Studying the Political Economy of Digital Platforms’ Regulation in Times of Pandemic

By Charilaos Papaevangelou, ESR at the Université de Toulouse III, Paul Sabatier

While the Covid-19 crisis has severely affected almost every aspect of our lives, it has made blatantly clear just how relevant our work is. As I wrote in a blog post last May, online platforms saw the crisis as an opportunity to regain a lost legitimacy, something which I named “redemptive solutionism,” echoing the solutionist theory of Evgeny Morozov. With the coronavirus pandemic, social media networks have been under pressure to combat misinformation. In addition, we had some important developments in the regulatory arena. First, the adoption of the infamous “Lutte contre la haine sur internet” (or “Loi Avia” named after LREM’s deputy Laëtitia Avia), which was voted on May 13[1]. The bill has been heavily criticised as a danger to freedom of expression by many civil groups, experts, and the EU Commission[2]. Second, in Germany, the “NetzDG” law was amended in April, demanding platforms to be explicit about moderation decisions[3], after criticism for lack of transparency. Third, in early June, the EU Commission launched its open consultation regarding its new Digital Services Act, which is estimated to be voted until the end of 2020, effectively reforming its 20 years-long E-Commerce Directive.

It seems that the discussion around the Internet governance and online platforms’ regulation will be particularly crucial in the next years. Apart from these recent developments, during the period between JOLT’s last training event in Paris and now, I have made significant progress on my work, specifically regarding my dissertation’s theoretical framework and methodological approach. As regards the former, I have done a systematic literature review of several journal articles and handbooks to concretise the way in which I am using the concept of regulation. Additionally, I have decided to inform my framework with the concept of governance, which I interpret as the attribute of authority and power. Put simply, I define regulation as the mechanism for enforcing, preserving and/or expanding governance. So, regulation, in every form (self-regulation, co-regulation, state regulation) is the extension of power of each actor in a multi-stakeholder regime.

Finally, concerning methodology, thanks to April’s Data Collection report, I reflected on the overall strategy of my project and decided on the tools appropriate to analyse relevant textual corpora. Specifically, I will be utilising “IRaMuTeQ,” a textual analysis software developed by Pierre Ratinaud, a Lecturer at “LERASS”[4], which is part of the University of Toulouse III – Paul Sabatier I am currently situated. Furthermore, the textual analysis will be supplemented with the use of the free and open-source software “Voyant Tools,” namely for its topic modelling feature, allowing the examination of a vast number of documents from a bird’s-eye view. Therefore, the combination of the above tools will inform the research project with both a distant (observing and comparing the documents at large) and close reading (examining words in their textual context) of the corpus.

Concluding, during the lockdown period, I worked on an important aspect of academic research: societal valorisation. To this end, I launched a personal website, aiming to publish informative material stemming from my work in accessible language to enhance the diffusion of knowledge.




[4] Laboratoire d’Etudes et de Recherches Appliquées en Sciences Sociales

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This project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska Curie grant agreement No 765140