LAW 7710

Content Moderation and Platform Regulation

James Grimmelmann

Cornell Tech

Spring 2024


Overview

This is a research seminar on the law of platform regulation and content moderation. Specific topics will vary from year to year, but will typically include content-moderation policies and procedures, independent review (or not) of content-moderation decisions, intermediary liability, antitrust and structural regulation, network neutrality and must-carry regimes, commons governance, and control of essential Internet infrastructure. The readings will primarily consist of classic and cutting-edge legal scholarship, supplemented with materials on technical background and legal research. Over the course of the semester, participants will research and write a publishable piece of scholarship.

Credits: 3
Meetings: One two-hour block per week for 13 weeks
Grading: Student option
Satisfies the Writing Requirement: Yes

Course Outcomes

Students who complete this course will be able to:

Who is This Course For?

This course is intended for students who are interested in Internet law and policy and want to improve their skills in working with legal scholarship.

Prerequisite: a course in Internet law (e.g. LAW 6568) or other equivalent experience providing a working knowledge of Section 512, Section 230, the First Amendment as applied to platforms and users, and network neutrality.

The course is open to students on both the Cornell Tech and Ithaca campuses, and it is open to students in all graduate degree programs.

Policies

Please see the course policies document for information about COVID-19 safety; inclusion; names, titles and pronouns; the history of the site where the course takes place; academic integrity; unauthorized collaboration policy; accessibility and accommodations for disabilities; class recordings; and professionalism.

Logistics

Contact

This syllabus is at http://james.grimmelmann.net/courses/platforms2024S.

Email: james.grimmelmann@cornell.edu
Huddle: Bloomberg 370
Desk: Bloomberg 3 NW, near the bookshelves

My office hours are whenever I’m free during the workday. You can sign up for a slot at https://jtlg.me/meet. When I’m on campus, we can meet in person in my huddle; when I’m not, there’s a Zoom link on Canvas. If none of the available times work for you, send me an email or DM me on the Cornell Tech Slack.

It’s also always fine just to swing by to see if I’m free. If I have headphones on, just catch my eye. If my huddle door is open, come on in. If it’s closed, it’s closed for a reason (usually a call or a meeting) – send me an email!

The only required book is a legal citation manual. The nominal standard is The Bluebook, published by a consortium of four law reviews. For law students who intend to practice in the United States, the roughly $50 price tag is a reasonable investment. But for others, you can get by perfectly well with The Indigo Book, a free online reimplementation of the Bluebook’s rules. Introduction to Basic Legal Citation, by Cornell Law’s own beloved former dean Peter Martin, is a highly readable introduction to legal citation that is linked point-by-point to the Indigo Book’s rules.

In some parts of the syllabus, I have indicated the relevant sections of my pay-what-you-want PDF casebook Internet Law: Cases and Problems as background readings on the relevant doctrines.

Most of the remaining required readings will be articles that are accessible online through the Cornell library. A few other readings will be posted to Canvas.

You should also keep up with current events in content moderation and platform regulation. I maintain a list of resources. For this course, I particularly recommend the following newsletters:

I will provide you with a paid subscription to Platformer; the free versions of the others are fine.

Although it is not required, due primarily to the unreasonably high price, I recommend Eugene Volokh, Academic Legal Writing, a writing manual specifically targeted at law-review substance and style.

Class

Each of our class sessions will be devoted to careful discussion of a substantive topic (e.g., whether network neutrality should be legally mandated). The primary readings will consist of one or more law-review articles. We will typically take part of each class session to discuss the research and writing process (e.g., how to craft an abstract). The final few class sessions will be devoted to presentations and discussion of your research.

The course will meet in a hybrid format. We will meet in person in room 81 at Cornell Tech and by Zoom.

Assignments

Your work for this class will consist of the following:

First, do the assigned readings and participate in class discussions. I expect all of you to be regular and active participants in the discussions, and to support your classmates in doing so. I understand that everyone has an off day now and then, but this class can only succeed if all of us are fully engaged.

Second, you will write a research paper of at least 10,000 words on a topic of your choosing. I will approve paper proposals on a wide variety of research subjects; the only substantive requirement are that (1) the paper must relate to content moderation and/or online platforms, and (2) the paper must have a significant legal component.

The paper may conform to the stylistic and scholarly conventions of any relevant academic discipline. For example, law students may write papers in the form of a law-review Note, computer-science students may write papers in the form of an ACM conference paper, and so on. You should choose the discipline and form that will be most professionally useful to you. You are not required to submit your papers for publication, but it is my goal for the course that each of you will complete a paper you are proud enough of to want to submit.

You may collaborate in groups of up to four on the research papers, if you wish. Each joint paper will receive a single grade, but you will continue to receive individual grades for class participation. My expectations for the quality and/or quantity of your work product will increase significantly with each additional collaborator. Please meet with me early in the semester to discuss if this is something you are considering.

Your deliverables for the paper will be on the following schedule:

The due date for the final paper is May 7 by 11:59 PM. This deadline is strict (to comply with Cornell rules around reading period and final exams). All other deliverables are due by our class in the indicated week; a day or two later is fine if you drop me a quick note to explain why you need a little more time.

I will meet with you regularly to discuss your projects. In addition to scheduled meetings, I am always available to meet to provide feedback and suggestions, even on short notice.

Grading

Your grades will be determined as follows:

Schedule

We will usually meet Wednesdays 11:15 to 1:15. We will take a ten-minute break in the middle of each session.

Please note that we follow the university calendar, not the law-school calendar. The first day of class is January 24, and the last day of class is May 1.

The following is a tentative schedule of readings. I will post a finalized schedule by the start of the semester.

January 24: Moderation Basics: Who, What, and How?

January 31: Engaging with Legal Scholarship

February 7: Self-Regulation

February 14: Intermediary Liability

February 21: Harmful Content

February 28: Common Carriage

March 6: Must-Carry

Week 8: Commons and Community

Week 9: Antitrust

Week 10: Decentralization and Federalism

Week 11: Paper Presentations

Four 27.5-minute slots

Week 12: Paper Presentations

Four 27.5-minute slots

Week 13: Paper Presentations

Four 27.5-minute slots