The Shifting Definition of Platform Governance In advance of the next meeting of the International Grand Committee, Robert Gorwa asks: what exactly is platform governance?

In the past few years, several catchwords have emerged to describe the technology policy issues surrounding the intersection of user-generated content, online intermediaries for that content, and the host of legal and political frameworks that shape the relationships between them. Policy makers and journalists working in the area have had to sift through a host of similar-sounding concepts often used interchangeably — three common ones being platform governance, platform responsibility and platform regulation.

It’s not always easy to navigate this rocky and shifting conceptual and theoretical territory. But at this moment, when representatives from more than a dozen countries are about to meet (as the International Grand Committee) it’s worth unpacking the term: what exactly is platform governance?

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The Winner-Takes-All Tech Corporation
The five largest U.S. corporations—Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft—are all tech companies with combined market capitalization of over four trillion dollars. Tech is often called “Big Tech” these days. Furthermore, a small number of corporations have come to dominate the IT industry, as within each industry segment one corporation often dominates.

The phenomenon whereby corporate dominance seems to be entrenched is often referred to as “winner takes all.” In the context of tech, such a phenomenon can be partly explained by two “laws:” Metcalfe's Law asserts that the effect of a communications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users. This makes Facebook, with over 1.5B daily users, dominant as a social network. Kai-Fu Lee's Virtuous Cycle asserts “More data begets more users and profit, which begets more usage and data.” This explains, for example, the dominance of the Google search engine. Metcalfe's Law and the Virtuous Cycle make tech companies into natural monopolies, some claim.

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