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Why the tech companies dominated Davos

Tech issues dominated media coverage of Davos and the discussion on social media – according to analysis by Brunswick.

Research carried out by Remy Smida, Associate, Brunswick Insight

Aside from coverage of Trump and the snowy weather, it was issues associated with the tech industry that generated the most comment and conversation around last week’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. In previous years, tech companies have confidently positioned themselves as drivers of social progress, the solution to many of society’s big challenges; this year, they were firmly on the defensive.



Figure 1: Analysis of media coverage around the 2018 WEF meeting in Davos

Concerns about technology were heavily represented on this year’s Forum agenda, with sessions on the perils of AI, the impact of automation, crypto bubbles, money laundering, cybersecurity, radicalization and terrorism, as well as discussions on fake news and declining trust in the tech sector.

The big tech companies dominated the discussion on media and social media. Facebook was a major focus, even though CEO Mark Zuckerberg did not attend the Forum this year. Google and Alphabet also received significant coverage, with Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat appearing in a number of sessions.

Figure 2: The most mentioned companies and organizations in Davos 2018

Against a backdrop of anxiety around the impacts of Artificial Intelligence, Google’s CEO took on the mantle of AI champion. He was widely quoted comparing AI to the discovery of electricity or the mastery of fire, describing it as “probably the most important thing humanity has ever worked on”.

The most mentioned business leader in our analysis was George Soros, chairman of Soros Fund Management, who made headlines with a scathing speech about the tech sector. “It is only a matter of time before the global dominance of the U.S. IT monopolies is broken,” Soros said. “Davos is a good place to announce that their days are numbered.”

Figure 3: The business leaders in Davos 2018 with the most primary mentions in media coverage.

Other tech sector leaders also featured prominently in the discussion about this year’s Forum. Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff was widely reported comparing the tech sector to the tobacco industry: “technology has addictive qualities that we have to address,” he told CNBC. “Product designers are working to make these products more addictive, and we have to rein that back”.

In a panel called “In Technology We Trust” Benioff spoke of the need for better regulation: “the point of regulators and governments is to come in and point true north”, he said. Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said, “There’s no way regulators can keep up with the speed of technology, but they can play a role with accountability”. He issued a challenge to regulators, “Be harsh with accountability”.

BlackRock CEO Larry Fink helped shape the Davos conversation about the social impacts of technology. He featured prominently in the coverage, following the publication of a letter calling on CEOs to pay attention to their company’s “societal impact”. As Business Insider’s headline put it, Everyone at Davos is talking about ‘Larry’s letter’.

If there were an award for Most Thoughtful Business Exec it would surely go to Alibaba founder Jack Ma, who found his flow in Davos this year. He was widely reported speaking out on a broad a range of issues – including the impact of AI, women in business, the future of globalization and the risks of a trade war, as well as introducing his concept of LQ – “the IQ of love”.

NOTE: This analysis covers all news articles mentioning the 2018 WEF annual meeting in Davos published in a selection of key US and UK media sources. We capture media coverage published between January 22nd and January 26th, 2018. ‘Primary mention’ refers to the most prominently mentioned person in a given story.