Platforms in the Pandemic: How Private Speech Rules Impacted Public Health and Healthy Democratic Discourses

What role do online platforms play in managing and governing information during the pandemic? Chinese platforms cooperated substantially with the governments’ message (and message control) on the coronavirus, but also US-based platforms like Twitter and Facebook that had employed a hands-off approach to certain types of disinformation in the past invested considerably in the tools necessary to govern online disinformation more actively. Facebook, for instance, deleted Facebook events for anti-lockdown demonstrations while Twitter had to rely heavily on automated filtering (with human content governance employees back at home). This contribution will assess these practices, their impact and permanence in light of the author’s research on the important role of intermediaries as normative actors, including their establishment, through terms of service and content governance practices, of a private order of public communication.