Social Media Governance

Social Media Governance Initiative

Social Media Governance Initiative is a thought leadership and practice effort that is leading the emerging field of social media governance. A Research Network comprising an interdisciplinary consortium of scholars guides the initiative. Many tech corporations have been criticized for their actions or inaction regarding the governance of their platforms. As a result a negative narrative has taken shape about the benefits of social media for the wider society.  Our goal is to enable various actors to create an online environment that is good for the wider society . To that end, we will undertake research and engage audiences outside of academia, including technology sectors, policy makers, and communities, in ways to ensure that our digital technologies foster healthy online interaction.

SMGI’s Unique Angle

Our approach is distinctive because of our engagement with the industry. We have secured the involvement of several prominent technology companies, who also form a key part of our initiative. We have created a collaborative culture for the interchange of scientific ideas with members of the tech community. We believe it is critical to work as independent scholars but to engage with those companies, who can benefit from applying scientific research directly into their products and services.

Objectives of SMGI

We began the Social Media Governance Initiative because we recognized a parallel between the way government authorities regulate real life communities, and the way social media platforms regulate online communities.

We wanted to explore how we might translate our research from criminal justice theory most of which examines relations between police and the public - to relations between social media users and platform authorities.

We primarily use theories that are pro-social. Pro-social is a key term for us. In using this term, we mean to contrast currently-popular governance strategies rooted in identification and punishment of rule-breaking and instead promote strategies that internalize rule-following based on the perception of the authority. We also focus on pro-social theories to make a positive effect on social media platforms, such as by enhancing cooperation and engagement.

Our preliminary research shows that corporations continue to use traditional punitive approaches when governing behavior on their platforms, which are not effective at remediating offenses, acknowledging harm, or encouraging healthy participation. There is little concerted effort to govern social media users’ behavior through pro-social interventions. We aim to collaborate to encourage and enable tech corporations to focus more on designing products that are pro-social and encourage cooperation among their users and with authorities. We aim to shape a collective effort to study and promote approaches that social media platforms can use to encourage cooperation, engagement and internalized rule following on the Internet.

Creating the Pro-Social Movement

To create a pro-social movement we need to build a body of interdisciplinary research by collaborating with other universities and tech corporations.  The body of research applies pro-social theories to social media platforms. The theories include but are not limited to: theories of legitimacy and rule-following, community vitality, community governance and social capital.  

 To make the pro-social movement possible we aim to:    

  • Undertake research experiments and design social media governance studies
  • Train students and research assistants to become the next generation of social media governance scholars
  • Operate an interdisciplinary and pro-social research network
  • Cultivate productive relations between researchers and technology companies to advance thought leadership, training, and scientific study.
  • Provide custom-made interdisciplinary and pro-social training for tech corporations staff members


At present, we focus on various technology corporations (mainly those providing social platforms) our vision and our studies might expand to a wide array of online communities and networks. The Internet facilitates many kinds of discourse, and online communities have emerged throughout the Internet and not only on social media platforms. Considering this, our research might step outside of the boundaries of social media platforms in the narrow sense, and consider other services with a social angle on the Internet.

What Issues Do We Tackle?

 Some of the issues we focus on are as follows:

  • Online neighborhood community vitality;
  • Sharing economy platforms and the diminishing trust;
  • The impact of organizational structure and culture on tech corporations governance;
  • Shifting away from criminal justice models in platform governance.

Policy and Advocacy Activities

We hope to facilitate the work of online intermediaries on the global Internet by informing their policies and guidelines with research-based evidence. We will be looking for chances to contribute to policymaking by filing commentaries, publishing public facing articles, and offer our insights in these arenas. We will also share our research results about the issues we believe platforms should tackle.


Justice Collaboratory Executive Director: Caroline Sarnoff

SMGI Director: Matthew Katsaros

SMGI Affiliated Scholar: Jisu Kim

To join the SMGI mailing list, please contact us at: smgi@yale.edu

SMGI’s Research Network

Paolo Parigi, Researcher at Facebook and Associate Director, Computational Social Science at IRiSS, Stanford University. Researcher, Facebook

Baron Pineda, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Oberlin College

Sarita Schoenebeck, Associate Professor, School of Information, University of Michigan

Faculty Directors

Tracey Meares, Walton Hale Hamilton Professor of Law and Founding Director of The Justice Collaboratory

Tom Tyler, Macklin Fleming Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology and Founding Director of The Justice Collaboratory

Sudhir Venkatesh, Williams B. Ransford Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

Keep in Touch

Questions or comments? Contact our SMGI team at smgi@yale.edu