The Illusion of a ‘Marketplace for Ideas’

15 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2018 Last revised: 22 Apr 2020

Date Written: January 18, 2018


The traditional model of a “marketplace of ideas” was intended to justify freedom of speech in terms of its optimal outcome in the production of truth. But today our behavior on the internet, the main locus of the “marketplace of ideas,” is continuously monitored and processed through the analysis of big data. Complex algorithms categorize our choices and personalize our online environment, which is used to provide, among other things, bespoke news and information. In their quest to gain more traffic and advertising dollars, news providers often shape their content for online consumption in mobile formats (e.g., Facebook’s Instant Articles) and often with “clickbait” headlines. Investigative journalism and local newspapers, by contrast, are in the midst of a transformation due to the limited profitability of traditional models. It is in this context that the competition between sources of information in the “market for ideas” currently takes place.
The traditional accounts of a marketplace of ideas emphasize a competition out of which the truth emerges as a kind of product: they generally assume that a diverse information environment has the power to establish “the truth” in society. In other words, the market of ideas is thought of as a self-regulating institution which only needs the presence of diverse opinion matters to function. This paper argues that this is a misleading picture which has long hampered the efforts of Western governments to regulate the dissemination of information on the internet. In the present environment, it is necessary to go beyond the “market of ideas” model if economic forces and the principles of democracy and public interest are to be reconciled.

Keywords: competition law; antitrust; marketplace of ideas; online behavioural targeting; public interest; post-truth society; fake news; online environment

Suggested Citation

Lombardi, Claudio, The Illusion of a ‘Marketplace for Ideas’ (January 18, 2018). Available at SSRN: or

Claudio Lombardi (Contact Author)

KIMEP, School of Law ( email )


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