Validating Transparency Reports

Tuesday, November 9, 2021
12:30 PM - 11:00 PM

Eric Goldman event on November 9 flyer with headshot of Eric Goldman

Join us next week on Tuesday, November 9th from 12 PM - 1 PM PT featuring Eric Goldman, Associate Dean for Research at Santa Clara University.

Many Internet services now routinely prepare transparency reports about information demands and content moderation operation. Some transparency reports are required by law; others are done voluntarily.

Transparency reporting can be justified on endogenous and exogenous grounds. Endogenously, transparency reports should encourage companies to devote more resources towards their subject matter; to increase the prioritization and professionalism of those functions; and to spur companies to “do better” on the principle that “what gets measured gets done.” Exogenously, transparency reports can inform consumers’ choices; provide research data to researchers, enforcement agencies, and policymakers; and sometimes function as warnings of unwanted external behavior (“canaries”). As a result, transparency reports will continue to draw regulators’ attention as an alternative to more direct/heavy-handed regulatory interventions.

This presentation examines a conundrum in the exogenous function of transparency reports (which likely spills over to the endogenous function). How do we know if the transparency reports are accurate? Outsiders cannot confirm the report’s statistics, so we are tempted to accept the numbers as true. But why should we? Transparency reports can be marketing or propaganda for their reporters; or they could simply underinvest in the production.