21st of August: Professor Lisa Herzog (Technische Universität München)

What would it take to turn Facebook into a democracy? Normative ideals and technical challenges

Time: 14:15–15:45
Lecture room 24, 5th floor, Metsätalo (Unioninkatu 40)

A paper co-authored with Severin Engelmann and Jens Grosklags.

When the relation between “Facebook” and “democracy” is discussed, the question usually is: what impact does Facebook – as it exists today – have on democratic processes? In this paper, we ask a different question: what would it mean to turn Facebook into a democracy? Given that social media platforms are here to stay, and have enormous power, it is worth exploring whether they could be governed democratically by their users. In the first part of the paper, we take inspiration from the recent debate about workplace democracy and apply them to social media platforms. We argue that, in principle, it would be desirable that users can hold those who have power over them democratically accountable. However, such a proposal immediately raises questions of feasibility. Therefore, in the following section we integrate philosophical and technical considerations, focusing on the problem of voter individuation and on mechanisms for securing the integrity of the voting process. We then consider the challenge of expert knowledge, e.g. on different technical and financial options, which voters might need to make informed decisions, but which they usually lack. We conclude by considering whether Facebook could indeed be turned into a democracy, or whether other social media networks, with more democratic governance structures, could come to replace it.