Media Monopolies Manipulate Their Users

The emergence of powerful media monoliths such as Facebook and Spotify has proved to be a threat to consumers. These monopolies will always have an excess of influence over consumers. When a single company controls so many crucial media sites without sufficient regulation, it has the full and unrestrained power to manipulate user information and curate the content which users consume, shaping their ideas and values.

Maya Nelson (II) echoes these concerns, saying, “when a media company has so much power, they can drown out other perspectives and use their immense power to perpetuate one particular narrative.”

An example of this is Facebook, recently rebranded as Meta. Meta has infamously acquired Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus, platforms that cover social media, private messaging and video game headsets, respectively. There are 2.8 billion people who use Facebook each month, and many rely on this platform as well as Instagram and WhatsApp to receive essential information on a daily basis. According to a study from the Pew Research Center 2021, about 69 percent of adults in the United States use Facebook, and seven out of ten of those people log in on a daily basis for news.

Facebook also has full control over the algorithms that determine which news stories get buried and which ones are amplified onto page after page of almost all social media sites. This puts Americans who get their information mainly from Facebook and all of its associated social media sites at the mercy of the company alone to determine what news stories they can access easily.

In some ways, new technologies have lessened media monopolies. Platforms such as Twitter, TikTok, Discord and Telegram provide competition in the social media market. The growth of streaming platforms such as Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and HBO Max has ended the reign of powerful television giants, making communication and the consumption of content and news far more accessible.

Despite this, large companies have sought to constantly expand, forming new business contracts and merging with other popular entities. This leaves many with no other option than to subscribe to them. Moreover, it inspires the concern that when entrusted with too much power, the companies will focus on monetary gain at the expense of quality information and games.

Spotify is another company eyeing expansion, looking to completely dominate music, podcasts and audiobooks. In response to their refusal to end their 100 million dollar contract with Joe Rogan, a popular podcaster who used racial slurs and was accused of spreading misinformation, some say having complete control will decrease quality. Vivian Hamwey (IV) explains, “when there’s no other competition, that means they’ll have no incentive to make the experience better for users or improve at all because they’ll already be on top. There’s no accountability.”

Recently, The New York Times (NYT) acquired Wordle, a wildly popular online game that prompts players to guess a new five-letter word every day. This immediately led to an outcry of concerns that Wordle would go behind a paywall in an attempt to drive up subscriptions and business for the company. “If they put it behind a paywall, the fact that people would have to subscribe shows how effective a strategy it is,” says Sydney Quimby (IV), a student who regularly plays Wordle.

Acquiring Wordle is part of the NYT’s bigger plan to become a crucial subscription for people to interact with the world. A single company becoming the only way for millions of people to get the information they need and play games they love, however, is a troubling prospect.

For years, it has been an accepted orthodoxy that competition drives innovation, which is certainly correct, as it motivates companies to improve. Media monopolies are antithetical to that value and cannot be trusted with the power they currently possess. Media companies should not seek to expand or dominate, but instead recognize that the media climate is best for all involved when there is competition and a multitude of options.