Back around the end of the century I had the pleasure of contributing to a book called Next-Trends for the Near Future published by Overlook Press. I've recently taken that book off the shelf and thumbed through it. Got some things right, but boy did we miss some big trends that have come to define the last 17 years. So don't read the following as a gospel of what will come to pass. Something will pop out of left field that none of us were expecting (now that's something you can be sure of...). What I'm committing to electrons are some extrapolations based on observations, readings, interviews with experts and my just plain love of science.
So each week, I'll be throwing out a trend idea and expanding on it a little. Some are cool, some are benign and some may be truly frightening. I think all of them will affect us in some way, shape or form down the road.
Disinformation as the new information
Starting with a softball here...when I first presented my trend report back months ago, this was an emerging concern. I'm including it here as it has become apparent that this is something we are going to have to face for a long time to come. A large, and decisive chunk of the globe has lost faith in traditional news and information resources. Leaders and manipulators have found that any lie, crazy idea, propaganda (and I mean any) will be taken as truth by some folks and, it seems, by many folks these days. From 9/11 truthers to Protocols of the Elders of Zion believers there have always been falsehoods that have gained traction. Some as with the latter, with dangerous repercussions, but there was always a feeling that, in the U.S. at least, a sensibility held sway, driven by our trust in a free press that operated with the utmost professionalism and integrity. How quickly that disappeared in our age of immediate access to global communications on a one-to one basis...i.e., social media, 24/7 unvetted "news" sites, and clever meme designers.
We've seen trust in media dissolve to the point that term "main stream media" is a curse for a large portion of the populous. Even Fox News is considered msm by many. And it's happened so quickly. The question is - is this the future? An environment where no one trusts news that they disagree with; where "alternate facts" hold as much weight as the truth.
My projection is, sadly yes. Our technological abilities have given worldwide access to every individual, those with good intentions and those who would manipulate the truth. As long as we have a large segment of the public that does not value vetting the latest Facebook post or Tweet for the facts or refuses to even accept a fact if it contrary to their belief system then we can expect the battle over truth to be ongoing and possibly worse over the next few years.
Is there a solution?
A colleague in London in the PR field asked what should Public Relations professionals address in 2017. My response was to put some great minds to work on how to re-legitimize the news media. I don't know if that is doable. I fear it isn't. So I'm not proposing a solution here. I don't think there is one that doesn't start with censorship and we don't want that. What I do want you to think about however, is how you will function in a world where this explosion of disinformation has become the norm. How will it affect your politics? Your business? Will we need a central arbiter of truth and will they be believed. So if we thought the last couple of months of fake news and alternate truth were something, we ain't seen nothing yet!
Next Week: Cyber insurance for the masses - forget about financial data breaches what if your career is ruined?