Lab Platform Governance, Media and Technology (PGMT)

Session 10: Robert Gorwa: Qualitative Methods for Regulatory Episodes: Examining Policy Development in the Context of Global Platform Regulation

Time and Date: June 18, 2024, 3-4 pm (CET)

The rules governing online expression, behaviour, and interaction created by large multinational technology firms – popularly termed ‘content moderation,’ ‘platform governance,’ or ‘trust and safety’ – have increasingly become the target of government regulatory efforts seeking to shape them. How might we study these government efforts, and understand the political factors underpinning them in a comparative context?

This talk will explore the strategy that I developed in the research for my new book, The Politics of Platform Regulation: How Governments Shape Online Content Moderation (OUP, 2024). The talk will present the idea of ‘regulatory episodes,’ moments of political contestation that shape the development and implementation of new policy initiatives. It will then outline how one can, through process tracing and related techniques from the policy studies literature, develop granular case studies of platform regulation’s emergence, drawing on qualitative data like stakeholder interviews and internal deliberative policy documents obtained from government actors via freedom of information requests. Providing a summary of some of the insights gleaned through those techniques, the talk will also reflexively engage with some of the advantages, limitations, and future possibilities for this kind of qualitative policy research.

Note: a pdf of the book is available open access here.

Robert Gorwa is a postdoctoral researcher at the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB). He studies the politics of technology policymaking, with a special interest in platform governance and emerging socio-technical regulatory arrangements in the digital economy. He received his doctorate from the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford, and currently also holds non-resident fellowships at the Center for Democracy and Technology in DC and the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo.

About the Series 

This talk is part of the series Behind the Scenes – Conversations on Empirical Platform Governance Research that invites scholars in this field to share their experiences and views, fostering  community exchange about how we can study platform governance in this challenging context. It is hosted by the Lab “Platform Governance, Media, and Technology” (PGMT) at the Centre for Media, Communication and Information Research (ZeMKI), University of Bremen, and the Centre for Media and Journalism Studies, University of Groningen.


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