Elon University

The 2016 Survey: The Future of Online Discourse (Anonymous Responses)

Free speech, trolls, anonymity, fake news, and the future: Will uncivil and manipulative behaviors persist or even worsen?
Anonymous responses by those who wrote to explain their response

Internet experts and highly engaged netizens participated in answering a five-question survey fielded by the Imagining the Internet Center and the Pew Internet, Science & Technology Project from July 1 through August 12, 2016. One of the survey questions asked respondents to share their answer to the following query:

In the next decade, will public discourse online become more or less shaped by bad actors, harassment, trolls, and an overall tone of griping, distrust, and disgust? Please elaborate on your answer and consider answering these issues in your response: How do you expect social media and digital commentary will evolve in the coming decade? Do you think we will see a widespread demand for technological systems or solutions that encourage more-inclusive online interactions? What do you think will happen to free speech? What might be the consequences for anonymity and privacy? 

Most who responded said they fear uncivil and manipulative behaviors on the Internet will persist or get worse. Some predict this will lead to a splintering of social media to AI-patrolled and regulated “safe spaces” separated from free-for-all zones. Many worry this will hurt the open exchange of ideas and compromise privacy and some say it will damage democracy. About 19% said they expect social discourse to improve by 2026.

Among the key themes emerging from 1,537 respondents’ answers were: – Things will stay bad because to troll is human – Anonymity abets bad behavior. – Inequities are motivating at least some of the inflammatory dialogue. – The growing scale and complexity of Internet discourse makes uncivil discourse difficult to overcome. – Things will stay bad because tangible and intangible economic and political incentives support uncivil behaviors. – Hate, anxiety, and anger drive up participation, which equals profits and power. – Technology companies have little incentive to rein in uncivil discourse, and traditional news organizations – which used to help shape discussions for the common good – have shrunk in importance. – Terrorists and other political actors are benefiting from the weaponization of online narratives, implementing human- and bot-based misinformation and persuasion tactics. – Things will get better because technical and human solutions will arise to detect and filter inappropriate behaviors. – Due to the filtering and moderation required to deal with uncivil discourse, online worlds will splinter into segmented, controlled social zones and free-for-all zones. – There will be partitioning, exclusion, and division of online outlets, social platforms, and open spaces. – Trolls and other uncivil actors will fight back, innovating around any barriers they face. – Some ‘solutions’ to uncivil behavior could further change the nature of the Internet. – Pervasive surveillance will become more prevalent. – Dealing with hostile behavior and addressing violence and hate speech will become the responsibility of the state instead of the platform or service providers. – Polarization will occur due to the compartmentalization of ideologies. – Increased monitoring, regulation, and enforcement will shape content to such an extent that the public will not gain access to important information and possibly lose free speech.

If you wish to read the full survey report with analysis, click here.

To read credited survey participants’ responses with no analysis, click here.

Written elaborations by anonymous respondents

Following are the full responses by study participants who chose not to take credit for their remarks in the survey – only including those who included a written elaboration explaining how they see the near future for social discourse. Some of these are the longer versions of expert responses that are contained in shorter form in the official survey report. About half of respondents chose to take credit for their elaboration on the question (anonymous responses are published on a separate page).

These responses were collected in an “opt in” invitation to several thousand people who have been identified by researching those who are widely quoted as technology builders and analysts and those who have made insightful predictions to our previous queries about the future of the Internet.

Some 1,537 experts responded to the following question:

In the next decade, will public discourse online become more or less shaped by bad actors, harassment, trolls, and an overall tone of griping, distrust, and disgust? Please elaborate on your answer and consider addressing these issues: How do you expect social media and digital commentary will evolve in the coming decade? Do you think we will see a widespread demand for technoloigcal systems or solutions that encourage more-inclusive online interactions? What do you think will happen to free speech? What might be the consequences for anonymity and privacy?

About 41% of respondents said they expect no major change in the tone of online interaction; about 39% of the respondents said they expect online communication will be more shaped by negative activities; and about 19% expect online communication will be less shaped by negative activities

An anonymous senior software developer, said, “Insofar as the Internet will become progressively more of a corporate possession and corporate media seems to rely progressively more heavily on the attention-getting antics of bad actors, the illusion that will pass for ‘public discourse’ in the future will be one of trolling, offense, and extremism.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Every time we think we have reached a new point in society a quick look at history shows we’ve been here before and there is nothing new—and everything is a cyclical balance between veering too far in one direction for a time and then overcorrecting. I expect anonymity and privacy to almost disappear within the next five years, but as we are even now developing better security and privacy protocols, I expect a surge in privacy to return within ten years—with new technologies to limit data tracking and greater public awareness. I hope we will see more companies moving toward doing business online, but as supplementing, not replacing, their physical stores. We have already seen an increase in apps designed to make daily banking, buying, and other tasks easier, and I expect that trend to continue. I also expect huge leaps in automated technologies that will dramatically change many jobs—what they look like and how they are performed—within the next twenty years. The technology will evolve faster, but we won’t be able to cope with it socially, culturally, or emotionally, and so it will impede this progress. I expect us to continue to ignore the ever-increasing data that shows that our loss of real-world community leads to an increase in depression and anxiety disorders, but online communities play a critical role in helping pair like-minded groups and individuals regardless of distance.”

An anonymous principal security consultant, wrote, “People are considering ways to encourage positive interaction. The problem is that we already have a pretty good idea of how to do that, but ‘problematic behavior’ is driven partially by the same things that keep users constantly returning to the same website (or more properly, never leaving it: spending upwards of 6-plus hours a day on the same website in some cases). As long as success (and in the current climate, profit as a common proxy for success) is determined by metrics that can be easily improved by throwing users under the bus, places that run public areas online will continue to do just that.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Corporate, government, and special-interest groups (legal or not) will become more active, advanced, and aggressive (sometimes subtly so) online.”

An anonymous professor at MIT, said, “We see a dark current of people who equate free speech with the right to say anything, even hate speech, even speech that does not sync with respected research findings. They find in unmediated technology a place where their opinions can have a multiplier effect, where they become the elites because they can bypass traditional elites. Traditional elites have lost their credibility because they have become associated with income inequality and social injustice. They have not cast a blind eye but they have been part of the system that has profited from it even as they described it. This dynamic has to shift before online life can play a livelier part in the life of the polity. I believe that it will, but slowly.”

An anonymous futurist, writer and author at Wired predicted communication will be shaped more by negative activities, writing, “New levels of ‘cyberspace sovereignty’ and heavy-duty state and non-state actors are involved; there’s money, power, and geopolitical stability at stake now, it’s not a mere matter of personal grumpiness from trolls.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “We’re just beginning to see the result of people being able to network to express their frustrations and their alternative visions for governance and civil society. Brexit and Trump have most usefully been framed as by Thomas Piketty in terms of being expressions of profound dissatisfaction with ruling classes/parties/status quos by the disadvantaged. That these are Westerners who have had the Internet for 30 years, not just the ‘actually’ poor and uneducated across the world who are joining the Internet over the coming decade, means that there is no doubt going to be more disagreement, fragmentation, and contention online than less. I see this as less a feature of technological determinism than the general direction of the world right now, as fused together. The destinies of both, in other words, are intertwined.”

An anonymous technology writer, said, “The presence of harassment and mobs online effectively silences me from voicing opinions where they can be heard. Doxxing is dangerous to my family and neighbors, and I can’t risk it. The ability for anyone anywhere to find and publicize personal information for any member of any minority group who might draw ire is incredibly, incredibly dangerous. Anonymity and privacy are already more-or-less mythical. Either we, as a society, start designing explicitly for inclusivity or we accept that only the loudest, angriest voices have a right to speak and the rest of us must listen in silence.”

