Beyond Neutrality: Conceptualizing Platform Values

Blake Hallinan, Rebecca Scharlach, Limor Shifman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social media platforms are prominent sites where values are expressed, contested, and diffused. In this article, we present a conceptual framework for studying the communication of values on and through social media composed of two dimensions: scale (from individual users to global infrastructures) and explicitness (from the most explicit to the invisible). Utilizing the model, we compare the communication of two values - engagement and authenticity - in user-generated content and policy documents on Twitter and Instagram. We find a split between how users and platforms frame these concepts and discuss the strategic role of ambiguity in value discourse, where idealistic meanings invoked by users positively charge the instrumental applications stressed by platforms. We also show how implicit and explicit articulations of the same value can contradict each other. Finally, we reflect upon tensions within the model, as well as the power relations between the personal, cultural, and infrastructural levels of platform values.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)201-222
Number of pages22
JournalCommunication Theory
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 May 2022


  • Authenticity
  • Engagement
  • Neutrality
  • Platform Governance
  • Platform Studies
  • Social Media
  • User-Generated Content
  • Values

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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