Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law & Policy Hosts “The Governance & Regulation of Information Platforms”

February 27, 2018 —

In the words of Professor Paul Ohm, the Internet a generation ago seemed full of promise, energy and excitement: a free forum of ideas in which everyone around the world could participate, with a computer and ISP. Today, much about the Web and social media seems broken — or is it? In an era of fake news, Internet stalking, and the rise of online behemoths like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple, experts and consumers alike face tough questions about the governance of information platforms, and their role in our daily lives. 

On February 23, Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law and Policy hosted “The Governance & Regulation of Information Platforms,”— a day-long symposium in which leading academics and policy experts grappled with questions like social polarization, false information, and the role of platforms as gatekeepers determining access and entry to their services online. 

Georgetown Law Professors Julie Cohen and Paul Ohm, Institute Distinguished Fellow Gigi Sohn and Federal Trade Commissioner Terrell McSweeny (L’04) joined a distinguished lineup of other experts. 

Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor opened the day’s events, noting Georgetown’s increasing focus on the intersection of technology and public policy, spearheaded by the creation of the Tech Institute and its related Center on Privacy and Technology. 

In spite of increasing pessimism about the health of online ecosystems, panelists still found some cause for optimism, for example by noting the Internet’s role in democratizing access to information and combatting totalitarianism around the world.

As for tackling the problems of consolidation, fake news, and increasing social polarization that are currently front and center in headline news? “We may not have all the solutions, but we have to start somewhere…” Institute Fellow Gigi Sohn said, presenting a series of proposals for protecting consumer privacy and improving consumers’ control over their data online. “There is a laserlike focus on network neutrality and nothing else. That issue is very important, but there’s a lot more that’s wrong… What’s the Internet we want and how do we get there?” 

“Online platforms are bringing people together and creating powerful new opportunities to share information and transact in the marketplace” said Alexandra Givens, executive director of the Tech Institute. “At the same time, their position as gatekeepers for how consumers access information raises important questions about platforms’ governance, their internal policies, and how regulators view their power. I’m pleased we could convene this important discussion at Georgetown today.”

How we get there

While a lot may be broken, a lot of great minds are working on the problems; the presenters’ papers will be published in the April issue of the Georgetown Law Technology Review.

“I learned a lot; I judge conferences entirely selfishly—that I get something out of it,” Ohm said, after moderating the opening discussion on the governance of platforms with Georgetown Law Professor Julie Cohen, Microsoft’s Tartleton Gillespie, Cornell’s James Grimmelmann, Vrieje Universiteit’s (Brussels) Mireille Hildebrandt and Brooklyn Law School’s Sabeel Rahman. “I’ve already gotten more out of this one panel that I could have asked for.” 


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