An anonymous leader of city government in a Silicon Valley community said, “There are a number of largely unmoderated forums like NextDoor which in my city have been taken over by anti-politics—people use false identities to promote their points of view and squelch everyone else’s.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “The monetization of attention on digital platforms will become more efficient, pushing the content that is being monetized to move beyond click bait to content with a higher lifetime value. This kind of content is usually less negative.”

An anonymous professor at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute said, “Russia has found it extremely useful to use such media to flood political and social discourse; other nations have or will follow suit. Cybersecurity will generally increase, but the potential for bad actors to take targeted aim will remain, and it will definitely impact security, privacy, and public discourse.”

An anonymous IT manager, observed, “I’ve been using Internet services since the late 1980’s and have watched the World Wide Web explode in popularity through the 90’s. At first it seemed thrilling to have this wide open communications platform where no one would judge you based on your sex, your age, your looks. But over time, it’s become apparent that the tone of the Internet is dominated by trolls, hate mongers, griefers, and anyone else who thinks anonymity gives them agency to spew venom at others. In particular, the comment section for news and blog sites has become a sounding chamber for insults and spurious attacks, and the ready availability of any number of hate filled lies that would normally be ignored by the mainstream seems to be increasing over time, filtering from the hidden corners of the web into our daily lives. To be fair, I tie some of the blame of this to the destruction of real journalism in a race to the bottom for more and more sensational news headlines and no attempt to be fair and to call out blatant lies by politicians and celebrities. Free speech must always be protected and supported, but I think most sites should absolutely ditch their comment functions if they aren’t going to moderate the hate and rage machine it spawns.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “If I find I dislike someone’s comments on Facebook or other social media I unfollow them. So most of my social media is filled with just life-update type posts, and when they are political I’ve surrounded myself on the Internet (as in life) with like-minded people so there isn’t a lot of discourse (which I know doesn’t really help expand my world view). I’m not on Reddit or any other major Internet forum, so I don’t really see the negative-activities type of scenario. I know it must be a real problem, it just isn’t in my personal life.”

An anonymous principal scientist at one of the major US technology companies wrote, “It will be more shaped by the negative. People tend to believe what they see on the Internet. People tend to visit websites that pander to their views. This polarizes views.”

An anonymous senior security engineer at a major US-based Internet services company commented, “Anti-harassment is a technologically solvable problem. As the tools to prevent harassment improve, the harassers will be robbed of their voices, and the overall tone will improve.”

An anonymous network and systems manager based in Milwaukee wrote, “I expect additional technologies will be developed for mediating these situations.”

An anonymous freelance consultant said, “I expect an increase in curated sites, increasingly effective AI filters to delete spam and trolls, and increases in news sites which lack any place for comments and feedback. These will reduce negativity within their realms, at the price of lack of diversity. However, this will be more than offset by niche ‘rat holes’ of conspiracy sites and narrow perspective ‘reporting’, with abundant space for trolls and negativity. The online experience will involve tough choices: either chose to avoid diversity of perspectives, and challenges to untruths and journalistic lapses, or choose to deal with negativity, trolls, and BS.”

An anonymous respondent said, “People feel protected online and are more likely to express a negative comment, since they cannot perceive social cues and nonverbal communication that may give them a sign to stop.”

A computer security professor at Purdue University, said, “The rising levels of divide and partisanship lead more people to be abusive online. The lack of adequate controls encourages this. I fully expect we will also see further partitioning and divide among outlets—there will be few ‘places’ where many points of view can be expressed and discussed civilly. There also is likely to be an increase in slanted ‘fact’ sites, designed to bolster partisan views by how history and data is presented.”

An anonymous professor of media production and theory at City University of New York, said, “I see the space of public discourse as managed in new, more-sophisticated ways, and also in more brutal ones. Thus we have social media management in Mexico courtesy of Peñabots, hacking by groups that are quasi-governmental or serving nationalist interests (one thinks of Eastern Europe). Alexander Kluge once said, ‘The public sphere is the site where struggles are decided by other means than war.’ We are seeing an expanded participation in the public sphere, and that will continue. It doesn’t necessarily mean an expansion of democracy per se. In fact, a lot of these conflicts are cross-border. In general the discussions will stay ahead of official politics in the sense that there will be increasing options for participation. In a way this suggests new kinds of regionalisms, intriguing at a time when the European Union is taking a hit and trade pacts are undergoing re-examination. This type of participation also means opening up new arenas, e.g., Facebook has been accused of left bias in its algorithm. That means we are acknowledging the role of what are essentially sophisticated mathematical equations as having social effects.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “To me it seems that the people who know the least about any subject are the ones most willing to shout the loudest about it, whilst the ones in the know will do their utmost to speak calmly about any subject. Now with that being said the news organizations will be more than willing to gather the thoughts and inferences of those who speak the loudest (in order to get more clicks/views) so as to stay relevant, This will give us the impression that society is being run by total morons, While the fact is that we’re just hearing the morons.”

An anonymous senior software engineer at Microsoft, commented, “The situation will not change much with respect to negative activities. There will be much more content as commercial actors will find new ways to entice Internet users to share and produce even more of it in an effort to track and monetize users. The ability to anonymously share controversial free speech will continue to deteriorate as the body of knowledge about users increases, and as AI systems will become more prevalent. Their use is driven by the need to automate responses and interactions, which will inevitably include ‘false positives.’ Overall, negative activities will always be a part of overall activities.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Sadly, the trend—at least, in American political discourse—seems to be fragmenting into increasingly disconnected echo chambers. Such conversations increasingly happen in siloed services that suffer from a combination of self-selection and automated curation. When the two echo chambers come into contact, the results are explosive and divisive. It’s not clear that any emerging services or technologies are positioned to slow or reverse this trend, while many benefit greatly by the anger it generates. Even worse, users seem to seek out and wallow in their own echo chambers, so there is little demand to change the system. I caveated my initial statement by scoping it to American politics, but the problem appears to be quite large: A casual examination of comments on news articles shows that even the least political story devolves into partisan political bickering within a few exchanges. The problem does not appear to be uniquely American: The recent UK European Union referendum exhibited similar acrimony.”

An anonymous senior program manager at Microsoft, observed, “Public discourse in general seems to have deteriorated over the last decades, and social media (as well as 24-hour news stations in the US) have contributed to a widening of the aisle between political opinions (as well as moral systems). However, online reputation will become more and more important in an economy with many online markets, for labor (the gig economy, Uberization) as well as products (Etsy, Ebay, etc.), or apartments (Airbnb), etc. Online personas will become more consolidated and thus trolling will be more discouraged.”

An anonymous professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said, “As illustrated by the Microsoft experience with the Tay chatbot, the sophistication of negative contributions to social media is increasing. Another example is Chinese Weibo, which appears to contain more bot accounts than real people. Therefore, more control is already in place. The competition between real people and bot-generated content will intensify as more monetary rewards become available to bot participation. Abuses will be amplified by bots controlled by entities that maximize non-altruistic goals.”

An anonymous futurist wrote, “I expect that public discourse online will follow the pattern of public discourse in general: A small group of people will dominate the discussions on the topics that they are passionate about. Just like any public forum, the loudest speaker will get their say. Most people will decide it is not worth the effort and keep silent. I expect that there will be inventions of many refereed platforms to encourage the silent majority to speak out. I do not expect any of those platforms to be successful.”

