'The Political Power of Platforms: How Current Attempts to Regulate Misinformation Amplify Opinion Power' by Natali Helberger in (2020) 8(6) Digital Journalism 842-854 comments
This contribution critically reviews the ongoing policy initiatives in Europe to impose greater societal responsibility on social media platforms. I discuss the current regulatory approach of treating social platforms as mere 'intermediaries' of the speech of others and propose a different perspective. Instead of perceiving platforms as intermediaries and facilitators of the speech of others, I view social media platforms as active political actors in their own right, and wielders of considerable opinion power. I will explain how taking the perspective of opinion power throws a very different, and rather alarming light on the recent regulatory initiatives.
Facebook is not a government – yet. Moreover, the current political debate around the regulation of social media platforms in Europe, but also in the US, is still very much framed in terms of governing a set of commercial actors whose business model is to connect and facilitate the speech of their billions of users. In this commentary, I propose a different perspective. Instead of perceiving platforms as intermediaries and facilitators of the speech of others, I view social media platforms as effective political actors in their own right, and wielders of considerable opinion power (defined in Section three below). I will argue that, in media law and policy, we have a long tradition of thinking about and dealing with sometimes dominant opinion power in the media. This is because we understand that opinion power in the media can far too easily translate into political power. I will explain how, when viewed through the lens of opinion power, some of the recent European initiatives on platform governance appear in a new and rather alarming light. Finally, I will make a suggestion for the way forward.