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A Power Analysis of Platforms: Expression, Equitable Governance, and Participation

Overview

Author: Jasmine McNealy (University of Florida)

Justice Thomas acknowledged the extreme concentrations of power in social media organizations in the recent US Supreme Court case Biden v. Knight First Amendment Institute in which the Court determined that a case — meant to decide whether the blocking of critics of the presidential administration from a Twitter account used by that administration for official business, was unconstitutional — was no longer worthy of discussion. Justice Thomas was especially concerned that there seemed to be no specific regulatory framework that could mitigate the enormous consequences of the concentration of power in tech organizations as it related to expression and governance. He noted that we could look to public accommodation and common carriage laws for routes toward regulation. But both areas of law fall short of being either applicable or resolving tech-specific issues. There must be a new route for more adequately regulating tech organizations. This essay recommends using a power analysis in creating policy for tech firms, and in brief, offers a way of examining platform power dynamics and how we should proceed in regulating interactions in order to mitigate the consequences of unchecked power on expression, governance, and participation.

Data: Power or Pawn? Advancing Equity by Reimagining the Consumer-Data Relationship

Overview

Author: Amina Kirk and Mae Watson Grote (Change Machine)

Tech’s ability to accumulate and wield power is unquestionable. The dominance of the Big Four tech firms — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google — has commoditized consumer data in unprecedented ways, subjecting all of our online activity to search, analysis, and constraint. These dynamics not only perpetuate existing forces, making products and payments accessible to white consumers who are ready adopters, but intentionally exploit and prey upon low-to-moderate income consumers with product placement and ads for targeted services such as payday loans. Without reform, we run the risk of exacerbating inequities — the racism and sexism so hardwired in our society — leading to even further financial insecurity. We must hold all of fintech accountable to wield its power in ways that challenge and change the policies, practices, and beliefs that keep Black and Brown women navigating financial insecurity from achieving their financial goals, much less acquiring or leveraging wealth for economic mobility. We must reform the financial system to intentionally and surgically reverse digital redlining one practice at a time.

The People vs. the Algorithmic State: How Government Is Aiding Big Tech’s Extractivist Agenda, and What We Can Do About It

Overview

Author: Ulises Ali Mejias (State University of New York at Oswego)

This paper focuses on forms of discrimination, including racism, that are produced and replicated when the state uses biased algorithms, and when the state fails to regulate corporations that use biased algorithms. The paper specifically asks what happens when the state—whose purpose is to guarantee the rights of citizens—becomes a political and business partner with corporations whose profit model hinges on exploitative data-driven advertising, platform services, and gig work. The framework of “data colonialism” (Couldry and Mejias 2019) is used to examine the historical roots of these new forms of extractivism. Suggestions are reviewed for how the public can help prevent the deployment of discriminatory algorithms, and hold states and corporations accountable when this happens.

Technology, Fissuring, and Race

Overview

Author: Veena Dubal (University of California, Hastings College of the Law)

Technology platforms may be understood as the symbolic “cotton mill” in today’s rapidly growing digital economy. Just as the capital-intensive nature of unregulated factory production amidst the industrial revolution expropriated and exploited human labor, today’s platforms—with their venture capital-facilitated business models, monopoly and monopsony-guided ideologies, and resistance to regulation—create and rely upon profoundly immoral economies of work. In this article, I argue that firm fissuring practices across the tech economy have created a two-tier system of workers. This two-tiered system has undermined possibilities of labor intervention in the broader, racialized injustices produced through and with digital capitalism. In the face of this, the most vulnerable, racial minority, and immigrant workers—often relegated to temporary labor or independent contracting—have organized to claim both labor power and to produce friction in the production of racially unjust automation technologies.

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