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“Feeding” the Cloud: Reducing Carbon Emissions from Social Media and Streaming Services Through Private Information Disclosure

Posted by on Monday, May 6, 2024 in Notes, Volume 26, Volume 26, Issue 3.

Madison Hoover | 26 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 549 (2024)

Despite their well-known negative aspects, social media and streaming services have become integral for consumers’ daily entertainment and social connection. Although most users have some idea of these services’ harmful mental impacts, they are typically unaware of the carbon emissions that result from them. This dissonance is not an accident, but rather the direct result of incomplete data and the omission of individual user-level estimates for carbon emissions in private governance reports published by social media and streaming companies. Where these governance reports do include user-level figures, they are not provided in a meaningful way such that users could consequentially alter their behavior to minimize that harm. Though the impact of individual usage may initially seem minimal on a micro-level, minor changes in individual carbon contributions may have substantially positive impacts where numerous consumers implement them on a macro-level; these services benefit from billions of users, thus, seemingly small behavioral changes that reduce usage time can result in notable emissions reductions in the aggregate.

While regulatory actions may retroactively address these consequences, stronger solutions reside in the private sphere through actions like reducing reliance on addictive algorithms, offering paid subscriptions that eliminate or decrease advertisements, and bolstering information disclosure to users through these companies’ internal governance reports. While most adults in the United States are in agreement that environmental concerns are an important national focus, disagreement remains over adequate responses, and many environmentally harmful industries are still economically essential. As a result, attention must be afforded to these widespread energy uses for entertainment sectors and their resulting emissions.

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