An anonymous respondent said, “One divide I see is that social media itself is not used the same way across social and demographic groups. There are class, age, political, and racial differences in whether groups congregate and interact on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or any other number of places. This exacerbates the ‘echo chamber’ problems of social media, although self-selection within platforms may be a greater source of this problem. In the echo chamber, individuals only interact with those who share their worldviews and assumptions, where they are never asked to consider how reasonable people may disagree or understand the diversity of thought that exists in this country. This creates great and supportive communities for those who are otherwise isolated, but also makes it easy to mobilize a disproportionate emotional and activist reaction to punish perceived dissenters quickly and thoroughly.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The companies who own the platforms we use for public discourse do not have enough of an incentive to change. There’s no advantage to making Twitter a more welcoming place for women, or for Facebook to burst its algorithm bubble even if both those changes could have great impacts on the diversity of voices and worldviews we encounter. Fostering empathy does not help with the corporate bottom line. I don’t see that things will change within the parameters we have now on how we debate online.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “It is in no one’s commercial interest that things continue as they are at present.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “I expect online interaction to be shaped by negative activities, and I expect that shape to be smaller: fewer interactions, less anonymity, less privacy.”

An anonymous chief legal officer commented, “Because the United States values free speech and capitalism above protecting people from attacks via the Internet and above protecting people’s right to privacy, the verbal bashing on the Internet will continue and the people who do not want to participate in that behavior or be subjected to it will leave the Internet to the extent that they are able to do so. Privacy is lost via the Internet—giving up privacy to be attacked or threatened is not worth it. People will come to realize the costs they incur in this devaluation of privacy and civilized discourse and leave it behind. And then the proportion of trolls increases.”

An anonymous professor at the University of California-Berkeley replied, “Everyone—everyone—will be even more engaged in online interaction. Therefore, there will be lots of positive, negative, and neutral commentary. All of it will increase.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The trend is pretty clear, and the evidence is all around us. The central purpose of social network algorithms is to figure out what we like and show us more of it. They are very good at that. When curation was done by human gatekeepers, the revenue model of most news operations introduced a bias towards sensationalism at the expense of the public interest. So, we saw lots of sensationalist media: ‘if it bleeds it leads’-type stuff. However, the news media in general, to varying degrees, had a commitment to an informed public, which counterbalanced the revenue-driven pull toward sensationalism. This isn’t true for social networks or large Internet companies. They haven’t made a commitment to behaving in the best interests of the public, they don’t have a tradition of doing it, and even if they wanted to do it, the nuts and bolts of how to do it in their context are undetermined. So, we can expect continued filter bubbles, continued divisiveness and polarization, and, as a result, a continued degradation of the public discourse.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Twas ever thus. I’ve been online for more than thirty years, and there is always somebody happy to toss a turd into the punch bowl. We see more disinformation and more ugly drive-by postings, but that’s because there is so much more traffic in every online venue. The Internet has made it easy for people to come together for both good and evil. I see plenty of both every day.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Extremism garners response and thus gets more media coverage and public attention. The more this is the case, the more people will do it, and it will thus get more coverage, and so on and so on.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “We will see, in the coming years, more legislation from governments restricting speech on the Internet. You see this already in the European Union with the rules about taking down ‘terrorist’ content and even closing websites. I believe that many Internet giants will likewise institute policies that mirror legislation like the kind I mentioned, even if they are under no legal obligation to do so. This will further erode the Internet as a platform for free speech and the spread of ideas. Inevitably, laws and internal private corporation policies will be used to restrict all kinds of speech, not just the ‘terrorist’ content that the initial policies were ostensibly created to combat. People, companies, and some governments will continue to explore options for increased privacy. This will lead to an arms race of sorts, but as always, the most marginalized sectors of our society will lose out, as they are the ones who are in the weakest position to resist the onslaught of censorship, tracking, and spying. This means that movements that care about justice, equality, privacy, dignity, and human rights must make a point of working to create legislation that recognizes these rights; they must also organize the people into a movement that can make the Internet the promising place it used to be. We must resist the Internet becoming a place to be spied on, where speech is restricted—a place where the inequality of the world is reproduced online.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I anticipate this current level of negativity may be as much as we will see from here on. The news media have become more unreliable as social interaction sites have become more prolific. People are now getting their ‘news’ from both places and sharing it rapidly, but already there is a dearth of fact-checking and more often than not, what is posted is emotionally charged and usually presents only one side of a story, often with a biased opinion at that. But, being that interaction with people around the globe is now very easy and quick, I don’t really see a way the issue could get better or worse.”

An anonymous Web developer wrote, “The focus on harassment and its prevention probably only has one solution and it is requiring people to be identifiable, which would mean people have to be held accountable for their words and actions. The unfortunate side effect will probably be that this identification will extend further than just social media sites. While we might think that this will encourage civil discussion, it may hinder the dissenting opinion needed to keep authorities and those with resources to influence laws, such as Disney and GM, in check. Furthermore, our actions in the West will often determine what is available globally. If everyone is always identifiable, it could put members in the LGBTQ community in danger in countries where they are not welcomed.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “What will happen with online public discourse will mimic what we see with segregated communities. Folks will only go to the sites that reinforce their worldviews. Some online forums will be safe havens for polite discourse; others will be shouting matches. Unfortunately, in terms of discourse, as in much of civilization building, it is easier to blow up trains, than it is to make them run on time. As long as we have an extreme level of political polarization and civil disenfranchisement, we are likely to view the ‘other’ with suspicion and deride rather than engage.”

An anonymous cultural landscape researcher at Bond University, commented, “Regrettably, I feel that sensible, thoughtful commentators online get disgruntled and worn out and tend to withdraw, while bad actors feel safe and are spurred on to flourish in the virtual, often anonymous field, and there is no umpire to bring balance.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “In the near term at least, I suspect a growing population that feels even more intensely that they are losing control over their futures. My hunch is that this feeling presently, and more so in the future, negatively impacts the tenor of online communications. People become less civil as they feel less powerful, and power is shifting in unexpected ways and at a faster pace for a growing number of people. I worry that, within my lifetime, systems will be developed that can make digital content disappear as fast as it is generated—that a blog post, for example, critical of a preferred advertiser simply will not appear in any users’ search results save for the person who wrote the post. The offending blogger will be made invisible to those who maintain ‘the public interest.’ No one will even know it’s going on—a search engine cloaking device as it were. Free speech? Say what you want. In the vast and expanding universe of digital content, what you say will virtually not exist for anyone else. Maybe those who wish to stop this free speech might even toss in a comment bot to keep the blogger busy responding to commenters who really don’t exist on a post that is only seen by the person who wrote it. And nobody even knows all of this is going on. As the Internet becomes more and more walled off by corporate America trying to own their users and their data, anonymity and privacy will completely cease to exist. I suspect we are already very close to this now.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “I’ve been online in some form or fashion since the 1980s. It’s been my experience that negative discourse occurs in proportion to the overall number of people online. In other words, the percentage of trolls has not changed, just the percentage of people online. More people, more trolls with global reach.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Tabloid-style journalism and media are growing by leaps and bounds. In-depth reporting appears (at it has for decades) as something on the margins—Pro Publica vs. Politico. Social media is driven by novelty. Large amounts of ‘content’ are quickly consumed, generate chatter, and then disappear. They are loaded with click-bait and spam. I question the lasting impact this media can truly have. Identity politics appear to be creating rigid tribes of believers, and big data is biased to locking people into boxes defined by their past preferences. I am skeptical there will be more-inclusive online interactions. Lots of communities are appearing online for casual interests and hobbies. This is a great thing, but how much farther can it go? The comments sections of websites are a wasteland.”

