Rutgers researchers urge for improvements in online platform publishing guidelines

<p>Researchers said that there needs to be greater democratization in creating platform publishing guidelines since social media sites do not face the same business competition that other industries experience.</p>

Researchers said that there needs to be greater democratization in creating platform publishing guidelines since social media sites do not face the same business competition that other industries experience.


Online platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Google are struggling to identify what ways are acceptable for companies and reporters to direct online traffic to their sites, according to a University press release. 

The platforms are not sure if using keywords people will likely use is fine, as well as whether online publishers can use “bots” to direct traffic to their site, according to the release. 

Rutgers researchers, along with colleagues from Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, have found that the web needs more consistent guidelines for advertisers, marketers, influencers and reporters who post online, according to the release. Their study, published in the journal, “Social Media & Society,” stated the current guidelines are vague and inconsistent. 

“Though the line between acceptable and unacceptable user behavior will necessarily be fraught, continually shifting and arbitrary to some degree, it must nevertheless be drawn,” said lead author Caitlin Petre, an assistant professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University—New Brunswick’s School of Communication and Information, according to the release.

The guidelines platforms create are usually too unilateral and arbitrary, the researchers found, according to the release. The universally applied rules therefore hinder some well-intentioned content publishers. 

The study was conducted with researchers drawing conclusions from three case studies at Google, Facebook and Instagram, where a specific user was punished for “gaming the algorithm,” according to the release. 

“Even though platform-drawn lines between ‘gaming the system’ and acting strategically are blurry, there is a public discourse where those who engage in behavior deemed to be gaming are not just ‘mistaken’ about what the rules are, but that they are cheaters, offenders and acting criminally,” Petre said, according to the release.

The researchers also called for greater democratization in creating platform publishing guidelines, as platforms are powerful and do not face the business competition those in more diverse industries face, according to the release. 

“The decisions about how algorithmic manipulation is formulated and enforced should be democratized to grant influence to a wider array of content makers — perhaps especially for those whose very livelihoods depend on algorithmic visibility,” Petre said, according to the article.


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