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Election fuelled misinformation is serious global risk in 2024, says WEF

Election fuelled misinformation is serious global risk in 2024, says WEF
  • India, Indonesia, Mexico, UK and US are set to go for elections in the next two years.
  • Widespread misinformation fuelled by elections could threaten democratic processes, says a report by WEF.
  • Societal polarisation is among the top three risks over both the current and two-year time horizons.
  • AI fuelled fake news, the emotive effect they have and fast progress versus controls are also worrying stakeholders across the world.
It’s a year of many elections across the world. This, on top of two ongoing wars, could make it the year of misinformation and disinformation, says a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in its global risks report 2024.

Close to three billion people are expected to head to the electoral polls across several economies – including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and the United States – over the next two years.

“The widespread use of misinformation and disinformation, and tools to disseminate it, may undermine the legitimacy of newly elected governments. Resulting unrest could range from violent protests and hate crimes to civil confrontation and terrorism,” WEF said.

State-backed campaigns too can add fuel to fire in the form of sanctions, cyber offenses, detentions and more. These detentions could also be targeted based on nationality, ethnicity and religion, the report says.

In an increasingly polarized world

Societal polarization is the third-most severe risk over the short term, and a consistent concern across stakeholder groupings. Societal polarization features among the top three risks over both the current and two-year time horizons.

Social polarisation is interconnected to economic downturn, and is an influential set of risk factors. It can serve as drivers for many consequences of numerous risks.

“Divisive factors such as political polarization and economic hardship are diminishing trust and a sense of shared values. The erosion of social cohesion is leaving ample room for new and evolving risks to propagate in turn,” it added.

And a clear victim of these polarizing effects and perceived reality is the truth. “As polarization grows and technological risks remain unchecked, ‘truth’ will come under pressure,” WEF says.

As truth is undermined, propaganda and censorship will rise. “In response to mis- and disinformation, governments could be increasingly empowered to control information based on what they determine to be “true”, WEF worries.

AI-powered misinformation highway

Who is affecting the truth? AI is leading the misinformation highway, driving more and more factors into it. Apart from being very effective in generating believable content, it’s also becoming much harder to discern even for the digitally educated consumer as well as detection mechanisms. Another layer on top of it AI hallucinated content.

In the survey, most people voted AI-generated misinformation and disinformation as the second biggest risk after extreme weather conditions that could rock the calendar year. “Such information can thus still be emotively powerful, blurring the line between malign and benign use,” the report says.

For example, an AI-generated campaign video could influence voters and fuel protests, or in more extreme scenarios, lead to violence or radicalization, even if it carries a warning by the platform on which it is shared that it is fabricated content.

The report says that synthetic content will manipulate individuals, damage economies and fracture societies in numerous ways over the next two years. It will also aid the proliferation of new classes of crime like non-consensual deepfake pornography or stock market manipulation.

“However, even as the insidious spread of misinformation and disinformation threatens the cohesion of societies, there is a risk that some governments will act too slowly, facing a trade-off between preventing misinformation and protecting free speech, while repressive governments could use enhanced regulatory control to erode human rights,” WEF report says.

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