An anonymous civil engineer working in the state government said, “There is a growing backlash toward bad actors and persons just waiting to pounce on the smallest chance to criticize someone else. That and a decreasing ability to comment anonymously will lead to a more civil discourse. Hopefully it will lead to an atmosphere more welcoming of everyone, but I can also see it having a chilling effect on free speech.”

An anonymous systems engineer who works for the US government, commented, “Although personal awareness of it tends to wax and wane with one’s interest in the topic, polarization of discussions online has always been an issue. Those who feel most strongly about something in any regard are much more likely to post than those with more moderate opinions, thus the discussions tend to become binary. Awareness of this may be influenced by others drawing attention to it, but the baseline has been pretty constant since the early days of Usenet. The ubiquity of observers and a tendency to draw attention to the extreme does magnify the effect.”

An anonymous devops engineer commented, “I’ve been participating in online discussions since the 80s on USENET. I see a general trend toward ugliness as ‘social media’ has emerged and risen. The online community in the USENET days was largely college students, faculty, and IT professionals. With the democratization of the Internet, the poorly educated and less-well-off ‘angry’ parts of society have come to the table.”

An anonymous survey participant observed, “Negative activities generate drama and tension. The media picks up on it. This generates ‘debate.’ It is a vicious cycle. Given a flattening of access to media, high numbers of people are using their ‘outside voice’ more than is polite (or meaningful), This is an interpretation of the First Amendment that suggests just because you can speak you should. Well, I don’t see any interruption in this cycle.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Human nature won’t change. Sites allow comments because it generates page views, and folks are more likely to comment when they can do so anonymously. A trolling comment generates more comments which means even more page views. As long as site revenue is based on views, anonymous inflammatory comments will continue.”

An anonymous respondent said, “We have already been at this for decades, and trolls have been pretty much the same since Usenet ‘newsgroups’ and BBSs [bulletin board services] were the platform. It only changes if society changes. It’s a tool, not an information or social campaign itself.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Demography is destiny. In ten years, a generation of parents, who grew up with the Internet, will have a generation of children. The user base will increase in maturity, and social tools and normative actions will establish themselves through generational experience. Users will be able to identify, understand, and circumvent negativity. I have to believe that this suggests less negativity.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Trolls now know that their methods are effective and carry only minimal chance of social stigma and essentially no other punishment. If Gamergate can harass and dox any woman with an opinion and experience no punishment as a result, how can things get better?”

A distinguished engineer at Cisco, wrote, “Technology has always won the fight against law enforcement. I do not expect governments to be able to affect free speech much more then they have been able to so far.”

An anonymous programmer and data analyst commented, “Unfortunately, with the anonymous nature of the Internet and the continuing rise of splinter groups across the world, politically, ethnically, and organizationally, and the multiplicity of ‘cults of personality,’ I don’t see negativity diminishing. One potential solution would be the rise of non-conscious AI’s that filter out negativity. The problem is that such AI’s could also be used to inject negativity.”

An anonymous respondent said, “The concept of click-bait is baked into the monetization of the Internet, and I don’t really see it going away. Sites make money from ads based on number of page views and individual ‘impressions,’ and one way to generate impressions is to infuriate a bunch of people. In the earlier days of the Internet, people would troll articles and videos and such in the comments. But now the producers of articles and videos are more likely to be trolling you, the person engaging with them, because they need your clicks and could take or leave your approval. This trend, which is an emergent phenomenon rather than any particular actor’s fault, leads to an environment in which more people are more angry on the Internet more of the time, and therefore more likely to lash out. And the stakes are higher, as more of our lives are transacted online. If someone hacked your MySpace page in 2004, maybe that affects you and a few of your friends. If someone hacks your Facebook page now, that’s a much greater blow to your public persona on the Internet. So even the same amount of trolling can have worse outcomes now, because the areas of your life a troll can access via the Internet are more extensive.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “In times of great change and complexity, we reflexively reach for simplicity and singular sources for all answers. Finding unidirectional proclamations on Twitter follows in the footsteps of seeking singular authoritarian leaders. With so much disconnect between the sowers of discord in the online sphere and the protectors against such brutality, namely police, in the real world, anonymity and privacy only exacerbate people’s worst intentions. Truth and honest dialogue are being replaced by he who speaks loudest and last speaks the truth that matters.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “The inevitable march of interconnectedness, coupled with the dying off of the ‘old guard,’ will mitigate and overwhelm the current blathering of the lunatic fringe.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Social media is a black hole for your soul. Hopefully, we’ll all quit before then.”

An anonymous respondent said, “We will always have trolls and people who are rude, demented, or psychotic. I hope we find better ways to protect ourselves from them online and offline.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “This is a human problem. In any setting where there is a disconnect between speech and social consequences, whether that’s a chat room, a mob, talk radio, a pulpit, whatever, a large minority of humans will be hateful. That’s humans, as a species. And, as the Internet is a money-making space and hatefulness generates strong emotions and strong emotions encourage impulsive spending/donating, I don’t anticipate any meaningful change.”

An anonymous senior account representative observed, “It’s a process of natural selection: non-safe environments disappear and safe environments develop better moderation techniques and spread those around to other communities.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Things will naturally even out. The Internet became a playground for those who picked it up quickly—primarily white, males who take pleasure in riling folks up and stirring the pot. Being a woman and a software engineer since 1997, I have witnessed this behavior all too frequently. Now that online social interactions are becoming more accessible to the rest of the population, I think they will hold less power and influence. As long as privacy stays paramount and censorship is kept at bay, I have faith in the populous.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The Internet has been around long enough that we’ve come to an established level of trolls who will always be present. I don’t think it will either increase or decrease in the future.”

An anonymous respondent said, “The extent to which the dialog becomes more negative and polarized depends on whether the drivers of those emotions worsen. Worsening inequality will drive the majority of users to turn on one another even more. I don’t expect major changes as a result of altering the underlying technologies and platforms that enable online discourse. They are just a medium, and if people have negative feelings to express they will find the means to do so.”

An anonymous software engineer at Lockheed Martin wrote, “There will always be some who want to hurt other people’s experience for the ‘LULZ'”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Actors who intentionally shape online discourse are bad per definition.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “There will be no change. People are still going to be people, right?”

An anonymous respondent noted, “The current self-selected Internet culture skews toward trollish behavior. As the Internet continues to mature and become the main avenue of expression, the selection will be reduced because everyone will be participating.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “We’ll see widespread demand for reporting on and blocking such commentary and its authors, and we’ll see a greater push for inclusivity online in response to political misadventures and their unbearable consequences.”

An anonymous respondent said, “As humans we are able to solve any problem we put our minds to. The problem of negativity on the Internet will be solved.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I see a continuing degradation of public discourse on the Internet, as long as sites continue to allow anonymity.”

An anonymous respondent predicted, “A mixture of lessening anonymity and improving technologies will work to combat new avenues of online harassment and continued fragmentation into echo chambers. Trolls will always be there and find ways around new tech, but communities will continue to move apart into their own spheres and help isolate them from general consumption.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “More people getting online will include more trolls, and it seems like tech companies are unwilling to rein them in. Maybe users that want to avoid the abuse will avoid the services altogether.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “Attempts to curb harassment being currently undertaken (such as Facebook’s ‘real name’ policy) have been ineffective. Also the behavior that people show online is a combination of the underlying zeitgeist and the anonymity of the Internet. Either the culture has to change significantly, or the Internet has to—and it probably should not.”

