ONE OF THESE THINGS_IS_LIKE THE OTHERS: WHAT BIG TECH PLATFORMS CAN LEARN FROM LIBRARIES, BOOKSTORES, AND SUPERMARKETS
Keywords:platform governance, information intermediaries, libraries, bookstores
Large technology platforms are facing mounting public pressure to be more transparent and proactive about their approach to content moderation. Existing research on platform governance often focuses on the ways in which the platforms are unprecedented (e.g., their size, scale, and use of algorithmic systems to sort and filter information), and thus contend with unique challenges as they attempt to manage their outsize role in shaping the contemporary public sphere. However, their distinctive features notwithstanding, platforms are currently grappling with questions that have long been fundamental to democracies with heavily marketized media systems. How can information intermediaries best operate in the public interest? Can for-profit platforms reconcile their private interests with the public good? Through what kinds of organizational infrastructures and shared value systems might this reconciliation be accomplished? Using a comparative case study approach, this paper addresses these questions by examining institutions that have historically inhabited a structural position in the public information landscape that is similar to large technology platforms. Specifically, we look at how bookstores, libraries, and supermarkets decide what to stock on their shelves and magazine racks, and how they respond when controversies arise. The study maps several considerations each of these intermediaries have faced in order to develop a typology of approaches to information curation and moderation. By examining a variety of oft-overlooked approaches to information curation and outlining their respective benefits and drawbacks, we hope to contribute a historical and conceptual perspective to scholarly and industry conversations about platform governance.