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Accepted Paper:

Platforms on trial. Mapping the Facebook Files/Papers controversy  
Matias Valderrama Barragán (University of Warwick)

Short abstract:

This research examines the controversy surrounding the 2021 Facebook Files/Papers leak, analysing how different publics and issues were more prominent in making the disclosures public across multiple media settings, shedding light on the struggles to hold platforms accountable in digital societies.

Long abstract:

Big Tech has been involved in numerous platform controversies in recent years. Data leaks, whistleblowers, and social experiments have raised alarms about platforms dubbed toxic and unaccountable power and, more broadly, about the increasing crisis of accountability in digital societies (Khan, 2018; Marres, 2021; Nissenbaum, 1996). In the intersection of digital sociology, media studies, and STS, this research explores how different publics across journalism, activism, politics, and research make and unmake connections between social media platforms and societal harms. The study focuses on mapping a specific platform controversy: the Facebook Files/Papers, a leak in 2021 of internal documents from Meta by the former employee Frances Haugen. The disclosures exposed what Meta knew about the consequences of its interface designs, data, and algorithms (Hendrix, 2021; Horwitz, 2021). By combining digital and ethnographic methods, I am following the disclosures across different media settings to analyse how the disclosures were made public and which publics and issues gained prominence during the controversy. As I will show, critics promoted a ‘strategic causalism’ to solidify the connection between Meta platforms and specific societal harms, countered by Meta's 'strategic ambiguity' to undermine such claims. This production of ambiguity would be crucial for platforms' power and the intended dispersion of their responsibility. Moreover, some actors and harms became more salient than others in a very US and EU-centric theatre of accountability. This will allow us to understand better the translations and asymmetries that occur when platforms are put on trial.

Traditional Open Panel P142
Datafied publics
  Session 2 Thursday 18 July, 2024, -