There is an abundant and growing supply of mis/disinformation. Creating sophisticated mis/disinformation is becoming easier and cheaper.[i] Networks of small, hyper-local,[ii] and hyper-partisan media outlets[iii] are emerging—some with links to political interests or foreign states. Many mix real and fake news. This shift in the media landscape has reduced protections against misinformation provided by traditional journalistic and editorial norms. At the same time, the speed of new media makes it hard to counter misinformation, because of the much slower pace at which traditional experts share their thinking. The rise of actors such as public relations firms that embrace mis/disinformation as professional services[iv] only amplifies the problem. New forms of expression such as memes[v] and deep fakes[vi] are another factor. Originating as pure entertainment, they have been put to use as successful vehicles for mis/disinformation.
Demand also appears to be growing among a large part of the public. Growing anxiety about the future paired with the disruption of stabilizing rituals,[vii] traditions,[viii] and institutions[ix] may also be amplifying demand for certain kinds of mis/disinformation, especially conspiracy theories that offer the comfort of certainty. The communities[x] these theories generate appear to be spreading. As the unconventional knowledge norms they champion spread, so might demand for mis/disinformation.
Should supply and demand continue to grow, false content could flood the information landscape.[xi] Emerging metaverses may be especially important in this regard. They could enable entirely new forms of mis/disinformation, including bots that impersonate people we know or fake news we can experience in four dimensions. In the future, even the most diligent and vigilant of citizens may struggle to differentiate real news from fake news, fact from fiction, and sense from nonsense.
[i] Jennifer Bisset, “Lucasfilm hires deepfake YouTuber who fixed Luke Skywalker in the Mandalorian,” CNET, last modified Jul. 27, 2021, https://www.cnet.com/culture/entertainment/lucasfilm-hires-deepfake-youtuber-who-fixed-luke-skywalker-in-the-mandalorian/.
[ii] Will Oremus, “Nextdoor is quietly replacing the small town paper,” OneZero, last modified Jan. 27, 2021, https://onezero.medium.com/nextdoor-is-quietly-replacing-the-small-town-paper-ca583962c15a.
[iii] Jessica Mahone and Philip Alboni, “Hundreds of hyperpartisan sites are masquerading as local news,” Nieman Lab, last modified Jul. 13, 2020, https://www.niemanlab.org/2020/07/hundreds-of-hyperpartisan-sites-are-masquerading-as-local-news-this-map-shows-if-theres-one-near-you/.
[iv] C. Silverman, J. Lytvynenko, & W. Kung, “Disinformation for Hire: How A New Breed Of PR Firms Are Selling Lies Online,” Buzzfeed News, last modified Jan. 6, 2020 https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/craigsilverman/disinformation-for-hire-black-pr-firms.
[v] Allegra Frank, “The totally wild true tail of a meme that almost inspired a real raid on Area 51,” Vox, last modified Sep. 20, 2019, https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/9/20/20864550/storm-area-51-matty-roberts-rachel-nevada-aliens-meme.
[vi] G. Weiss, “The new struggle for truth in the era of deepfakes,” The Strategist, last modified Nov. 12, 2020, https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/the-new-struggle-for-truth-in-the-era-of-deepfakes/.
[vii] Scott Wilson, “Japanese students hold graduation ceremony in Minecraft amid school cancellation,” Sora News 24, last modified Mar. 15. 2020, https://soranews24.com/2020/03/15/japanese-students-hold-graduation-ceremony-in-minecraft-amid-school-cancellation/.
[viii] Nic Meloney, “Virtual powwow connects dancers, drummers, and vendors amid pandemic,” CBC, last modified Apr. 4, 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/coronavirus-virtual-powwow-social-distance-1.5521785.
[ix] “Churches turn to the Internet to reach their flocks,” The Economist, last modified Apr. 11, 2020, https://www.economist.com/international/2020/04/11/churches-turn-to-the-internet-to-reach-their-flocks.
[x] M. Spring and M. Wendling, “How Covid-19 myths are merging with the QAnon conspiracy theory,” BBC, last modified Sep. 2, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-53997203. Justin Ling, “Was it really about vaccine mandates or something darker? The inside story of the convoy protests,” Toronto Star, last modified Mar. 19. 2022, https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2022/03/19/was-it-really-about-vaccine-mandates-or-something-darker-the-inside-story-of-the-convoy-protests.html.
[xi] Max Read, “How Much of the Internet is Fake? Turns out, Quite a Lot of it Actually,” Intelligencer, last modified Dec. 26, 2018, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/12/how-much-of-the-internet-is-fake.html.