Opaque transparency: How material affordances shape intermediary work

News

Published: 17Jul2019

Authors: Miron Avidan, Dror Etzion and Joel Gehman

Publication: Regulation and Governance, Volume 13, Issue 2, Pages 197 - 219, June 2019

Abstract: 

How do the material aspects of intermediary work affect regulators, targets, and beneficiaries? To shed light on this question, we studied an information intermediary in the form of a website and the organizations who founded it. Specifically, we analyzed FracFocus, a self-regulatory initiative with strong industry ties, charged with disclosing data pertaining to the chemicals used in oil and gas wells completed using hydraulic fracturing technology (fracking) in the United States and Canada. We found that between 2010 and mid-2017, the vast majority of legislation in states and provinces where fracking actively occurred was updated to mandate or encourage disclosure via FracFocus, meaning that it had a considerable effect on the trajectory of official regulation on fracking disclosure. We also found that FracFocus disclosed important data but did so in a manner that limited accessibility and reduced the comprehensibility of environmental and public health risks to beneficiaries. Our analysis suggests that the public's experience of such a device is one of opaque transparency, in which the line between official and non-official regulation is blurred. We traced these outcomes to the material affordances created by FracFocus.