Since 2016, platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter have scaled up their efforts to meet a plethora of security and geopolitical challenges. They have gradually recalibrated their organizational structures and practices for that purpose. The challenges include election security, disinformation and influence operations, foreign and domestic terrorism, and atrocity prevention worldwide. As a corollary, platforms have expanded their interaction with government around these issues. They have also replicated traditional government methods for addressing them. Existing law facilitates this relationship instead of meaningfully constraining it.
Scholars have examined platform governance predominantly through a freedom of expression lens. The security and geopolitical aspects of platform governance, however, remain surprisingly undertheorized. This article shifts the focus from platform speech governance to platform security governance. It documents platforms’ geopolitical turn and how it shapes the public-private national security nexus. It argues that platforms’ growing security and geopolitical role is a novel mode of informal national security privatization—call it national security by platform—that deviates in form and substance from paradigmatic privatization models. The paper develops a theoretical framework for analyzing national security by platform and outlines preliminary implications for regulation. The security lens illuminates regulatory considerations that may conflict with speech, competition and privacy concerns that have dominated the platform regulation debate to date.