Tech

Tech monopolies are killing journalism, Ocasio-Cortez says

Key Points
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says tech monopolies are ruining journalism.
  • Facebook came under fire in 2018 for helping to spread false news planted by Russians during the 2016 presidential election.
  • Facebook's algorithms and video products can help or hurt newsrooms that rely on them.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez addresses the crowd gathered at La Boom night club in Queens on November 6, 2018 in New York City. With her win against Republican Anthony Pappas, Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman elected to Congress.
Rick Loomis | Getty Images

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over the weekend sounded off on the layoffs that recently hit newsrooms of the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and Gannett.

"The biggest threats to journalism right now are tech monopolies and concentration of ownership," Ocasio-Cortez said Saturday on Twitter. "Healthy democracy requires high-quality journalism. Without a range of independent outlets and the revenue to sustain them, our democracy will continue to crumble."

Ocasio-Cortez specifically called out Facebook, which was used by Russia to spread disinformation during the 2016 presidential election.

"Most platforms currently have 0 incentive to disseminate high-quality, true information," Ocasio-Cortez said. "In fact, Facebook paid for info tied to conspiracy theories on those demanding for accountability."

Ocasio-Cortez was referring to a November report in The New York Times that revealed Facebook's communications team decided to dig into billionaire George Soros, who had suggested Facebook and Google's "days are numbered" and that both companies are "obstacles to innovation."

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But Facebook, Google and other tech companies have worked to quell disinformation. Last year, for example, Facebook and Google's YouTube removed content from Alex Jones' InfoWars channels, which they said promoted hate speech and Jones' conspiracy theories.

Facebook has a lot of power over who sees the news. Its News Feed feature has algorithms that decide which news articles are presented to Facebook's more than 1 billion daily active users. Those views can mean big bucks for media companies that rely on Facebook, and a tiny change in the company's algorithms can hurt newsrooms that have dedicated teams to gaming how to get more posts promoted on Facebook.

The social network's video partnerships can make or break a company, too. The online media outlet Mic, for example, laid off most of its editorial staff and sold itself to digital media company BDG in 2018 after deciding to focus primarily on Facebook video, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. But, when Facebook decided it didn't want that video any longer, Mic had nowhere else to go.

Perhaps a bit ironically, Ocasio-Cortez has used Twitter and social networks to spread her message more broadly. Twitter, too, has come under fire for disseminating misinformation. Twitter has suspended accounts for posting false information.

While not specifically called out by Ocasio-Cortez, Apple and Google also have news platforms called Apple News and Google News, respectively, that promote trending and human-curated news content.

Facebook was not immediately available to comment on Ocasio-Cortez's remarks.

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