Safe from “harm”: The governance of violence by platforms

Julia R. DeCook, Kelley Cotter, Shaheen Kanthawala, Kali Foyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


A number of issues have emerged related to how platforms moderate and mitigate “harm.” Although platforms have recently developed more explicit policies in regard to what constitutes “hate speech” and “harmful content,” it appears that platforms often use subjective judgments of harm that specifically pertains to spectacular, physical violence—but harm takes on many shapes and complex forms. The politics of defining “harm” and “violence” within these platforms are complex and dynamic, and represent entrenched histories of how control over these definitions extends to people's perceptions of them. Via a critical discourse analysis of policy documents from three major platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube), we argue that platforms' narrow definitions of harm and violence are not just insufficient but result in these platforms engaging in a form of symbolic violence. Moreover, the platforms position harm as a floating signifier, imposing conceptions of not just what violence is and how it manifests, but who it impacts. Rather than changing the mechanisms of their design that enable harm, the platforms reconfigure intentionality and causality to try to stop users from being “harmful,” which, ironically, perpetuates harm. We provide a number of suggestions, namely a restorative justice-focused approach, in addressing platform harm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-78
Number of pages16
JournalPolicy and Internet
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Administration
  • Health Policy
  • Computer Science Applications


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