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Blayne Haggart: Global platform governance and the internet-governance impossibility theorem

The governance of global platforms, particularly related to content has proven to be a difficult problem. How can we regulate such platforms, in a world of nation-states, in which people and societies have legitimate disagreements over where the limits of free speech should lie.

Economist Dani Rodrik argues that global economic governance is characterized by a trilemma: ‘we cannot have hyperglobalization, democracy, and national self-determination all at once. We can have at most two out of three.’ This trilemma can also be applied to internet governance and global platform governance as a corollary global internet-governance impossibility theorem.

This trilemma, which emphasizes who sets the rules and the degree of democratic accountability they face, offers us a way to evaluate online content-regulation proposals. This article applies this framework to four prominent platform-governance proposals: Facebook’s proposal for a global ‘Oversight Board’; David Kaye’s book Speech Police; the United Kingdom’s Online Harms White Paper; and French President’s Emmanuel Macron’s speech to the 2018 Internet Governance Forum. Of the four, only Macron’s framework offers a pathway to reconciling democratic accountability with the existence of different legitimate views on how content should be regulated.

Read more about Blayne Haggart.