9:45 am - 11:15 am

Paper Abstracts


Anti-Monopoly Tools to Structure a Free & Diverse Press

Lina Khan

Khan begins with a diagnosis of the precise sources of platform power over discourse. In addition to much-discussed platform policies around content moderation, she examines: (1) the current structure of the digital ad market, dominated by Google and Facebook, (2) the current structure of Google and Facebook, which are integrated in ways that render publishers both dependent on the platforms’ networks and in competition with them, and (3) their behavioral advertising-based business models, which incentivize pervasive and persistent data collection. These factors directly shape the ability of editors to invest in reporting, the diversity of available news sources, what kind of content platforms are incentivized to promote, and the freedom with which individuals search for, read, and share news. Khan proceeds to identify anti-monopoly tools that can help structure digital markets that enable a free and diverse press and promote individual liberty. These reforms include select vertical break-ups to engender competition in the digital ad market and bright-line prohibitions on certain business models for entities designated essential to speech facilities.

Measuring and Protecting Plurality in the Digital Age: A Political Economy Approach

Andrea Prat

Prat looks at an independent media industry at the heart of the democratic process. However, he notes that media can be captured by political and economic forces and that this well-documented risk is higher when the media industry is concentrated. He argues that the current regulatory system is toothless because it is based on outdated platform-specific ownership restrictions. Standard antitrust policy, while useful to protect consumer welfare, is inadequate too because it targets market outcomes rather than voter information. Prat advocates the introduction of a plurality review for mergers involving news providers to be based on a platform-neutral assessment of the attention share of the merged entity. Such an approach is illustrated with a possible quantification of the attention share index and a recent merger decision in the UK that was based on that principle.

The Case for Digital Public Service Media

Ethan Zuckerman

Zuckerman points to the successful history of multiple forms of public broadcasting (PBS, NPR, and the BBC among them) and public-minded digital platforms and tools like Wikipedia and Mozilla Firefox to argue for the introduction of ambitious public service digital media tools that would fill gaps in the current digital media landscape, with an emphasis on creating tools that strengthen open and democratic societies. These could include auditable and transparent search and discovery tools, non-surveillant advertising networks, and alternative social media platforms. Zuckerman also identifies possible funding models to support these tools, including donations from users, taxes on surveillant advertising, and donations from the tech giants.