Cornell Bowers College of Computing and Information Science
book cover of Custodians of the Internet


IS Prof Writes New Book on the Custodians of the Internet

While most social media users want their chosen social platforms free from harassment and porn, they also want to see the content they choose to see. Content moderators (those who censor or promote user-posted content) have never been more important or controversial. In a new book titled Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, content moderation, and the hidden decisions that shape social media, Cornell Communication and Information Science Professor Tarleton Gillespie investigates how social media platforms police what we post online – and the large societal impact of these decisions.

In the book Gillespie highlights that content moderation receives too little public scrutiny even as it shapes societal norms and creates consequences for public discourse, cultural production, and the fabric of society. Based on interviews with content moderators, creators, and consumers, this book contributes to the current debates about the public responsibilities of platforms from data privacy to political propaganda.

“I have been writing about the impact of platforms and the digital transformation for 15 years,” said Gillespie. “This book explains how content moderation works: from how the platforms think of their responsibilities, to the way they create and articulate the rules, to the labor behind the scenes, to the efforts to automate it all. Content moderation has never been ancillary and after-the-fact, it is crucial and definitional to what platforms do. Given that fact, what are those companies’ responsibilities?”

Tarleton Gillespie is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research New England and an affiliated associate professor of communications and information science at Cornell University. He co-founded the blog Culture Digitally. His previous book is the award-winning Wired Shut: Copyright and the Shape of Digital Culture.