Online conversations today exist primarily in the realm of social media and blogging platforms; these spaces that we so often think of as the “public sphere” are, however, privately owned. Instead of a decentralized Internet, we now have centralized platforms serving as public spaces: a quasi-public sphere that is subject to both public and private content controls spanning multiple jurisdictions and widely different social mores.
Private companies set their own standards for content regulations, which often means striking a balance between keeping users happy and operating within a viable business model. A fine line also exists in keeping one’s site uncensored by national governments, while still attempting to provide a space for free expression.
As private companies increasingly take on roles in the public sphere, the regulations companies must provide, and the rules users must follow, become increasingly perplex. This discussion will focus on case studies from platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Blogspot, Flickr, and YouTube, and will look at the issues of content regulation, community policing, anonymity, and account deactivations.