Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Victor Pickard


This dissertation examines how the self-regulatory governance of Facebook disparately impacts marginalized communities, leading to harms such as censorship, commodification, and surveillance. Lax policies in the United States have enabled social media sites to self-regulate, wherein individual platforms create and enforce rules for users. My dissertation analyzes how these standards are applied in a discriminatory manner, perpetuating offline inequalities. The three central case studies are gender-based censorship in content moderation, advertising discrimination, and surveillance of Black Lives Matter activists. To capture the experiences of marginalized groups, I draw upon 95 semi-structured interviews as well as a corpus consisting of news articles, legal complaints and lawsuits, statutes, corporate policies, press statements, Freedom of Information Act requests/lawsuits, government complaints and requests for user data, reports from nonprofit organizations, blog posts, Congressional Research Service reports, employee testimonies and leaks, and secondary scholarship. Beyond interviews, this dissertation also deploys the following methods: sampling and recruitment (of interviewees), political economy methods (including “burrowing down”), qualitative coding, critical discourse analysis, and legal analysis. Combining frameworks from the fields of communication, law, sociology, business ethics, and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, my dissertation utilizes the theories of self-regulation, political economy, corporate social responsibility, hegemony, the surveillance-industrial complex, and surveillance capitalism. This research highlights the role of self-regulatory capitalism in social media governance as implicit biases, hegemonic norms, technical affordances, financial incentives, and juridical structures have led to the suppression of marginalized communities online. My findings illustrate the undemocratic, opaque, and power laden nature of media self-regulation, which is fundamentally opposed to egalitarian principles within a capitalist society. In conclusion, the dissertation stresses the need for structural, regulatory, and legal changes and argues in favor of co-regulation as a path forward for social media governance.


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