When discussing political microtargeting, we often talk about the persuasiveness of the technique, its manipulative nature, and the consequences of the use of such a potentially persuasive force for our democratic society (e.g., Gorton, 2016; Zuiderveen Borgesius et al., 2018). Social platforms play an important role, facilitating microtargeting, by offering the infrastructure for potentially effective persuasion. Apart from these very relevant issues, there is another important issue that follows from the digital intermediaries' wealth in terms of personal data and their elaborate persuasion infrastructure: the digital intermediaries' own political power. For example, how do data make digital intermediaries, such as Facebook, a political player? And how powerful are these players, politically? Social platforms increasingly do more than just facilitating political communication. For example, by lobbying, donating to specific politicians, and by offering advice to political campaigns, social platforms actively interfere in the public debate. As such, these platforms are turning into political actors themselves.
The goal of this panel is three-fold:
(a) to understand the concept and implications of social platforms like Facebook, YouTube or Twitter for, and as political players, with a particular focus on the upcoming EU elections,
(b) to examine if, and why, from a democratic point of view, the political power of social platforms is problematic,
(c) to explore the role of law and policy makers in providing the necessary checks-and-balances of that political power.