The growth of democratic engagement on social media, particularly in a US presidential election year, has stoked fears that platforms could be abused to influence the result.
These fears will be exacerbated by the inability of leading firms to guard against fake news and emerging threats like deepfakes.
Listed below are the top social media macroeconomic trends, as identified by GlobalData.
The splinternet is the fragmentation of the internet. Splintering is compartmentalization of the internet, often driven by governments due to national interest. Governments and regulators with growing concerns about fake news, national security, and online safety are beginning to target leading social networks. Russia passed a bill in 2019 to establish control over the country’s internet traffic. Similarly, China will block access to specific parts of the internet, particularly social media sites.
Social media platforms can be tools for democratic engagement and participation. This engagement involves the online exchange of political ideas and direct and active engagement with political leaders and organisations. Because of this, social media has led to an increase in the democratic engagement of non-traditional participants, specifically people aged under 25.
Online democratic engagement will become increasingly important. Social media may encourage voting among non-traditional demographics and this will be particularly pertinent in 2020. Tech firms will have to respond. Twitter has already announced that it will ban political advertisements, with pressure mounting on Facebook to follow suit.
A filter bubble is created when the algorithms that personalise individuals’ online experiences cause the user to be exposed only to content that conforms to and reinforces their own opinions. Filter bubbles can convince individuals that their view is the dominant one. This is because they do not see opposing arguments. There will be increasing attempts to guard against filter bubbles by social media firms. This will be achieved through altering algorithmic programming, whilst ensuring that algorithms still effectively target users for ads. Facebook has already updated its news feed algorithm in 2018.
The use AI to alter video and audio clips of real people without their permission produces deepfakes. Unfortunately this creates content that seems real but is fundamentally corrupt. Deepfakes are primarily used to imitate, parody, or slander politicians. They leave little trace but can erode trust at an alarming rate. Deepfakes have also been used in crime. The technology needed to combat deepfakes has not developed sufficiently. Because of this we expect the number of deepfakes disseminated on social media to increase in 2020. This may lead governments to take regulatory action and advocate more serious measures such as the banning of videos on social media.
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The influence of old media companies continues to decline. This has allowed a handful of social media companies to play a greater role in the dissemination of news. Therefore, the boundaries that once prevented fake news from spreading have broken down. Anyone can create and disseminate information, particularly those adept at manipulating how social networks operate. Facebook has hired fact checkers to flag disputed stories, cut off advertising revenue to fake news sites, and begun to vet advertising more thoroughly.
As more people democratically engage online, fake news will continue to corrupt the information disseminated. This will allow democracy to become subverted by malignant interests. There will be a stepping up of regulation targeting fake news at its source, or at the companies whose platforms are susceptible to it.
This is an edited extract from the Tech, Media, & Telecom Trends 2020 – Thematic Research report produced by GlobalData Thematic Research.