An echo chamber full of fake news? Blame Google and Facebook, says Murdoch chief

Ad 'duopoly' has markets and public opinion by the short ones

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Former Times editor and News International chief executive Robert Thomson has launched a precision attack on the "duopoly" of Google and Facebook. As debate rages around what role "fake news" played in electing Donald Trump, Thomson points out that whether news is "real" or "fake", Google and Facebook don't care. Either way, they win.

The ability to make money from other people's stuff, without the cost of being responsible for it (lawyers and monitors), has resulted in "free money" for the duo, said Thomson.

Google and Facebook account for between 75 per cent and 90 per cent of new online ad spending. That's on top of the 65 per cent share of digital ad spending that they already enjoy. Capital investment in adtech startups has evaporated as investors realise it's pointless to compete.

Thomson also took aim at two other areas where Silicon Valley influences (critics would say distort) markets but then disavow responsibility.

Thomson made the remarks in a speech in Hong Kong, published Wednesday.

"Your business model can't be simultaneously based on both intimate, granular details about users and no clue whatsoever about rather obvious pirate sites," the chief exec pointed out.

And he also noted how, as vertical monopolies, they can stack the deck to favour themselves.

"A study reported in The Wall Street Journal found that in 25,000 random Google searches ads for Google products appeared in the most prominent slot 91 per cent of the time. How is that not the unfair leveraging of search dominance and the abuse of algorithm? All 1,000 searches for 'laptops' started with an ad for Google's Chromebook – 100 per cent of the time. Kim Jong Un would be envious of results like that at election time."

Thomson said the ad duopoly not only helps to promote "fake news", but will reduce the diversity of opinion.

"Their responses tend to be political and politically correct. Regardless of your own views, you should be concerned that we are entering an era in which these immensely influential publishers will routinely and selectively 'unpublish' certain views and news. The echo chamber has never been larger and the reverb room rarely more cacophonous." ®

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