Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions That Shape Social Media

Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions That Shape Social Media

by Tarleton Gillespie


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A revealing and gripping investigation into how social media platforms police what we post online—and the large societal impact of these decisions

Most users want their Twitter feed, Facebook page, and YouTube comments to be free of harassment and porn. Whether faced with “fake news” or livestreamed violence, “content moderators”—who censor or promote user‑posted content—have never been more important. This is especially true when the tools that social media platforms use to curb trolling, ban hate speech, and censor pornography can also silence the speech you need to hear.
In this revealing and nuanced exploration, award‑winning sociologist and cultural observer Tarleton Gillespie provides an overview of current social media practices and explains the underlying rationales for how, when, and why these policies are enforced. In doing so, Gillespie highlights that content moderation receives too little public scrutiny even as it is shapes social norms and creates consequences for public discourse, cultural production, and the fabric of society. Based on interviews with content moderators, creators, and consumers, this accessible, timely book is a must‑read for anyone who’s ever clicked “like” or “retweet.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300261431
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 08/24/2021
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Tarleton Gillespie is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research New England and an affiliated associate professor at Cornell University. He cofounded the blog Culture Digitally.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 All Platforms Moderate 1

Chapter 2 The Myth of the Neutral Platform 24

Chapter 3 Community Guidelines, or the Sound of No 45

Chapter 4 Three Imperfect Solutions to the Problem of Scale 74

Chapter 5 The Human Labor of Moderation 111

Chapter 6 Facebook, Breastfeeding, and Living in Suspension 141

Chapter 7 To Remove or to Filter 173

Chapter 8 What Platforms Are, and What They Should Be 197

Notes 215

Bibliography 253

Acknowledgments 275

Index 279

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