Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms

Content curation

Cite this article as:
Paddy Leerssen (17/12/2021). Content curation. In Belli, L.; Zingales, N. & Curzi, Y. (Eds.), Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms (online). FGV Direito Rio.

Author: Paddy Leersen

In the context of online services, ‘content curation’ refers to the selection of relevant content from a larger subset of available content. Thorson and Wells (2016)1 define curation as the “production, selection, filtering, annotation or framing of content”. In the modern environment of information abundance, curation fulfils an essential function. According to Thorson and Wells (2016)

To curate is to select and organize, to filter abundance into a collection of manageable size, one that in its smaller shape fulfils an informational or strategic need more efficiently than the buzzing flow of all available options.

Curation is performed by a variety of actors through a variety of methods. Many discussions focus on the role of dominant online platforms that curate content primarily through algorithmic features such as search, ranking and recommendation (e.g., Van Couvering, 20092; Helberger; Kleinen-Von Königslöw; Van Der Noll, 20153). Broader understandings of curation also recognize the role of others, including individual users, advertisers, content providers, in shaping online information flows (e.g., Thorson; Wells, 20174; Napoli, 2019 5; 20156). For instance, users can interact with recommender systems through rating and sharing content and have their own means to disseminate content through other channels, whereas content providers source the pool of available content from which rankings and recommendations are surfaced.

Content curation is closely connected to, though distinct from, content moderation. They can be seen as two sides of the same coin: Moderation speaks to the combatting of undesired content, whereas curation speaks to the surfacing of desired content. Accordingly, moderation is more associated with the removal of content or the sanctioning of users, whereas curation is associated with policies related to the design of search, recommender and ranking systems. This being said, content moderation can also be effectuated through curation systems, e.g., by down-ranking content or speakers. In this light, the design of ranking algorithms implicates both content moderation and content curation. Indeed, the zero-sum nature of ranking, in which advantaging certain content necessarily disadvantages other content, makes it so that any act of content curation in recommender systems can also be seen as a form of content moderation and vice versa.

Content curation is not a legal concept, and it has not yet made its way into legislation or case law. However, content curation has received increasing attention in internet policy debates, reflecting a growing recognition that platforms influence online ecosystems not merely by enforcing content prohibitions but more fundamentally by structuring content visibility. Influential reports on this topic have been issued by the World Wide Web Foundation and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, amongst others (World Wide Web Foundation, 2019)7. New legal standards are also developing to regulate platform content recommender systems as a particularly influential form of content curation (Cobbe; Singh, 2019)8. Key examples include the EU’s Platform-To-Business Regulation and Germany’s pending Medienstaatsvertrag. Ranking systems are also subject to other regulations which constrain curation, such as delisting rights found in data protection law and the abuse of a dominant position under competition law.


  1. Thorson, K., Wells, C. (2016). Curated flows: A framework for mapping media exposure in the digital age. Communication Theory26(3), 309-328.
  2. Van Couvering, E. (2010). Search engine bias: the structuration of traffic on the World-Wide Web. Doctoral dissertation. The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Available at:
  3. Helberger, N., Kleinen-von Königslöw, K., Van Der Noll, R. (2015). Regulating the new information intermediaries as gatekeepers of information diversity.
  4. Wells C, Thorson K. Combining Big Data and Survey Techniques to Model Effects of Political Content Flows in Facebook. Social Science Computer Review. 2017;35(1):33-52. doi:10.1177/0894439315609528
  5. Napoli, P. M. (2019). Social media and the public interest. Columbia University Press.
  6. Napoli, P. M. (2015). Social media and the public interest: Governance of news platforms in the realm of individual and algorithmic gatekeepers. Telecommunications Policy. 39(9), 751-760.
  7. Ávila, R., Freuler, J. O., Fagan, C. (2018). The invisible curation of content: Facebook’s news feed and our information diets. Available at:
  8. Cobbe, J., Singh, J. (2019). Regulating recommending: motivations, considerations, and principles. Considerations, and Principles.
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By Paddy Leerssen

Paddy Leerssen is a PhD Candidate in information law at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on the regulation and governance of social media platforms, with a particular focus on transparency and data access.

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