To read this content please select one of the options below:

Regulating the new information intermediaries as gatekeepers of information diversity

Natali Helberger (Institute for Information Law, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
Katharina Kleinen-von Königslöw (University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland)
Rob van der Noll (SEO Economic Research, Amsterdam, The Netherlands)


ISSN: 1463-6697

Article publication date: 14 September 2015




The purposes of this paper are to deal with the questions: because search engines, social networks and app-stores are often referred to as gatekeepers to diverse information access, what is the evidence to substantiate these gatekeeper concerns, and to what extent are existing regulatory solutions to control gatekeeper control suitable at all to address new diversity concerns? It will also map the different gatekeeper concerns about media diversity as evidenced in existing research before the background of network gatekeeping theory critically analyses some of the currently discussed regulatory approaches and develops the contours of a more user-centric approach towards approaching gatekeeper control and media diversity.


This is a conceptual research work based on desk research into the relevant and communications science, economic and legal academic literature and the relevant laws and public policy documents. Based on the existing evidence as well as on applying the insights from network gatekeeping theory, this paper then critically reviews the existing legal/policy discourse and identifies elements for an alternative approach.


This paper finds that when looking at search engines, social networks and app stores, many concerns about the influence of the new information intermediaries on media diversity have not so much their source in the control over critical resources or access to information, as the traditional gatekeepers do. Instead, the real bottleneck is access to the user, and the way the relationship between social network, search engine or app platforms and users is given form. Based on this observation, the paper concludes that regulatory initiatives in this area would need to pay more attention to the dynamic relationship between gatekeeper and gated.

Research limitations/implications

Because this is a conceptual piece based on desk-research, meaning that our assumptions and conclusions have not been validated by own empirical research. Also, although the authors have conducted to their best knowledge the literature review as broad and as concise as possible, seeing the breadth of the issue and the diversity of research outlets, it cannot be excluded that we have overlooked one or the other publication.

Practical implications

This paper makes a number of very concrete suggestions of how to approach potential challenges from the new information intermediaries to media diversity.

Social implications

The societal implications of search engines, social networks and app stores for media diversity cannot be overestimated. And yet, it is the position of users, and their exposure to diverse information that is often neglected in the current dialogue. By drawing attention to the dynamic relationship between gatekeeper and gated, this paper highlights the importance of this relationship for diverse exposure to information.


While there is currently much discussion about the possible challenges from search engines, social networks and app-stores for media diversity, a comprehensive overview in the scholarly literature on the evidence that actually exists is still lacking. And while most of the regulatory solutions still depart from a more pre-networked, static understanding of “gatekeeper”, we develop our analysis on the basis for a more dynamic approach that takes into account the fluid and interactive relationship between the roles of “gatekeepers” and “gated”. Seen from this perspective, the regulatory solutions discussed so far appear in a very different light.



The authors are grateful to Dr Damian Tambini and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful and insightful remarks.


Helberger, N., Kleinen-von Königslöw, K. and van der Noll, R. (2015), "Regulating the new information intermediaries as gatekeepers of information diversity", info, Vol. 17 No. 6, pp. 50-71.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Related articles