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Weekly Digest: Big Tech and its Rivals

Welcome to The Fix’s weekly news digest! Every Friday, we bring you important news stories from the world of media – and try to put them in a wider context.

Multiple US state prosecutors filed several antitrust cases against Google this week. Just days before, the federal government and attorneys general from most states initiated an antitrust suit against Facebook. It’s perhaps one of this year’s most notable stories for the media and technology world; in a market-friendly country like America the government doesn’t often bring up big antitrust cases.

Big tech companies are facing regulatory action in Europe as well. On Tuesday, the European Commission announced a major proposal designing new rules for digital platforms. According to Politico, the plan suggests that “large online platforms like Google, Amazon and Facebook [should] face new limits on how they can expand their online empires,” as well as be more responsible for policing illegal content. Otherwise, they would “face levies of up to 10 percent of their global revenue… for unfairly hamstringing smaller rivals.” In extreme cases, regulators would receive the right to break up companies that violate the rules.

At this point, both US antitrust cases and the European Commission plan are still far from seeing their proposed changes enacted. The lawsuits might not succeed, and the European proposal has some notable challenges ahead. Anyway, it will probably take several years for the process to conclude in each case, even if the regulators are successful.

In 2020, social media platforms faced an unusually high threat of disinformation campaigns, with the US election and the COVID-19 pandemic. Various new features were rolled out to help counter fakes and misinformation. Some of them worked well, but some didn’t – or were temporary in the first place.

This week, Twitter restored traditional retweet functionality after an experiment trying to counter misinformation by making users reflect on a retweeted post through “quote tweeting” has not proven as successful as hoped. According to Twitter, “the use of Quote Tweets increased, but 45% of them included single-word affirmations and 70% had less than 25 characters”.

Facebook rolled back its election-timed change in news feed algorithms that boosted articles from traditional publishers while demoting less authoritative sites, such as partisan news outlets. The change was meant to be temporary, but New York Times reports that some Facebook employees asked for the “nicer news feed” to stay on. 

More from The Fix: Weekly Digest: All Eyes on the Platforms 

Some of Facebook’s and Twitter’s rivals (if not particularly big ones at this point) include Cameo, Patreon, Substack, Twitch, OnlyFans and similar platforms. They help individual creators – including journalists – make a living while maintaining their independence from social media algorithms and keeping direct contact with fans. For these platforms and for these creators, 2020 has been a good year.

Axios reports that “nearly every major app geared towards content creators has seen significant percentage increases in downloads this year.” Cameo expects to make $100 million this year, Substack has gathered over 250,000 paid subscribers, while Patreon has 6 million people paying for exclusive content and supporting their favorite creators financially.

More from The Fix on the “Substackisation” of news journalism:
Two co-founders are leaving Vox for New York Times and Substack

Two trends from US media European media won’t have to deal with  

Bonus – Five more stories you might want to check out:

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