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Two Dutch regulators study the effects of digitalization on the media landscape

20-12-2017

 

The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) and the Dutch Media Authority (CvdM) are to launch a joint study into whether online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have an impact on the freedom to gather news and on media diversity. By working together in this study, ACM and CvdM are able to combine their expertise on competition and their knowledge of the developments in the media landscape. Is spreading news over online platforms a problem or can it also be an enrichment of the media landscape? ACM and CvdM will study the actual process of spreading news over online platforms, the role of algorithms in that process, and possible solutions if said risks are about to become real. With their study, ACM and CvdM seek to present facts in the broader debate on gathering news on platforms and on spreading fake news.

Holding users’ attention as long as possible

The business models of online platforms are based on the attention of their users. Online platforms seek to attract consumers and to keep them online by showing them content. Online platforms make money by showing advertisements that hold the attention of users. In that way, they compete with traditional media.

Online platforms may attract individuals by means of fake news. There are also reports that manipulations of users’ news feeds by algorithms or trending topics are commonplace, all aimed at holding users’ attention. In that context, are users able to distinguish between real news and fake news? Are consumers able to assess whether or not their timelines are based on their preferences or are they the result of manipulation? And if they are not able to do so, how bad is that?

News consumption is changing: short news versus more background information

Media consumption is increasing, and changing. Consumers get their short news stories from online platforms, and opt for newspapers and magazines if they seek more background information. Furthermore, digitalization has led to a reduction of production and distribution costs. In the study, ACM and CvdM will assess the current state of play, and provide more insight into the possible problems of spreading news over online platforms for media diversity.

Critics: spreading news over online platforms leads to problems

Critics stress that spreading news over online platforms leads to problems. Possible problems include:

  • A lack of diversity because of filter bubbles;
  • Media lose quality because they want to be online as soon as possible. Democracy itself can be undermined, for example as a result of manipulation of elections;
  • Platforms are able to exercise much power over their users.

Optimists: spreading news over online platforms actually makes media landscape more diverse

On the other hand, optimists see the benefits of spreading news over online platforms. They argue that the current media landscape is more diverse than ever before. There is more information on offer, and more choice than ever. Any problems will sort themselves out:

  • Online platforms cannot afford to have a bad reputation, and will only benefit from keeping away fake news. Otherwise, consumers and advertisers will leave;
  • If there is fake news, it is usually exposed very fast;
  • Studies do not show that fake news or political interference in the Netherlands is currently a large-scale phenomenon.

The investigation will result in a joint publication, which is expected to be released in the first quarter of 2018.