Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms

Platform Governance

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

Author: Paddy Leerssen

The concept of governance refers to a ‘decentered’ perspective on regulation, which does not emanate solely from the state but is instead carried out by (complex, interactive) constellations of public and private stakeholders. The term has found widespread usage in the context of platforms, which are often seen to play an influential role as overseers of complex social and commercial ecosystems (e.g., Van Dijck, De Waal, 2018)1. The result is the growing attention for ‘platform governance’ amongst academics and policymakers (Gorwa, 2019a)2.

In the words of Tarleton Gillespie, platforms are implicated in online governance in two ways: governance by platforms, and governance of platforms (Gillespie, 2016)3. Governance by platforms describes their role in facilitating and policing online behavior, whereas governance of platforms describes the actions of governments and other stakeholders who contest and control platform action.

Governance by platforms can take many forms. Some of its most recognizable expressions are the drafting and enforcement of general rules and standards, such as Community Guidelines and Terms of Service, as well as the content moderation practices that purport to enforce these principles. But the concept of platform governance can be extended to countless other areas of platform policy, including their interactions with ad buyers such as political campaigners (Kreiss, MacGregor, 2019)4; engagement with, and donations to, civil society and academia (Bruns, 2019)5; treatment of content providers and influencers (Caplan; Gillespie, 20206; Goanta; Ranchordás, 20207); and accommodations of government agencies and other public authorities (e.g., Benkler, 20118). More fundamentally, the basic technical design of platform services can constitute a form of governance, to the extent that it structures and constrains the behavior of users and other stakeholders.

The governance of platforms is an equally broad and varied concept. Government regulation is typically the first point of reference, from legislation and regulatory oversight to judicial action. But the aforementioned private stakeholders can also play a role in governing platforms. For instance, civil society actors can investigate and criticize platforms, either independently or as members of self- or co-regulatory regimes (Gorwa, 2019b)9. Platform users, content providers, and advertisers may also be able to leverage governments or platforms to change their course, as can activists and mobilized user groups – a notable example being the recent advertiser boycott against Facebook. As Gorwa (2019a)highlights, these complex multi-stakeholder interactions play out across various geographical scales, with overlapping “local, national, and supranational mechanisms of governance”10.

Importantly, while the term ‘governance’ is considered by most anglophone authors as synonymous with regulation, the equivalence between governance and regulation is not universally accepted beyond English-language literature. As noted by Belli (201611; 201912) the term governance has a procedural connotation, referring to a set of processes and the mechanisms that stimulate the interaction and association of different stakeholders with the goal of discussing or elaborating regulation. In this perspective, platform governance should be seen as the set of processes allowing to discuss, choose, and, ideally, elaborate the regulatory strategies that will be utilized to regulate platforms.


  1. Van Dijck, J., Poell, T., De Waal, M. (2018). The platform society: Public values in a connective world. Oxford University Press.
  2. Gorwa, R. (2019). What is platform governance? Information, Communication & Society, 22(6), 854-871. Available at:
  3. Gillespie, T. (2016). Governance of and by platforms. SAGE handbook of social media, 254-278. Available at:
  4. Kreiss, D., McGregor, S. C. (2019). The “arbiters of what our voters see”: Facebook and Google’s struggle with policy, process, and enforcement around political advertising. Political Communication. 36(4), 499-522.
  5. Bruns, A. (2019). After the ‘APIcalypse’: social media platforms and their fight against critical scholarly research. Information, Communication & Society, 22(11), 1544-1566
  6. Caplan, R., Gillespie, T. (2020). Tiered governance and demonetization: The shifting terms of labor and compensation in the platform economy. Social Media+ Society.
  7. Goanta, C., Ranchordás, S. (2020). The Regulation of Social Media Influencers. Edward Elgar Publishing.
  8. Benkler, Y. (2011). A free irresponsible press: Wikileaks and the battle over the soul of the networked fourth estate. Harv. CR-CLL Rev., 46, 311. Available at:
  9. Gorwa, R. (2019). The platform governance triangle: Conceptualising the informal regulation of online content. Internet Policy Review, 8(2), 1-22. Available at:
  10. Gorwa, R. (2019a). What is platform governance? Information, Communication & Society, 22(6), 854-871. Available at:
  11. Belli, Luca. (2016). De la gouvernance à la regulation de l’Internet. Paris: Berger-Levrault
  12. Belli, Luca. (2019). Internet Governance and Regulation: A Critical Presentation. In: Belli, Luca and Cavalli Olga. Internet Governance and Regulations in Latin America. FGV Direito Rio. Available at:
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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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