Sharing Economy: A Media Analysis

My goal for this media analysis was to understand different ways the issue of regulation in the sharing economy is framed. I randomly sampled 15 articles to use from a pool of 40 I had found to reach a more manageable number. I chose to sample articles written in the past six months because there’s been even more controversy with Uber and Airbnb, which have sparked the topic of regulation. For example, Uber’s most recent controversy happened in the last month or so, regarding them using a “Greyball” tool to evade authorities all around the world. This specific controversy regarding Uber is huge because it’s something in response to the additional regulations being imposed on them. I chose to sample from regional publications such as the New York Post, and New York Daily News, mid-sized publications such as Cnet and Christian Science Monitor, as well as a larger publication such as the New York Time. I chose the regional news outlets because they tended to focus on New York City, the area I’m focusing on in my knowledge systems analysis. Supplementing those with articles taken from mid-sized to larger publications gives a well-rounded view on the media’s landscape on the sharing economy.

I’m going to start with the regional newspaper articles which are specific to New York, articles from the New York Post, and the New York Daily News.

The first article, claims that the refusal to support ride-sharing was due to “protecting the stranglehold that existing taxi companies have on transportation services across the state.” The next NY Post article, “New York lawmakers are waging war on the sharing economy” talks about how there should be some deregulation in the accommodation industry to level the playing field for fair competition between Airbnb and hotels. Both of these articles make references to the numerous benefits to the consumer due to the sharing economy, not limited to a supplement to one’s income.

“Turns out, Uber is clogging the streets,” talks about Uber’s effects on New York City’s transportation landscape. Here, the issue is framed as being “not a sustainable way to grow the city.” It takes Uber’s promise to take “1 million cars off the road in New York City,” and argues against it, saying how it has put cab drivers in the distant past. The NY Post article, “Bitter Uber driver brawls with cabbie who stole passengers” also frames the issue similarly, talking about its effect on cab drivers, using an example of a physical altercation which happened between an Uber and a cab driver, due to Uber stealing his passengers. Lastly, “Uber, Uber everywhere” talks about how Uber outnumbers cab drivers. There hasn’t been much action taken on the, mentioning how studies on the topic haven’t been useful at all. This article frames the discrepancy between Uber drivers and cab operators is the availability of wheelchair accessible vehicles, something Uber lacks in. This framing was the strongest argument for taxis in favor of Uber throughout all of the articles I read.

After going through the smaller publications, it looks like the sharing economy is framed both as being over-regulated, and benefitting consumers with the proper regulation. It’s a simple argument of over-regulation versus lack of regulation. The common theme seemed to be that the sharing economy is a good thing, given that there is a proper amount of regulation so that there’s healthy competition in the market place. The sharing economy is very clearly framed as an innovation which can be mutually beneficial to all parties. When tying it back to the salient facts mentioned in the scientific documents, they support the claim that existing regulations are incomplete. That claim again is an argument of innovation versus competition. Should the new innovations crowd out existing services? Should they be allowed to compete? Those are two very prominent issues being discussed here. The regional newspapers support healthy competition.

The mid-sized publications talk a lot about the ‘over-regulation’ of the sharing economy. For example, “Anti-AirBnB legislation reaches ridiculous level in NYC”, frames regulation as “ridiculous.” Adding on to that, The Christian Science Monitor’s article “Uber’s secret ‘Greyball’ program: a problem with the ride-hailer or with regulators?” explicitly talks about what Uber is doing to combat over-regulation. The program being referred to is “Greyball,” a criticized tool Uber uses to evade authorities in areas where Uber is heavily scrutinized. Reuters’ also had an article on “Greyball,” Uber used secret tool to evade authorities, which talked about how it’s used to protect Uber from disruption by competitors and drivers from abuse. It seems that the common pattern regarding the “Greyball” incident is that it was portrayed as being used to combat those “who are violating our terms of service,” as well as, though vaguely mentioned, used when there are enforcement stings. Another article, “New Jersey makes move toward regulating AirBnB” was especially interesting because it was the one article I sampled which focused on a more specific regional area (New Jersey), but had similar views to the larger publications. For example, it talks about how Airbnb paints itself as “a tool for economic development in middle-class and disadvantaged neighborhoods,” a view which is seemingly anti-regulation and was similar to the regional articles, as well as Cnet’s article. Cnet’s article, “NYC fines AirBnB hosts for ‘illegal’ home rentals” reported an issue which came about because of over regulation, and frames the issue as something which “unfairly exposes New Yorkers who share their home responsibly to large fines. It talks about how the sharing economy indeed can be something to stimulate economic development in the middle class, citing an ad campaign which AirBnB ran in New York City. All of the other larger articles all align with the issue that there’s too much regulation, and rather, talk about Uber’s presence in cities goals for mobility.

Finally, when looking at some of the largest publications such as the New York Times, framing is completely different. In NYT’s article, ”Subway Ridership Declines in New York. Is Uber to Blame?,” it focuses on Uber’s impact on traditional New York City public transportation, the subway. It makes zero references to cab drivers and regulation, and focuses strictly on the effect on public transportation ridership. It doesn’t necessarily take a stance on the issue, but it does allude to vast difficulty in improving dated but proven methods such as the bus and subway systems.

The mid-large sized publications have a very distinct pattern — all mainly talking about how the sharing economy is over-regulated, as well as how it can be a great tool for economic development. Here again, the sharing economy is framed as an innovation, a disruptive one even. Referring back to the innovation versus competition framing, the medium-large sized publications are quite a mixed bag, though leaning towards competition more.