Abstract: This article dives into the ongoing debate on how to address concerns of personal safety and respect online, as well as consequences for exposure to polarizing and in various ways harmful information, while at the same time safeguarding the democratic essentials of freedom of expression and participation. It does so by examining the issue from a less common angle, namely who governs the Internet and the platforms where much of the toxic material appears. By applying a model of free speech regulation conceptualized by legal scholar Jack Balkin (2018a, 2018b), the article explores different theoretical future scenarios of Internet governance involving three main players, namely governments, private companies, and speakers. The analysis finds that depending on which player is at the forefront, the outcomes from the standpoint of participation and freedom of speech may be drastically different. While there is potential for transformation that can enable more ownership, transparency, and agency for citizens and news media, some potential paths will place ever-increasing control over the interests of users.
Keywords: decentralization; freedom of expression; Internet governance; social media platforms; walled garden