Online democratic discourse: the challenges of contextualization and even-handedness

Given that ‘democracy is, above all, a process of forming opinion’ (Hayek), tech companies’ decisions about regulating expression arguably affect citizens’ relationship to a democratic legal system. Typically, online platforms are aware of their importance to public debate. For example, Facebook’s former VP for public policy Richard Allan has stated that ‘People might disagree about the wisdom of a country’s foreign policy or the morality of certain religious teachings, and we want them to be able to debate those issues on Facebook.’ Nonetheless, these companies limit certain types of expression. Facebook, for example, bans ‘hate speech’ from its platform. Controversy persists over line-drawing between allowed and prohibited content by tech companies. This presentation focuses on the challenges of contextualization and even-handedness in online content moderation, and considers these challenges in terms of democratic theory.