Addressing the Decline of Local News, Rise of Platforms, and Spread of Mis- and Disinformation Online: A Summary of Current Research and Policy Proposals
94 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2021
Date Written: December 22, 2020
Technological and economic assaults have destroyed the for-profit business model that sustained local journalism in this country for two centuries. While the advertising-based model for local news has been under threat for many years, the COVID-19 pandemic and recession have created what some describe as an “extinction level” threat for local newspapers and other struggling news outlets. More than one-fourth of the country’s newspapers have disappeared, leaving residents in thousands of communities living in vast news deserts.
As local news sources decline, a growing proportion of Americans are getting their news and other information from social media. This raises serious concerns, including the spread of misinformation and the use of platform infrastructure to engage in disinformation campaigns. Platforms wield significant advantages over local news sources in the current information environment: the dominant platforms possess proprietary, detailed caches of user data, which the platforms use to force advertisers, users, and news outlets into asymmetrical relationships. In the vacuum left by the disappearance of local news sources, users are increasingly reliant on information sources that are incomplete, and may be misleading or deceptive.
This whitepaper examines current research related to the decline of local news, the rise of platforms, and the spread of mis- and disinformation and explores potential regulatory and policy responses to these issues. Some proposals focus on increasing the supply of – and demand for – local news, including increased public education and expanded support for journalists and local news organizations. Other proposals focus on market-based reforms that address the growing power disparities between news producers and platform operators as well as between platforms and their users.
Solutions to the difficult problems we face will require a multifaceted, multi-disciplinary approach. No one lever within the market, law, or society will deliver a magic bullet. Instead, experts and policymakers will need to pull at multiple levers using a new vocabulary to talk across the different disciplines – a set of new propositions that recognize the legal, social, journalistic, and economic principles at stake, particularly the harm done to democracy if the status quo continues.
In the Appendix we provide a list of recent research studies and resources available for those who wish to engage in more study of these important issues.
Keywords: Journalism, Social Media, Platforms, Misinformation, Antitrust, Media Law, First Amendment
JEL Classification: H41, K21, L41, L86,
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation