Dirk Auer and Nicolas Petit on media coverage of tech organizations in Cato Journal
Dirk Auer and Nicolas Petit discussed how media coverage of tech organizations and digital firms severely exaggerates the potential and/or actual harms such firms pose in an article for the Cato Journal. They emphasized that media stories frequently misconstrue the correct understanding of monopoly power and over-emphasize the negative aspects of monopoly as well as to what extent monopolies actually occur.
The emergence of large corporate organizations in digital markets has attracted substantial press coverage. Much of that coverage describes these organizations in derogatory terms like “big tech,” “behemoths,” “gatekeepers,” “giants,” “goldilocks,” and “titans.” The press also makes extensive use of the concept of “monopoly,” which raises the question of whether the press representation of monopoly is in line with the socio-legal baseline enshrined in antitrust laws. To test that hypothesis, this article features a longitudinal study looking at press coverage of monopolies over a 150-year period.
Our inquiry points out three biases. First, press coverage of monopolies is usually negative and distorts the meaning of monopoly found in the antitrust literature. Second, data show that press coverage of the emergence of monopolies is more widespread than stories of their disappearance. Third, the coverage of monopolies is often clustered around “hot topics.”
This article proceeds as follows. We begin with a discussion of the basic hypothesis that motivates our study—namely, a possible discrepancy between the representation of monopoly in the mass media and the antitrust meaning of the term. Next, we review the literature related to the biases generally encountered in mass media and discuss potential antitrust and regulatory applications. We then analyze the use of “monopoly” in the press by looking at 150 years of press coverage. Finally, we sketch out some policy implications of our findings.