An anonymous respondent said, “It doesn’t matter what the host of the site wants as long as anyone is allowed to visit. Trolls will always troll. No truly new tools for discussion have been developed in the past 20 years—everything is just living off of old tech. Until companies start inventing again instead of recycling we won’t make the needed advances.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “It has been proven time and time again that those who complain loudest get the attention. Companies are not motivated to eliminate trolls or bad actors because of ‘free speech’ fears.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “There will continue to be reactions to both negative and positive interaction online, representing a mixture of emotions lived in our everyday lives. Human nature is indicative of prejudice and support is dependent upon context and people’s prior experiences. It seems likely that there will be increased multimodal technological advancements—such as new apps—to aid social inclusion and social networking platforms. It also seems possible that obtaining ethics approval for Internet-mediated research will become more compromised and necessitate greater researcher reflexivity and sensitivity throughout a project.”

An anonymous respondent responded, “Social media will become more corrupt as traffic is dominated by the actors gaming it.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Right now, we seem to be in an era of ‘outrage’ culture where a single issue or event is amplified, pontificated upon and debated. People feel compelled to make some kind of statement or commentary on the issue in a public way on social media. Those who are vocal, have access to a platform and the Internet, get their voices heard and as these are repeated, it shapes discourse. If something is repeated enough times, people tend to believe its truth, regardless of how erroneous it is. The positive side of this is that it often puts public pressure on companies, governments, and individuals behaving badly and gives a platform and voice to more people. However, digital access is far from equal so it’s a mistake to think that dominant sentiments are reflective of everyone. My optimistic hope is that digital inclusion and technology access increasingly becomes a necessary right for everyone, like other basic necessities. Yet, there needs to be a huge amount of information management and digital media education along with that so more people are savvy, skeptical consumers of information online, as well as better informed about privacy implications of the technology tools they use.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Commentary has become more and more extreme as people are more and more comfortable having and expressing more radical or extreme values. This spreads negativity, as these comments are often negative in nature and people are more likely to respond such comments with their own commentary. As people become less moderate in their political views, religious values, etc., the Internet will reflect that. Trends in our politics and society show movement towards more extremism, hate, fear; so too will our social media and digital commentary move towards more negativity. As opposing groups of whatever issue become more zealous and disconnected from each other, they will become less likely to accept each other’s opinions, speech, and expression. This is the case of groups on all sides of issues, whether political, religious, social, etc. You can already see a sort of vigilantism as people are quick to throw out condemnations and fall into mob mentality as they attack commentary they find offensive or unacceptable or anti-(whatever). I believe that this is as far as it will go, with users trying to self-police. While I don’t think major social media services will infringe on free speech because the backlash would be intense, the desire for services that favor a ‘safe zone’ mentality over free speech will increase.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Even now the plethora of negativism on the Internet leads some to use it less often.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Ten years isn’t nearly enough to see a significant change in public discourse online, at least not without a catastrophic social upheaval of some kind that changes the tone of public discourse everywhere. And frankly, the ever-increasing gap between the very rich and everyone else means all the money is going to be on the side of avoiding catastrophic social upheavals, which makes that scenario unlikely.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Trolls now know that their methods are effective and carry only minimal chance of social stigma and essentially no other punishment. If Gamergate can harass and dox any woman with an opinion and experience no punishment as a result, how can things get better?”

An anonymous respondent said, “The most opinionated people will garner the most reactions, responses, and PR in the online world. This means that negative news is news that people see, read, and react to, and it will have a bigger influence on the future.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Most post-Twitter platforms seem to allow trolling to be ignored and not promoted.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “We have developed into a culture of click-bait headlines and regurgitated responses that have been spoon fed to the masses by the media and influential blogs.”

An anonymous open source technologist at the GENIVI Alliance, said, “The current dynamic of the Internet is moving away from document-based correspondence and more toward machine-based correspondence. Internet of Things, AI, and big data will transform the Internet and Internet-reliant technology domains such as the automotive realm. Human interaction will remain but it will become less of an impediment to free-flowing data and trade.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Curation is too difficult. Tools to manage negative responses will get better. It will probably be a combination of automated and crowdsourced management.”

An anonymous professor at the University of Utah replied, “I expect that the technologies we use to communicate will continue to simultaneously broaden and narrow our communication. As with current online trends, it is easier to broadcast an opinion. However, at the same time, we are able to increasingly limit who we hear from by restricting who is on our feeds, which news sources we visit or include on our feeds, and so on. In this way, I don’t expect our discourse to really change, but just continue in this direction.”

An anonymous respondent with the Internet Engineering Task Force said, “My judgment that communication will be more negative is a result of my being generally a pessimist. I am a private person, so I avoid ‘social media.’ But, so far, negative activities appear to be taking over, and this is furthering trends toward people gathering in cliques of like-minded people.”

An anonymous software engineer wrote, “Online interaction will continue to have the current dynamics. Users will complain about moderation, calling it ‘censorship.’ Boundaries between harassment and honest discussion will continue to be blurry. Politicization of discourse will continue. Some will call it novel, but really it’s just a repeat of usual human communication dynamics on a very large scale.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “It seems that negativity and snark exist in pretty well-defined spaces, as do hacking, phishing, and the like. I don’t see this expanding much more or declining, either.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Governments will continue to push for less free speech, privacy, and anonymity, while technologists will design encryption and anonymizing tools to make these things possible. The question is how widely adopted the tools will be. I see them becoming more widely adopted, e.g., the recent end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp and now possibly on Facebook Messenger, but will it be enough?”

An anonymous engineer who works for a US government agency wrote, “I see little change because there is so little real demand for change. We want Facebook or Twitter to be different and yet we still log on every day, or never log off. Have we passed laws to constrain the social media corporations’ allowance of hate and threatening speech? No. Why not? It’s not important enough to enough of us. ‘What might be the consequences for anonymity and privacy?’ There are few or no consequences—anonymity and privacy are already gone. Snowden showed that to the world and we did nothing, ergo, they are not important to us as a society.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I want online discourse to be less shaped by negativity because the negativity prevents perspectives different from those of straight, white men from being represented in the discourse. However, we depend mostly on straight, white men to take actions to prevent online public discourse from being used to marginalize other groups and, so far, the lack of understanding of other groups’ experiences has prevented meaningful action in most cases. Where there has been action, companies were most often shamed into it. When there is action, it must be maintained as the way negativity morphs how it uses the system. Maintenance requires a true commitment to the principles of inclusion and equality, which I don’t believe we have seen yet.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Increasingly large forums are becoming aware of the harm that one bad actor can do to a global community. At its most cynical, this can be noticing that one paying customer is driving away ten others.”

An anonymous online digital manager said, “Without a concerted effort to exercise technical and moderation control (clear terms of service that are enforced, steady, and clear) and an effort by organizations to moderate their online spaces and discourses using the moderation tools available that there will be no change here. Organizations should stop applying a poor interpretation of ‘free speech’—not moderating hate speech. Organizations should come together to train people (including engaging and training volunteer moderators—I’ve done this!) to start to moderate and enforce more standards for respectful dialogue. We have to act or it won’t change. I’ve been a moderator of many online spaces, including the Media Matters for America pages, and change can and should be made, even in the worst spaces I’ve ever been in. Zero-tolerance rules for violent, hateful speech or trolling (defining trolling, for example) can be respectfully instituted, and users can be given more space to speak up and moderate others. It’s doable.”

