Platform-based media raises challenges

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2023-06-08

Platform-based media with clear commercial purposes and distinct technical features are increasingly involved in the production and dissemination of information content. They have become a popular means to access various types of information, and constitute a new media ecology.

Impact on public opinion environment

Media platforms that emerged from dot-com companies are not only independently operating entities that support the platform economy, but also serve as hubs for allocating social resources. Some of them now enjoy abundant capital, massive data and hundreds of millions of users, with their influence spreading to all sectors of society.

These media often play the role of “opinion leaders” in the process of content production and dissemination through screening, filtering and classifying mechanisms. They take advantage of information fragmentation, information asymmetry, users’ lack of discernment, emotional bias and herd mentality to dissolve the dominant position and social influence of mainstream media, thereby affecting the orientation of public opinion. 

Existing problems in content production

Platform-based media primarily seek to monetize traffic by significantly expanding their user base. Several problems have emerged as a result of this model.

First, content production on platform-based media is mostly criticized for false information, vulgar content, clickbait, and increasingly sophisticated images, audio and video produced using deepfake technology. The influx of user-generated content leads to lower standards of content production and information of poor quality. 

In addition, the distribution of different types of content is uneven, with the majority consisting of infotainment and opinion pieces. The lack of informative content has obscured the visibility of high-quality news, and fueled the sensationalization of news and the emotionalization of opinions.

Second, online public opinion is becoming segmented due to the differences in the interests, demands, concerns, and particularly, emotional identity of a huge number of users. This gives rise to echo chambers that impede the free flow of information and viewpoints. 

Third, in the era of “post-truth,” information producers and publishers prioritize eye-catching and sensational elements rather than facts. Some platform-based media have amplified this phenomenon through algorithmic recommendations, widely spreading “post-truth” content on social media that can stimulate users’ situational empathy. The proliferation of “post-truth” drains space and resources away from mainstream values, and puts mainstream media at higher risk of marginalization.

Causes of problems

The “gatekeeping” function of the media is weakened by the obsession with traffic. Platform-based media often use clickbait or create hype surrounding controversial topics to monetize traffic. Without adequate content moderation, journalistic values are violated, content becomes homogenous, and toxic information goes viral.

It is technically difficult to eliminate the influence of subjective factors. As open platforms underpinned by new technologies allow every user to be a free information publisher, the screening and evaluation of huge amounts of information with the help of artificial intelligence is an inevitable choice. 

However, factors such as the complexity of language itself and the variability of the public opinion ecology increase the difficulty of relying solely on machines to identify harmful or unwanted information. Furthermore, automated writing, algorithmic recommendation and other technologies are prone to interference from undesirable factors including bias, discrimination and sensationalism.

Many users are excessively dependent on platform-based media. Since these media practically control information production, social channels and the Internet of Things, people habitually perceive media use and media exposure to be a way of life that can offer “psychological massage.” Over time, users become too lazy to think and stray from “rationality” when faced with a multiplicity of fragmented information, which makes them more emotional in the public opinion field. 

Potential solutions

The governance of content production on platform-based media is a systematic project which requires us to update our understanding and build a multi-party collaborative governance system.

The deployment of new technologies has significantly promoted the development of content production capacity, but we must not ignore the agency of human beings in content production and fall into the trap of “technological supremacy.” Technology is ultimately a tool that serves content production, and it is the content that conveys the meaning of life and values that truly resonates with people’s hearts. 

Relying solely on manual identification, monitoring and filtering of massive information is time-consuming and labor intensive. Therefore, we should not only advance research and application of automated batch fact-checking technology, but also seek a balance between instrumental rationality and value rationality as well as between mainstream values, corporate interests and user demands.

Government departments and agencies, internet service providers, and platform companies are the main governance bodies of online information content. Government departments and agencies act as the leading force by establishing accountability standards at the regulatory level. Internet service providers are collaborative participants who can eliminate harmful information through various technological means such as interception, filtering and blocking. Platform companies, as operators and owners of platform-based media, bear primary responsibility for information content governance. They should improve their content moderation and risk assessment mechanisms to regulate the production and publication of information content. Only when multiple stakeholders complement each other and make concerted efforts, can we build a healthy network ecology. 


Xu Xiangdong is a professor at the Research Center of Journalism and Social Development at Renmin University of China.

Editor:Yu Hui

Copyright©2023 CSSN All Rights Reserved

Copyright©2023 CSSN All Rights Reserved