The Future of Platform Power: Solving for a Moving Target

This essay is a part of an exchange based on Francis Fukuyama’s “Making the Internet Safe for Democracy” from the April 2021 issue of the Journal of Democracy.

The Stanford Working Group on Platform Scale’s central proposal was to outsource the moderation of political content from the big platforms—Twitter, Facebook, and Google—to a layer of competitive middleware companies as a means of reducing these platforms’ power over political speech. In this exchange on platform power, Robert Faris and Joan Donovan, Nathalie Maréchal, and Dipayan Ghosh and Ramesh Srinivasan all argue in different ways that middleware would not stem the flow of toxic content, and in certain ways might actually intensify it. What three of our critics do not take into account is the illegitimacy of using either public or private power to suppress this hazard. Our working group’s promotion of middleware rests on a normative view about the continuing importance of freedom of speech. Middleware is the most politically realistic way forward.