An anonymous coordinator for a nonprofit association responded, “Commenting on articles should presumably allow people to interact with people with different ideas and learn from them. Unfortunately it instead seems to allow people to find groups of other people exactly like them, which serves to narrow their point of view and coalesce them into closed groups with hostile reactions to alternate views. This is not confined to ‘right’ or ‘left.’ I think we will see more of the same. The traditional means of keeping communities somewhat consistent in what’s socially acceptable by reinforcing existing ideas and ostracizing people who don’t conform doesn’t work on the Internet. These groups will outflank any technological systems aimed at improving inclusive online interactions. ‘Inclusiveness’ is problematic. To keep the Internet from becoming more hostile, some people should be excluded. For instance, the sharing of pedophilic images should not be included. The questions of unrestricted online speech vs. safe spaces are not easy to answer. Many people trade anonymity for privacy. Rather than keeping their information and profiles well-secured, they trust that they are meaningless in the overall Internet traffic and that the risks are low. In real life, you see this when people do things like having sex in public parks. They are only concerned about privacy from people they know, not from the general public.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “As a society, we tend to be reactionary and let the negative dictate our discourse.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The anonymity that makes the Internet great is also what allows troll behavior to have no natural social downsides. The troll does not get sufficiently punished for outlier, violent, and inappropriate behaviors by trusted peers. Our society relies on an intricate set of rules to teach and enforce a level of conformity in behavior in all our various social situations, but Internet ‘facts’ and ‘commentary’ have leapfrogged the social order recently, and until we take steps to counteract it, the loudest and most awful will continue to generate the vile materials they do now. While historically we’ve used shame as the tool to get people to generally conform to a common set of behaviors, I am hoping the tech giants come up with a better way, such as a Facebook confidence rating or something, that is at least partially a positive force.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I have learned to dismiss immature banter as effectively as I’ve learned to ignore ads. I just don’t think it’s a big deal; a solution would be nice, but it’s far from necessary.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I’d guess the overall tone is likely to get worse before it gets better, but I don’t have a very good sense of what the timeline is likely to be. If the question had said ‘next half-century,’ I’d guess that it would be less shaped by negative activities. I’m bullish on the broadening of communal identification in the long term, but I would guess that in the coming decade, so many more people are going to be newly online, and a substantial portion of them will perhaps be not dissimilar to the today’s portion and they will be thrilled by the apparent opportunity to be anonymously rude.”

An anonymous survey participant who works in political communication wrote, “The area I am most familiar with is political communication. Back in 2008, blogs were a bigger deal and Twitter was small. People were still learning the rules for what to talk about during a presidential election in the United States. One of the biggest rules for people to figure out is, ‘What do I write about? There are so many things I could say!’ Even in 2008, bloggers were far more likely to focus on the negatives of political opponents than the positive of your own side. Telling readers ‘here are the stories you should be angry about’ is good business for leading sites on the left or the right. I think a wider range of readers is self-selecting in to partisan-outrage media now. The tone hasn’t changed. The audience has gone up but may go down. As far as other kinds of online interactions, I don’t know. I am a bit skeptical about how genuine any demand for inclusivity will be. Harassment of women and racial minorities are both major issues. However, all the people I know calling for being inclusive reserve the right to troll political opponents. Sometimes I join this trolling because I agree with it. Most times I do it just to signal to co-workers that I’m on their side.”

An anonymous respondent from Kansas wrote, “Local media and digital commentary will continue to create inclusive spaces for marginalized populations to gather. The great thing about the Internet is its inherent design to create sub-sects on the most specific topics and interests, facilitating connection between individuals with the same interests who may have never met some one else who is interested in peach-pear Lacroix vegan cocktails. Growing up in Topeka, Kansas, I am accustomed to seeing the Westboro Baptist Church all over town. However, most Topekans no longer acknowledge the Phelps family or pay them any attention. People will begin to learn that trolls and the most negative people on the Internet thrive on attention, and the less you provide, the less they will be idiots. Free speech is alive and well in the United States, however people have seemingly forgotten that just because you are free to speak, you are not free from consequences. Social media unfortunately leaves long standing proof of all of the shitty things people say and there is no denying your racist comment when there is explicit evidence that you did, indeed, say it on your Facebook. The Internet is a great place to practice ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’ I hope privacy filters will become more explicit on social media, however it is inherent that whatever you put on the Internet compromises your anonymity.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The inherent shallowness of vanity publishing, reclassifying news as entertainment, the lack of an authoritative voice, the appeal to the lowest common denominator, the erosion of traditional societal power bases, and the ability to mouth off without responsibility suggests that many elements of online interaction will continue to become increasingly toxic. The evolution of public discourse online has led us to the place where I can find a ready global audience for any half-arsed idea I have about health, education, politics, religion, or reality. However, it has also significantly enlarged the public square and brought everything I say or do online into public view. My ideas—good and bad—are constrained to the people I am in contact with. Once, that was my corner of the pub, now it’s everyone on Twitter. I can still have an irrational fear of female gamers, but now the whole world knows I’m an arsehole. It will naturally take a few years for me to learn (as I’ve always had to in new environments) that just because I can talk doesn’t mean I should open my mouth. Ten years may not be long enough for that lesson to reach everyone—and it will cause a lot of pain along the way. But, in ten years, there will be a generation who has grown up online and then we can start to talk about a global community. What direct impact will technology have on this? Probably not much now that the genie’s out of the bottle.”

An anonymous operations NCO said, “One way or another, civility will have to improve if people are to continue comfortably using online discourse as a primary social outlet. And it is too useful to abandon.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “This strikes me as one of those things that won’t get better without a rock-bottom or some kind of crisis, and I despair that we haven’t hit the bottom yet.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “If we can figure out how to filter that crap as spam and hold it to the same level of visceral and legal disgust that spam gets, there will be less of it and it will make the Internet a better place. It seems inevitable at this point that private companies will/can start offering this as an ‘opt-in’ option, but I don’t know that on good authority, it just seems like too good of an idea for it not to happen. As to the First Amendment, the kind of language we’re talking about is vitriolic and can at times be classified as hate speech. It’s bullying/sexist/racist/trash, and saying that it is worth the same protection as someone speaking up against the government or stating their opinion is gross. Despite my opinion, I’m glad I’m not going to be the one to have to figure out that line between hate speech and just an annoying angry voice in the ether.”

An anonymous respondent predicted, “I expect to see more effectively manipulative interactions to become a core part of the experience of Internet content. It is clear that many professionals involved in the design and monetization of the Internet see only another tool to influence people’s behavior and have steered the infrastructure design and practical use in such a way to emphasize rather than balance out less desirable parts of our human natures. The current general professional effort to build perceptual and behavioral control into the system has too much emphasis on commercial reward and not enough on human service and is therefore negative in the whole. I would prefer a more neutral communication network.”

An anonymous e-resources staffer at Loyola University-Chicago, commented, “Unless there is transparency in coding/algorithms it is short-sighted to expect the preservation of free speech. We have seen countless examples of Facebook, Google, and Apple suppressing apps, search results, and newsfeed items. As closely-guarded assets in their respective companies, there is currently no incentive for them to reveal how or why they suppress/promote what they do. That aside, commentary will remain blissfully anonymous with no consequence for content or requirement for meaningful participation. Users will continue to promote tailored content, bubbling themselves in their own world. Discourse will be similarly myopic unless there is a change in community size or comment enforcement (the latter of which would invite its own host of problems). Privacy will remain of the utmost importance, but actively discussed only in the industry or on the fringes. No amount of celebrity/personal stories involving privacy will make it more easily understood or pressing to the masses. Government intervention or a grouping of industry advocates will be the only way to bring this issue mainstream enough to change policies and actively support all Internet users. Most alarmingly, far too little is being done to make the Internet more inclusive. There is something for everyone, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean it is accessible or has meaning to new users. Take all of the initiatives from Facebook or Google to reach communities in rural areas of the world or countries with less-developed infrastructure. The majority of projects revolve around micro-lending and phones. Important things to some, but it’s only a fraction of the digital literacy required to be an active, effective Internet user. It will increase exclusivity among users and further stratify those who create vs. those who consume.”

