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Epstein: Google, Facebook Make Media Bias Worse

Mark Epstein, an antitrust attorney and freelance writer, has an insightful piece in the Wall Street Journal: [1] “Google and Facebook Worsen Media Bias; Silicon Valley’s advertising monopoly translates into editorial influence.”

Epstein starts out with pointing out the economic context that more than two-thirds of Americans get news from social media, and that Google and Facebook control “a large majority of the digital advertising market that used to be a major source of revenue for the news industry.”

Because of this economic juggernaut, this power exerts tremendous control over the editorial content that consumers see.

“Tech companies have leveraged their control of news distribution to entrench their advertising dominance,” Epstein points out. “Facebook’s Instant Articles publishes the full text of an article in the platform and shares ad revenue with the publisher. Google punishes publications that raise revenue through subscriptions rather than advertising by downgrading search results of paywalled sites that don’t provide free clicks.”

Epstein points out how this effective duopoly tilts to the left: “Instant Articles and Subscribe With Google may be convenient, but they also give the duopoly more control over the media’s revenue and data, further centralizing news distribution. Google and Facebook have gained editorial influence over the press. They enact content guidelines as a condition for participation in advertising services.

“Both companies consult with left-wing groups such as Media Matters to determine what sites to exclude. The flow of funds also reflects the companies’ Democratic tilt. In 2016 Google sponsored the ‘Electionland’ initiatives with ProPublica, the New York Times, USA Today and Univision, among others, for the stated purpose of “ensuring all Americans could freely exercise their right to vote by shining a light on problems that might get in their way.” In practice, Electionland’s scores of articles universally criticized then-candidate Donald Trump or reinforced the liberal position on issues like voter ID and voter fraud.