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Platforms of Power

The rise of content and media intermediaries such as Google and Facebook as digital gatekeepers raises major policy and regulation concerns, writes Robin Mansell.

Platforms of Power

Media policy has always been concerned with the exercise of media power. Regulatory frameworks are designed to ensure that, whatever power the media may have, it is exercised in a way that aligns with citizen and consumer interests. When the exercise of media power seems likely to reduce media plurality, is there a need for regulatory intervention? If yes, what evidence base is needed? In an age when digital intermediaries are sitting at the very core of a complex media ecology, how can policymakers ensure that media pluralism is maximised, albeit in line with other competing policy goals?

The media ecology includes fixed and wireless access providers, search engines, video streaming services, webhosts, blog platforms, social media providers and payment systems. For example, the top ten websites in the UK in 2014 included Google with 88% of the search market (94% for mobile search), YouTube, Facebook, eBay, BBC, Yahoo!, Twitter and Amazon, among others. In addition to search, they support content aggregation and their recommender systems rely on processing usergenerated data.

These companies operate as market makers or orchestrators – as intermediaries – in the digital media value chain. They sometimes functionexplicitly as gatekeepers to digital content and information, blocking and filtering in line with their terms of service agreements or with state policy and regulation regarding data protection, copyright enforcement and surveillance. In other instances, their activities are anything but transparent.

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