An anonymous research officer said, “The nature of online discourse is unlikely to change since the structural aspects—anonymity, geographic dispersion, a lack of legal accountability—are likely to remain for the foreseeable future.”

An anonymous professor commented, “This will depend largely on whether Donald Trump wins the US presidential election. If he does, the Republican Party will instantiate a ‘troll-centric’ social policy while seeking to further delegitimize higher education and social research outside their orthodoxy.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “There are some disadvantages to gatekeepers and barriers to entry, but also some advantages. The Internet has few to none, and the basic psychology of fear and hate is easier to foment than tolerance is.”

An anonymous respondent said, “If the local newspaper in my city is any indication, the stories and subsequent discourse online are dominated by a few very vocal persons. It’s easy to be critical online. You have to be willing to own your opinion, both personally and professionally. Employers may take pause before hiring someone who routinely inflames or comments on social media and Internet news stories.”

An anonymous chief scientist responded, “Like the physical world, the online world will develop no-go zones. Polarization will continue and grow more accurate—who is in, who is out.”

An anonymous professor of public policy at a major US technological university wrote, “There is no reliable way for Internet users to distinguish valid information from nonsense. Nonsense will flourish.”

An anonymous respondent said, “The tone of online interaction will change, but not become better or worse. The nature of how people interact online will change, but people’s fundamental presumption of anonymity online will not change, which means people will continue to traffic in hurtful and negative language and attack others.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Honestly, I do not really know how this will change in the future. No matter how I answer the question. I am not able to predict this with data, and there are so many unpredictable factors at play.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I already see more-intense hostility bubbling up in comments on virtually everything, and especially on gender or race issues. I’ve tried to have civil conversations with my gun-committed relatives but have been appalled at the tone and content of some of the links they have forwarded to me, and this has also made me more aware of the tone and content of the links I get, and don’t forward when they are disparaging or hostile and violent toward the ‘gun nut’ side.”

An anonymous respondent said, “As long as online communication promotes anonymity, the negative activities will have an unbalanced effect on neutral or positive activity. Anonymity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it has to be balanced by strong online moderation.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Ill will and partisanship have not yet reached their zenith, however, I expect them to subside within the next five or six years.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I have seen no indications that we, as a community, seek to instill a sense of responsibility and accountability in those who use social media in an anonymous fashion. Privacy and anonymity may be the price we pay for protecting others from harassment and bullying—all of which stifles people from being willing to have a meaningful exchange of views. I see little effort to use open social media to actually foster greater understanding—rather it is a way to push one’s own views, rather than debate and examine them.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “I expect that we will develop new methods of controlling online harassment and trolling, but that bad actors will simultaneously develop new methods of dragging down the system.”

An anonymous respondent said, Social media applications are currently fairly inclusive and open and facilitate free speech, information sharing, organizing, and awareness raising. I do think there is a tendency to treat opinions and issues of social media users as indicative of the larger population. I’m thinking of the United States, although I imagine this also happens regionally elsewhere. It’s worth bearing in mind that the perspectives of non-social media users and often more moderate viewpoints are drowned out. The biggest negative consequences of online-facilitated communication are in regard to anonymity and privacy. It often feels that it is all or nothing; either you join in fully or not at all. Most platforms require you to provide a lot of personal information just to get an account. They then have access to loads of your data. Of equal, if not more, concern, are government agencies having an even greater reach.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “The anonymity provided by online forums makes it all too easy for commenters to hide their identity—thereby limiting the effectiveness of any form of public accountability or social norms that might positively or productively shape discourse.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Centralization of power is becoming evermore of a problem, causing evermore micromanagement, ever less freedom, and all types of corruption.”

An anonymous assistant professor wrote, “Women bear the brunt of a high percentage of negative comments and I do not expect this misogyny to end, because online communities provide a way for people to stay anonymous but still give their true opinion.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “It will probably stay the same. I’m trying to picture what could change it. The underlying psychological and social forces that drive how people interact aren’t likely to change. Technologies can have some effects on facilitating or inhibiting behavior, but even as someone who studies and designs them I think they play a secondary role. Resources thrown at moderating discussions could change, or better facilitation, guidance, and norm structures could be developed, but those seem unlikely. Cultural events and changes might have the greatest impact: Language, tone, and interaction can shift around events or topics, such as the current unrest around policing and race. But both the events and effects are hard to predict. Thinking about this made me wonder if there would be an interesting way to study whether things have, in fact, gotten better, worse, or stayed the same in terms of online discourse in general or political discourse in particular. Political discussion forums have been around since Usenet and you could imagine trying to code behaviors and analyze properties of language over time to get some insight here. There are lots of confounds there, ranging from properties of the technologies, to the population who can and does participate, to current issues and general cultural climate at a given point in time. But that just makes it more interesting as a problem.”

An anonymous respondent said, “This may be too optimistic but I hope that the current phase of garbage on social media will be replaced by better forums that allow the respectful discussion of issues.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I expect people will continue to seek out reinforcing opinions online, while platforms seeking more balanced, civil discourse will be forced to limit online engagement.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Too many partisans and less anonymity means more negative behavior.”

An anonymous associate professor of communication studies at a university in Canada wrote, “Norms vary so widely across platforms that it’s difficult to imagine things calming down as the surrounding political situations get more inflamed.”

An anonymous associate professor commented, “How social media evolves to become more or less inclusive will depend on the forum, but I hope that people will learn to be more reflective and considerate as they come to understand the legacy of anything posted online.”

An anonymous respondent who works in the government said, “As social media impacts political outcomes—such as voting and raising funds for campaigning—we may very well see a rise in both implicit and explicit government control of information.”

An anonymous respondent responded, “I don’t think people do well in settings where they are neither accountable nor easily able to be empathetic with readers. Over time, we become inured to what we read and ‘hear’ from others, and so trolling and shocking takes more. There are always people whose purpose is to do this, and so I expect the tone to decrease. A similar process has occurred with porn that includes violence and degradation.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Speech has always been a mixed bag, regardless of the platform. Father Coughlin famously made use of the radio to foment anti-Semitic hatred. What has changed is that we now get to see the immediate effect of any speech in the comment boxes, some of which is quite offensive. Given our constitutional protections for free speech, I don’t imagine a legal constraint on those ‘discussions.'”

An anonymous respondent said, “One of the more corrosive aspects of contemporary discourse, both online and off, is the increasing inability of the ‘marketplace’ of ideas to successfully adjudicate between credible accounts, evidence, conspiratorial, and fallacious accounts. This is the result of many factors, not simply the Internet, but the way in which it has been promoted and framed. The equation of interactivity with democratization has resulted in a kind of ersatz leveling of the deliberative field, wherein expertise is dismissed as merely a ruse of power, and the fact that one’s opinion can be expressed vociferously, distributed widely, in unaccountable ways has contributed to an unwillingness to accept the results of deliberation. Or rather, it has circumvented deliberation altogether, replacing it with personal, one-way broadcasting. Rather than interactivity bolstering deliberation, it has turned everyone into a broadcaster. This is a sweeping claim meant to describe a general tendency rather than all online communication. But the result is clear: the rise of Donald Trump, the circulation of the idea of ‘post-truth’ politics, and Brexit all point to these shifts in deliberation. The depressing part is that once the register of deliberation no longer works to convince or legitimate the other available option is violence. When we cannot meaningfully discuss, when our words have little purchase on one another, when everyone is so focused on broadcasting their own ideas rather than interacting with those of others, the result is fragmentation and, ultimately, violence.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Technology and social evolution will improve online behavior, and we will adapt ourselves to it.”

