Governing the social media and data economy

How can we understand the mechanisms, participants, infrastructures, and governance of the data economy? How are social media platforms and app stores governed in terms of monetization, business models, and user production?

Advertisement evolution


Advertising has been the best known business model on social media, but that is about to change. Brands around the world have been paying digital platforms for ad space where they compete for user attention and engagement, an industry that can be referred to as ‘platform ads’. In the past decade, social media platforms have been developing new monetization strategies for original and authentic content. Based on an increase in social media consumption, content monetisation makes it profitable for Internet users to not only engage with advertising, but also to become advertising.

At first, Internet entrepreneurs engaging in advertising on social media were labeled as ‘influencers’, creating online content as inconspicuous advertising to promote goods and services for direct and indirect revenue. After more than a decade, the industry has matured in unexpected ways. The content creator economy is now ubiquitous and includes business models that go well beyond advertising, from social commerce and live selling on TikTok, to crowdfunding, donations and subscriptions on platforms such as Patreon, Twitch, and YouTube.

At the same time, advertising as the dominant business model supporting and sustaining the social media and app economy is not disappearing but quickly evolving. Within the digital advertising industry there are multiple key developments requiring attention, including the demise of the cookie and the increasing number of mergers and acquisitions leading to platform and data consolidation.

What kind of new infrastructures, platform services, and identifiers are emerging for the collection, analysis, and monetisation of (user) data to replace the cookie? Which actors are involved in setting these new standards and data pipelines for the circulation and commodification of data? What does this mean for the governance of the data economy supporting our contemporary digital platform society?

A multidisciplinary approach

Big data is watching you sticker on pole (photo: Unsplash)

Legal issues have evolved in tandem with the industry. While initial concerns reflected advertising disclosures, additional regulatory questions arise with the convergence of creating and monetizing online content on any topic, including news, conspiracy theories, or elections, to name a few. Concerns relating to harms associated with social media have so far focused on particular policy areas (e.g. freedom of expression) or particularly vulnerable categories of users (e.g. minors). However, content monetization has expanded social media governance well beyond these thematic issues. Platform incentives and infrastructures which amplify content in this ecosystem need to be better understood from a multidisciplinary perspective.

This Special Interest Group (SIG) aims to act as a multidisciplinary platform aimed at shedding light on contemporary social media and data economies by focusing on: social media economics, app store economies, their various monetization models and data infrastructures, influencer and other platform cultures, as well as emerging socio-legal norms, reflected in aspects such as business practices, publicness, technologies, creator perceptions, or content regulation. The SIG particularly encourages collaborations across disciplines and fields such as media studies, communication, and law and computer science around the following overlapping questions:

  • Social media monetization:
    • How does content monetization change the social media ecosystem? What harms emerge in the social media and data economy and how can they best be regulated?
  • Digital advertising:
    • What kind of new infrastructures for the datafication and commodification of user data and content are emerging and how do they affect existing regulatory frameworks? How to study the invisible material infrastructures underpinning the data economy?
  • Data commons:
    • What are the normative, theoretical and legal frameworks of engagement with data sharing and collective data governance? If and how can the analytical framework of the commons be used to advance social goals and what are its limitations?