The Utrecht Centre for Regulation and Enforcement in Europe at the Utrecht School of Law, Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance, is looking for a PhD candidate to conduct research on advertising and platform governance under the supervision of dr. Catalina Goanta, dr. Bram Duivenvoorde and prof. dr. Janneke Gerards.
Content monetization reflects a new era of social media business models, changing the nature of digital advertising from platform to human ads. Human ads are Internet influencers (also referred to as content creators) who earn revenue from social media advertising by creating authentic, relatable advertising content for their armies of followers. While their activity has been touted as a new form of creative labour, the overlap between their freedom of expression, political thought and advertising interests raises some serious concerns. One underlying danger is the convergence of speech in two ways. Consumers and citizens can no longer distinguish (i) between ads and non- ads, and (ii) between commercial and political communications. This is a new form of consumer vulnerability on digital markets where speech cannot be separated from platform infrastructure. Human ads are an emerging category of stakeholders who turn engagement into currency in novel ways. Users are faced with a double transparency problem:
(i) human ads have incentives to hide commercial interests, and
(ii) platforms have incentives to algorithmically amplify human ads engagement in opaque ways.
This reflects a general good faith and fair dealing problem: the social media economy is increasingly based on deceit. Without a cohesive fair advertising framework, vulnerable consumer citizens are literally left to their own devices in fending off misinformation and manipulation affecting democracy and market stability alike.
This PhD project consists in conducting comparative legal research aimed at analysing the commercial and political advertising regimes applicable to content creators on social media. It falls at the intersection of consumer protection, media law, fundamental rights and electoral law, and focuses on clarifying questions such as:
- What are the similarities and differences between regulatory frameworks applicable to commercial and political advertising?
- How do these frameworks deal with deceit, and how is potential liability distributed in the advertising supply chain?
- How do platforms govern commercial and political advertising? What should their role be in the light of recent regulatory reforms in the European Union such as the Digital Services Act and the Political Advertising Regulation proposal?
This PhD position is part of the European Research Council Starting Grant HUMANads. The PhD candidate will have an opportunity and be expected to further define the initial research objectives set out by the project, in collaboration with the supervision team. This PhD position will be part of a broader project team featuring computer scientists and media scholars, and it will be based in the RENFORCE research center and the Molengraaff Institute for Private Law