The Decade of Disputes: No barriers to antitrust claims from corporate activists

An analysis of competition policy social conversation has found that news coverage around the topic of antitrust has created a network of online commentary relentlessly focussed on so-called big tech companies. Regardless of their involvement to the story of the day, coverage of high-profile tech companies is disproportionately skewed by a narrative that places these businesses as targets of attention by antitrust authorities. This provides the backdrop and context for future news coverage – creating a perpetual news cycle on big tech and antitrust.

FTI Consulting ran a digital media analysis spanning three years from H2 2018 to H2 2021, based on publicly accessible information from news sites and online conversation from Twitter, Reddit and other blogs or forums – in total, this covered 628,560 items analyzed for key themes and sentiment around competition and antitrust. In the last year alone, coverage and conversation on these topics has increased by 73%.

This analysis highlights a trend of antitrust being used as a prism and a tool for activists to campaign and threaten action against a company to seek change. This has taken on a wide interpretation of the theme of antitrust, covering a range of issues including tax, data privacy, environmental issues and labor relations. In particular, FTI has found that in the majority of these instances (52%), the primary conversation is not necessarily about a competition issue, but antitrust regulation is the prism through which a separate grievance is raised against a corporate entity or group of companies.

When looking at these topics in detail, the past 12 months has seen a significant growth in online conversation referring to competition concerns in relation to issues affecting the technology sector. In particular, debate around harmful content and free speech that is often associated with social networks and online platforms rose by 96% year-on-year. Meanwhile, the topics of privacy, data and internet security saw a 78% rise in volume year-on-year with references throughout by commentators and campaign groups citing competition issue.

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Authors: Gerardo Proaño from Brussels, Rob Mindell from London & John Whitcomb from Washington, DC.

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