US tech firms increasingly shape the news stories that people in the UK see and read. This, according to the regulator Ofcom, is leading to risks around transparency and choice in news.
Ofcom adds that in a new study of choice in news, it identified concerns around the impact of online news ‘gatekeepers’ – particularly social media, such as Facebook, but also search engines and news apps such as Apple News and Google News. Its report highlights how far these companies – which are used by two in three online adults for news – determine not only how much of the online news people see, but also how they respond to it.
Its findings includes that people value online intermediaries to help them discover news but that social media could have a polarising effect. People are also unclear about the influence of gatekeepers on the news they see. In the latter case, Ofcom’s research shows a great deal of confusion about whether news online is personalised: 35% of people think it is, 36% think not, and 29% are unsure.
Ofcom notes that The growth in online news means that people are able to access a wider range of stories, voices and views than ever before. Tech firms – such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and Apple – are increasingly central to this news landscape. They act as online gatekeepers, curating and recommending news content, and are now used by 64% of online adults.
In 2005, 18% of people told Ofcom they used the internet for news. This figure stands at 66% and one in seven (14%) UK adults now only look at news online.
Facebook has become the third most popular news source overall in the UK, after the BBC and ITV, while among younger teenagers, Instagram, TikTok and YouTube top the list.
Ofcom concludes by saying that early analysis signals that new regulations may be required to understand and address the impact of online gatekeepers on media plurality.
This might include new tools to require tech firms to be more transparent over the choices they make in determining the news we see online, as well as giving users themselves more choice and control.
Any decisions about what remedies may be needed to address media plurality concerns are ultimately a matter for government and parliament.
Building on the questions raised in its study, itwill be engaging with industry and interested parties in the coming months. It then intends to develop formal recommendations for consideration by the UK Government.