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Accounting for the “harms” of social media firms: Dialogic accountability and discursive contestation in public hearings

Yusuff, K; Whittle, A; Mueller, F

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Authors

K Yusuff

A Whittle



Abstract

Purpose
Existing literature has begun to identify the agonistic and contested aspects of the ongoing development of accountability systems. These “contests” are particularly important during periods of change when an accountability “deficit” has been identified, that is, when existing accountability systems are deemed inadequate and requiring revision. The purpose of this paper is to explore one such set of contests in the case of large technology and social media firms: the so-called “big tech”. The authors focus specifically on “big tech” because of increasing societal concerns about the harms associated with their products, services and business practices.

Design/methodology/approach
The authors analysed four US Congressional hearings, in which the CEO of Facebook was held to account for the company's alleged breaches and harms. The authors conducted a discourse analysis of the dialogue between the account giver (Mark Zuckerberg) and account holders (Members of Congress) in the oral testimony at the four hearings.

Findings
Two areas of contestation in the dialogue between the account giver and account holders are identified. “Epistemic contests” involved contestation about the “facts” concerning the harms the company had allegedly caused. “Responsibility contests” involved contestation about who (or what) should be held responsible for these harms and according to what standards or criteria.

Originality/value
The study advances critical dialogical accountability literature by identifying two areas of contestation during periods of change in accountability systems. In so doing, they advanced the theory by conceptualising the process of change as underpinned by discursive contests in which multiple actors construct and contest the “problem” with existing accountability systems. The outcomes of these contests are significant, the authors suggest, because they inform the development of reforms to the accountability system governing big tech firms and other industries undergoing similar periods of contestation and change.

Citation

Yusuff, K., Whittle, A., & Mueller, F. (2023). Accounting for the “harms” of social media firms: Dialogic accountability and discursive contestation in public hearings. Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal, https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-11-2022-6165

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 2, 2023
Online Publication Date Oct 24, 2023
Publication Date Oct 24, 2023
Deposit Date Oct 2, 2023
Publicly Available Date Oct 24, 2023
Journal Accounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Print ISSN 0951-3574
Publisher Emerald
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
DOI https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-11-2022-6165
Public URL https://durham-repository.worktribe.com/output/1754876

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