Future of Truth in the Information Age?
As rapid technological and societal shifts redefine how we access information and experience reality, the future may have new implications for finding facts and making sense of them collectively.
February 16, 2021, Gökce Sandal
With the proliferation of fake news, algorithmic social media bubbles and the growing capabilities of technology to manipulate human senses, our relationship with reality is evolving. As new technologies offer increasing possibilities to curate and modify how we experience both our digital and physical surroundings, our perception of what is to be considered real may be radically reframed in the future.
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Social media filter bubbles: The Internet gets fragmented
The initial hopes of the internet being a single worldwide web that brings people together have been disintegrating rapidly.
As the curation of content on social media platforms is tailored to the user in increasingly granular levels, individual experiences on the internet begin to differ vastly. When reality becomes more and more customisable and fragmented, the shared way of viewing the world and information in general start disappearing.
Moreover, the fragmentation of the internet is not limited to filter bubbles, either. Known as the splinternet or digital balkanisation, the internet is increasingly divided both geographically and politically.
Motivated by national security concerns, political interests, censorship and surveillance measures, multiple countries are building domestic internal infrastructures, giving rise to gated digital communities. For example, Russia recently announced that the country is “legally and technologically” ready to disconnect from global internet if needed.
Online misinformation, political polarisation and deplatforming
While politically polarised and biased media isn’t a new phenomenon per se, the hyper-personalised polarisation that’s been made possible by social media creates unique challenges in combatting misinformation.
Even though the amount of information available on the net is constantly increasing, the amount of new information that reaches us - and particularly information that may challenge our worldviews - continues to decrease, fuelling political polarisation.
The recent de-platforming of the former US President Donald Trump from multiple social media platforms, including Twitter and Facebook, illustrated the real-world consequences of the misinformation and polarisation amplified in these outlets, while also marking a potentially decisive turn in social media platforms’ content moderation policies.
Studies show that de-platforming is effective in curbing reach to violent web communities, but on the other hand, this may also possibly fragment the online media landscape further as de-platformed communities migrate to niche social media platforms that have little to no moderation.
Manipulating reality: Deepfakes and AI-enabled synthetic media
As deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) can manipulate media in increasingly realistic ways, we are on the cusp of a synthetic media revolution. With the speed of advancements in these technologies, it is probable that deepfakes, meaning AI-generated videos, images and speech of human beings, will likely become ubiquitous in our lives within the next decade.
While deepfakes will unlock a vast realm of possibilities in several industries, such as education, entertainment and media production, they also have the potential to supercharge fake news. Blurring the boundaries between what is visually and orally authentic and what’s not, AI-enabled synthetic video will mark a further paradigm shift in perceiving the reality.
As it has been the case with social media, the fast evolution and adoption of these new technologies may mean that they will have wide-reaching social implications before regulations can catch up. Thus, an ongoing conversation around the potential future impacts of these emerging technologies and ethical frameworks for designing them will be needed to ensure that their use will not cause harm or disconnect people from the world of facts entirely.
The future of information consumption and fake news
As alternate realities become indistinguishable from reality with the rise of new technologies and media formats, the fight for truth will become an increasingly complex endeavour in the future. Both public and private organisations will need to find new ways to earn and maintain consumer trust amid changing information landscapes.
Moving forward, organisations that devise new strategies to reach people in their preferred form of media and help consumers navigate the multitudes of fragmented realities will be at an advantage in building trust and creating value. For example, Finland’s healthcare service company Terveystalo recently started collaborating with social media influencers to combat misinformation surrounding the pandemic.
The change drivers mapped out above increase the need for new initiatives that help consumers find, synthesise, and fact-check relevant knowledge amidst the digital noise growing exponentially. In addition to governmental regulations, this may translate into new business models such as fact-checking-as-a-service. On a darker note, however, it is probable that it will also give rise to more black PR firms that offer fake news and reality manipulation as a service.
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ASSESS HOW THESE SHIFTS WILL IMPACT ON YOUR FUTURE
To write this article, Futures Platform’s futurists have collected the data from different phenomena and studied linkages between them. Here are the three colliding phenomena that are shaping the future of information consumption and our evolving relationship to truth and reality.
Attention is one of the most valuable resources in the information age. Although access to information has increased in massive scales in the digital era, the capacity of our mental processing power remains the same. Our attention is limited, and in the attention economy, digital products are competing for this scarce resource.
Collapse of General Knowledge
It is possible that the level of general knowledge will decline or even collapse. In the worst case, this will lead to the emergence of social bubbles within which there is hardly any knowledge about the lives of those in other bubbles. This kind of development is driven by, e.g., the algorithms used in social media and search engines which provide filtered content, whose selection is based on user’s previous internet behaviour.
Deepfake videos are AI-based video where two or more videos or pictures are utilised to create an entirely new video, making it possible to manipulate the facial expressions, speech and movements of a person. Deepfake videos can be created as jokes, to defame someone, or for blackmail. Without the means to distinguish genuine video footage from computer-generated footage, the spread of deepfake videos is likely to undermine people’s confidence in the veracity of all video footage.
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