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Governing Digital Platforms

Full title

The Promise and Perils of Human Rights for Governing Digital Platforms

Project description

This interdisciplinary project explores the promise and perils of human rights as a suitable framework for addressing the challenges posed by the governance of digital platforms.

Recent decades have witnessed the emergence of digital platforms as the “core organisational form” of informational capitalism. Platforms constitute important sites of political, social, economic, and cultural exchange, typically underpinned by extractivist business models based on the collection, aggregation, analysis, and exchange of data. While platformisation is facilitating greater interconnection between actors around the world, many perceive it as threatening core social and democratic values – whether in terms of the expansion of corporate power under informational capitalism, the reproduction of colonial power asymmetries, the “gigification” and precarisation of labour, or the reification of racial inequalities. 

In response, policymakers, civil society organisations, and academics have begun to frame platform governance through the framework of human rights. Yet while it offers a salient language of social justice, it is unclear whether it is legally and conceptually adequate to address the issue. Critical literature suggests that human rights have been as likely to stabilise state and corporate power as to undermine it. Moreover, at a time of renewed regulatory efforts by states to rein in platforms, human rights discourse has yet to see any sustained self-reflexivity over its potential and limits as a vocabulary of governance in this domain. Platformisation therefore invites critical reflection on human rights approach(es) to platform governance as well as on whether alternative norms and frameworks of social justice are necessary.

The project will organise a two-day workshop on 18-19 January 2024, bringing together scholars and practitioners from diverse epistemologies, positionalities, geographic regions, and disciplines – with a focus on ethics and (political) philosophy, anthropology, and legal theory to engage in dialogue on this important topic. The workshop furthermore aims to produce a special issue in an online journal and to develop a multidisciplinary network of scholars at Leiden University and beyond who engage with the social, political, and legal implications of our digitally connected societies from a critical perspective.

Click here for the workshop Call for Papers.


  • Dr. Jelena Belic, Lecturer, Leiden University – Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences
  • Dr. Matthew Canfield, Assistant Professor, Leiden University – Faculty of Law
  • Rachel Griffin, Ph.D. Candidate, Sciences Po Law School
  • Dr. Henning Lahmann, Assistant Professor, Leiden University – Faculty of Law
  • Dr. Barrie Sander, Assistant Professor, Leiden University – Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs 
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