Governing principles: Articulating values in social media platform policies

Rebecca Scharlach*, Blake Hallinan, Limor Shifman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


As sites where social media corporations profess their commitment to principles like community and free speech, policy documents function as boundary objects that navigate diverse audiences, purposes, and interests. This article compares the discourse of values in the Privacy Policies, Terms of Service, and Community Guidelines of five major platforms (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok). Through a mixed-methods analysis, we identified frequently mentioned value terms and five overarching principles consistent across platforms: expression, community, safety, choice, and improvement. However, platforms limit their burden to execute these values by selectively assigning responsibility for their enactment, often unloading such responsibility onto users. Moreover, while each of the core values may potentially serve the public good, they can also promote narrow corporate goals. This dual framing allows platforms to strategically reinterpret values to suit their own interests.

Original languageAmerican English
JournalNew Media and Society
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.


  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • TikTok
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • boundary objects
  • platform policies
  • values


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