Catholic University Journal of Law and Technology

Catholic University Journal of Law and Technology


News distribution and consumption now largely occur within, and are subject to dynamics dictated by, social media platforms. Platforms create audiences, facilitate matching, provide basic services, and set interaction standards. But these networks are structured to maximize engagement and benefit the platforms’ main businesses, leaving individuals with little to no ability to tailor news consumption according to their preferences.

To re-orient platform-dictated dynamics towards user-determined exchanges, middleware technologies—software services appended to social media platforms to curate information flows—are touted as a promising solution. Still, not enough literature articulates middleware’s virtues and hurdles, especially in the context of online news. This work fills such gaps.

Surveying literature and existing middleware solutions, four choice-enhancing virtues are observed, in that such technologies: equip users with more information about online news choices, enable careful deliberation in consumption, improve user agency, and can effect lasting behavioral changes among users. Overall, such merits allow for more meaningful use of and participation in social media platforms. This work also discusses the European Union’s novel Digital Services Act, particularly how this legislation will enable the development of a robust middleware industry.

Finally, this work identifies challenges and further research areas. Scholars have expressed concerns about middleware’s technological feasibility, profitability, curation costs, and privacy concerns. Yet, a fundamental hurdle remains: in the first place, why should users adopt middleware? As is, platforms deliver tremendous benefits; also, not all users might be interested in a deliberative online exchange. Ideally, a critical mass of users must adopt middleware to reshape online discourse.



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