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In the series “algorithm regulation“, we discuss the implications of the growing importance of technological algorithms as a means of regulation in the digital realm. 

Google’s recent move to advertise its practice of removing search results that link to material that allegedly infringes copyrights (see “New Layer of Copyright Enforcement: Search“) demonstrates the importance of a web service’s back-end for issues such as free speech or (actual) enforcement levels in certain fields of regulation such as copyright. In his contribution to the “Social Media Reader” (2012, edited by Michael Mandiberg), Felix Stalder puts this insight into a broader context when reflecting on “the front and the back of the social web“. He criticizes the “overly utopian” picture of the new digital possibilites drawn by scholars such as Clay Shirky, author of “Here Comes Everybody“, which he attributes to “focusing primarily on the front-end” of web technologies:

The social web enables astonishingly effective, yet very lightly organized cooperative efforts on scales previously unimaginable. However, this is only half of the story, which plays out on the front end. We cannot understand it if we do not take the other half into account, which play out on the back-end. New institutional arrangements make these ad-hoc efforts possible in the first place. There is a shift in the location of the organizational intelligence, away from the individual organization towards the provider of the infrastructure. It is precisely because so much organizational capacity resides now in the infrastructure that individual projects do not need to (re)produce it and thus appear to be lightly organized. If we take the creation of voluntary communities and the provision of new infrastructures as the twin dimensions of the social web, we can see that the phenomenon as a whole is characterized by two contradictory dynamics. One is decentralized, ad-hoc, cheap, easy-to-use, community-oriented, and transparent. The other is centralized, based on long-term planning, very expensive, difficult-to-run, corporate, and opaque. If the personal blog symbolizes one side, the data-center represents the other.

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The Book

Governance across borders: transnational fields and transversal themes. Leonhard Dobusch, Philip Mader and Sigrid Quack (eds.), 2013, epubli publishers.
June 2023

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