American tech companies are increasingly shaping the news that Britons see and read. According to the regulator Ofcom, this entails risks regarding transparency and the choice of information.
Ofcom adds that in a new Choice in News study, it has identified concerns about the impact of online news ‘gatekeepers’ – particularly social media, such as Facebook, but also search engines. search and news apps like Apple News and Google News. His report highlights how these companies – which are used by two in three online adults for news – determine not only how much online information people see, but also how they react to it.
His findings include that people value online intermediaries to help them discover news, but that social media could have a polarizing effect. People also don’t know the influence of the Guardians on the news they see. In the latter case, Ofcom research shows great confusion about whether online information is personalized: 35% of people think so, 36% think no and 29% are unsure.
Ofcom notes that the growth of online news means people can access a wider range of stories, voices and viewpoints than ever before. Technology companies – such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and Apple – are increasingly at the heart of this news landscape. They act as online gatekeepers, curating and recommending news content, and are now used by 64% of adults online.
In 2005, 18% of people told Ofcom that they used the Internet for information. This figure rises to 66% and one in seven UK adults (14%) now only watches online news.
Facebook has become the third most popular news source in the UK, after the BBC and ITV, while among young teens, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube top the list.
Ofcom concludes by saying that early analysis signals that new regulations may be needed to understand and address the impact of online gatekeepers on media plurality.
This could include new tools to force tech companies to be more transparent about the choices they make in determining what news we see online, as well as giving users themselves more choice and control.
Any decision on the remedies needed to address media plurality concerns is ultimately a matter for government and parliament.
Building on the issues raised in his study, he will engage with industry and interested parties in the months ahead. It then intends to develop formal recommendations for consideration by the UK government.