This working paper is the first in a series of papers that will explore the governance of Digital Communication Networks (DCNs).
DCNs have been defined in the paper as composite entities consisting of:
- Capability: Internet-based products/services that enable instantaneous low-cost or free communication across geographic, social, and cultural boundaries. This communication may be private (1:1), limited (1:n e.g. messaging groups), or broad (Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, YouTube videos, live streaming ), and so on.
- Operator(s): Firms/groups that design/operate these products and services.
- Networks: The entities/groups/individuals that adopt/use these products and services, and their interactions with each other.
This paper undertakes a review and categorisation of the harms attributed to Digital Communication Networks (DCNs). In lieu of descriptors such as ‘social media’, ‘Big Tech’, etc, the paper defines DCNs as a combination of services, products and companies that enable instant communication at scale via the internet, as well as the societies that adopt them. The harms are classified based on competitive, data, and narrative effects to identify common themes within and across these spheres.
The paper then categorises these harms as potential market failures, social problems, and cognitive biases, with the aim of contextualising them. It also identifies whether the harms are emergent or are a function of the scaling effects of DCNs. Based on this categorisation, the paper concludes that further study of the psychosocial effects of the harms attributed to DCNs are required in the Indian context. It contends that competition policy alone will not address the wide set of social problems and biases identified, especially since it will be utilised in a limited set of jurisdictions, and the current effects of DCNs are seen globally.