The Networked Leviathan

By Paul Gowder

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For Democratic Platforms

We all—users, businesses, governments, and the general public—expect internet platform companies, like Meta, Alphabet, and Amazon to govern their users. Without platform governance, we all experience disasters like foreign election interference, vaccine misinformation, counterfeiting, and even genocide.

Unfortunately, the platform companies have failed. To this day, despite the lessons from years of missteps and billions of dollars of spending in enterprises like content moderation, the major internet companies have been unable to prevent their platforms from hosting misinformation, scams, incitement, and hate. Nobody (except the perpetrators) wants this result. The failures of platform companies result not from mailce, but from companies' inability to manage the complexity of their userbases and products and of their own incentives under the eyes of conflicting internal and external constituencies.

The research of scholars in political science and other academic disciplines can help companies and governments progress on the problem of platform governance. Political scientists, constitutional theorists, and other scholars of governance have been studying the efforts of states to govern under complexity for centuries under theoretical rubrics like the problem of knowledge and incentive-compatible institutional design. The Networked Leviathan argues that this hard-won knowledge about states also applies to platforms. The insights from the research in political science and allied disciplines leads inexorably to the conclusion that governments and companies should collaborate to build democratic institutions for platform governance. By permitting ordinary people from across the world to participate in the governance enterprise, we allow those with the knowledge critical to making and applying platform rules to deploy that knowledge where it can make an impact. Democratic governance also allows companies to recruit third parties to help manage their own capacity to make and stick to decisions.

The Networked Leviathan offers a case and a roadmap for democratizing the platforms.

Katie Harbath, Founder and CEO, Anchor Change: "Platform governance is hard. With The Networked Leviathan, Gowder brings a fresh perspective on how companies can tackle difficult questions around content moderation in a way that engages more people around the world. It’s a must read for anyone working in tech."

Sahar Massachi, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Integrity Institute: "Let's be honest. Academic books tend to be dry, unnecessarily long, and hard to slog through. We're lucky, but should not be surprised, that Paul's book heartily bucks that norm. No one else can weave philosophical theories of governance and virtue, practical technical understanding of platforms, and political science into such a compelling package. Bravo!"

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