin-Koren´s presentation social media is the most significant structure online. Social media becomes more and more important, not only for generating content, but also for organizing (e.g. Facebook-Revolution), which underlines the necessity for research on this phenomena. Because of the different dynamics behind social media, it is necessary to look at governance in the broadest possible way.

Based on the assumption that there is still a lack of knowledge about the system of norms, rules, laws and factual restrictions of similar effect that guide and restrain the activities on social media, the workshop aimed to discuss the state of knowledge and presented an attempt to dwell deeper into the matter.

The relationship between the different players in the field of social media (users, platforms, community and third parties) as well as the mechanisms that are regulating behavior (law, design, social norms and contracts) is – according to the group of researchers mentioned above – the basis for future research on social media. Especially the interaction of the outlined mechanisms leads to further research subjects (e.g. comparing code/design and contract as different types of ordering: do they match?).

Discussion and remarks
The discussion during and afterwards yielded interesting remarks, particularly addressing further suggestions and pointing out challenges for future research:

In reference to social norms – as one of the mechanisms regulating behavior on social media platforms – it was questioned whether it is possible to define social norms in a specific community. Furthermore the question, when a particular value achieves as much acceptance to become a social norm, was seen as an important aspect in this field of research. In this context a more general approach, why people (not only users) accept norms was seen as fruitful.

Further challenges may arise, including the fact that written law and social norms vary by nation, culture or group. Design and contracts, on the other side, may vary by platform and not by regional circumstances which may influence governance structures.