The shadow banning controversy: perceived governance and algorithmic folklore

Published in:
Media, Culture & Society

In this paper, I approach platform governance through algorithmic folklore, consisting of beliefs and narratives about moderation systems that are passed on informally and can exist in tension with official accounts. More specifically, I analyse user discussions on ‘shadow banning’, a controversial, potentially non-existing form of content moderation on popular social media platforms. I argue that discursive mobilisations of the term can act as a methodological entry point to studying the shifting grounds and emerging logics of algorithmic governance, not necessarily in terms of the actual practices themselves, but in terms of its experiential dimension that, in turn, indicates broader modalities and relationalities of control. Based on my analysis of the user discussions, I argue that the constitutive logics of social media platforms increasingly seem to run counter to the values of good governance, such as clarity and stability of norms, and consistency of enforcement. This is reflected in how users struggle, desperately, to form expectations about system operation and police themselves according to perceived rules, yet are left in a state of dependency and frustration, unable to take hold of their digital futures.

Laura Savolainen