Who is responsible for interventions against problematic comments? Comparing user attitudes in Germany and the United States


Online comment sections on news organizations’ social media pages provide a unique forum for exploring attitudes toward platform governance and freedom of expression at the crossroads between people, platforms, and news providers. Amid ample political and policy interest, little empirical evidence exists on user perceptions of platform governance. Through survey studies in Germany (n = 1155) and the United States (n = 1164), we provide a comparative perspective on responsibility attributions toward different regulatory actors who may intervene against problematic user comments: the state (law enforcement), platform operators (Facebook), news organizations, and users themselves. We explore this against the backdrop of different notions of free speech and cultural differences in the two countries. We find that Germans attribute greater responsibility for intervention to the state, Facebook, and news organizations than Americans. They also assume greater self-responsibility. While support for free speech did not impact responsibility attribution to Facebook, news organizations, or the users themselves, people with greater general support for free speech saw law enforcement as less responsible for intervention. The results provide empirical evidence for an integrated view of various regulatory actors who complement each other in the governance of online discussions.