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Getting news from Facebook and Google is convenient — but it comes at great collective cost

What's New in Publishing 22 Feb 2021 08:00

Digital platforms like Facebook and Google give us easy access to media and information. But our collective dependence on these tech giants could in the long run reduce the quality of journalism, making us all worse off.

The tension between convenience for readers and funding for journalism has been highlighted by Facebook’s recent move to block news in Australia rather than pay media companies under new regulations.

Situations like this, where each individual acts in their own best interest but everybody still somehow loses, are surprisingly common in life. Economists see them through the lens of the “prisoner’s dilemma”, a famous fable from game theory that might well illustrate our digital platforms ecosystem.

What is the prisoner’s dilemma?

Imagine two prisoners being interrogated in separate rooms about a crime they’ve committed. Each is offered a reduced sentence if they provide evidence of the crime.

If both prisoners provide evidence, they are both convicted of the crime. If only one does, he or she gets a reduced sentence, while the other gets the harshest of sentences. If neither supplies evidence, the investigator can only convict them of a minor crime.

What comes next?

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