A senior researcher at a US-based nonprofit research organization wrote, “There are still a lot of people globally who do not yet have access to the Internet or are relatively new to its intricacies. As political polarization and stagnation have continued in the developed world, and as growth seems to have stalled somewhat in the developing world, much of the angst will most likely make itself known on the Internet, even as more people are gaining access. It will take a while for the ‘rules of the road’ to be established and for manners and social norms that exist in the real world make their way to the virtual world. Hopefully, once the current generation of ‘digital natives’ starts to take the reins of state power, many of these issues will be resolved. But within the current global trajectory, I expect the trend of increasing nastiness to continue for at least another decade.”

An assistant dean of design and technology at a major US university commented, “The anonymity and ease of publishing on the Internet allows greater frequency of harassment, trolls, and negative behaviors. While I hope that the positive movements like #leanintogether gain traction for positivity movements, individuals can find it difficult to distinguish between real activism and a trolling or fake activism. This is a real problem and it contributes to the distrust and disgust over Internet communication.”

An anonymous freelance generalist in learning ecologies wrote, “I’m anticipating a saturation point being hit by trolling folks. Boredom has an ameliorating influence. Millennials and their successors will have their own uses for the Net. Trolls and their ilk are likely to become yesterday’s dorks. It is probably that Baby Boomers will get the blame, given the usual concatenation of historical/cultural phenomena by current generations.”

An anonymous Web and mobile developer said, “As the world will become even more online, netiquette will be part of education. Young children will have a more common presence online, a presence that will be more overseen by their parents, who themselves will be digital natives.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “With more people gaining access, there will be less tolerance, counter-reactions. There will be expansion but also contestation.”

An anonymous respondent said, “With the rise of machine learning and other algorithmic processing, combined with the increases in computing power, automatic detection will only get better and faster.”

An anonymous assistant professor of data ethics, law, and policy responded, “The political discourse in countries with high technology use is becoming more polarised and is likely to remain so for the coming decade. This will probably lead to online forums also becoming more polarised as they become extensions of offline sites for dispute.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I see the younger generation to be more savvy and responsible than we give credit for. I see a lot in their wisdom than in the older generation.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Public discourse differs by country and is very region-specific. Reaching a common conclusive prediction of what it might turn out to be depends on this and so many other factors such as the reach of the Internet, price of the Internet package, people’s participation in platforms, platforms’ future success, and so on. The current major players may die out. This question in itself projects people into a negative shade.”

A professor of design wrote, “Algorithms, driven by marketers seeking more predictive powers, will get more proficient at keeping people isolated to their own political-taste regimes.”

An associate at a Kenya-based organization that promotes positive uses of the Internet noted, “Public interaction is gaining more of a following. It is likely that traditional methods for public consultation by governments, businesses, civil society, etc., will move online. There is also the likelihood of more user-initiated online governance, e.g., users calling for takedown of negative content. Negative content may therefore become private as opposed to public.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “We have already reached the critical mass of Internet users. Those who are going to use the Internet, including the trolls and others who behave badly, are already here.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “The digital space will become less anonymous, resulting in increased accountability for online actions and speech.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “If governments and online intermediaries do not take steps to address illegal and harmful activity online with meaningful repercussions, the situation will definitely get worse. We need real action to make the Internet a safe, secure, and sustainable environment that works for everyone, not just the large intermediaries.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “In the greater aspect of the Internet at large, you cannot expect a change in how people discourse upon it. We might see laws passed in places such as the United Kingdom and Europe that will limit such negative hate speech, but we will also see a balance in the more-censored countries becoming more open. The question posed of if there will be more or less negative is a moot point, then, in this broad term. How can we state that griping, as used in the question, is as negative as online bullying? How can we state that the whole of discourse, the very lifeblood of the Internet, shall be positive or negative? This question seems too generalized and therefore, I take a stance of neutral movement.”

An anonymous literary translator replied, “Judging by my own gradual withdrawal from social media, comment sections, and websites that are frequently hostile or negative, I suspect that others are doing the same thing. There is, for example, a common warning I see now not to read the comments on a given site. There will be an increasing demand for sites that aren’t so combative that inspire more-thoughtful content.”

An anonymous director of academic computing said, “What I am more concerned with is the rise of bots—and commercialization of conversation.”

An anonymous software engineering and systems administration contractor responded, “Free speech will remain the same, but fewer places will exist where an opinion will have an audience that doesn’t already agree. There will be attempts to strip anonymity and privacy to combat trolls, terrorism, child pornography, and human trafficking, and this may succeed in some respects, but will sacrifice a lot of freedom for a very limited amount of safety. I expect ‘bubbling’ to continue to grow and trap people in echo chambers, becoming more radical and assured in their views and opinions. Trolls and harassers will continue to revel in the anonymity the Internet provides, probably with more people coming into it than growing out. Moderation and reputation systems may become more prevalent, because of the second point and enhancing the first. I don’t foresee many people seeking out alternative viewpoints in polarizing arguments, so I do not expect a demand for solutions encouraging inclusive discussions.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “It will devolve. If we look at Twitter over the last decade, it has gone from an egalitarian discussion forum to cliquish factions and rampant harassment. This holds true for most of the Web.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Harassment and difficult people will always be around us. By ranking comments, we can lessen the impact of trolls. It’s an arms race of sorts so I expect no long-term change.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I expect online negativity will become less prominent because online anonymity will become less common. As more of our lives are lived out online, we will each have something like a single profile that will become our online presence, an identity that is ours from birth to death. I am sure there will be identity fraud hacks and whatnot, just as with our physical reputation.”

An anonymous Web developer said, “Discussion on the Internet has a specific etiquette. The ‘comment etiquette’ has definitely evolved, but it does not seem as if much has changed, or that it will change.”

An anonymous lead security service technician commented, “The current climate of polarised fascistic horn-blowing will further make most public media forums unbearable for moderates and will lead to alienation and isolation more and more over time.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “The current election cycle, ISIS’ use of technologies, narrowband news, etc., contribute to negativity and reduced tolerance.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “More work will be done to secure the authors of discourse.”

An anonymous respondent said, “It’s Hobbesian. The Internet is as close to the state of nature as we have in modern society, so the biggest assholes win. I’m paraphrasing, of course.”

An anonymous project manager responded, “Barring censorship at a massive level, I see no reason why polarised groups would stop using social media as they do now. Expect the trend to build isolated universes of information and commentary to accelerate.”

An anonymous respondent said, “The lack of restraint offered by online presence seems to diminish the basic restraint that people exercise in face-to-face interactions. I see this deteriorating in the future.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “The rise of Donald Trump has made people bolder.”

An anonymous digital media archivist commented, “There will continue to be trolls and harassers, but I am optimistic that those types of behaviors will be regulated a little more in the future. I don’t believe ‘free speech’ should be invoked as a defense for abusive, hateful, or threatening speech. Anonymity and privacy are already at risk, and I don’t think many strides will be made to protect anonymity or privacy for ‘security’ reasons. Though I dislike the idea of watchlists, I also would love for there to be a means to register trolls or harassers somewhere, to flag the accounts as abusive and hateful, as potential threats to the safety of their targets.”

An anonymous data center technician replied, “Attempting to control interactions, anywhere, anytime, will cause harmful backlash and will not be effective. It is what corporations and governments want, not what the people desire.”

An anonymous IT manager and system administrator wrote, “I am cautiously optimistic that backlash toward harassment and toxicity online will encourage social media platforms to police their webspace more diligently. We’ve already seen Twitter and Reddit take some initial, tentative steps toward cracking down on abusive behavior on their platforms. User demand will cause more platforms to adopt stricter anti-harassment policies if they want to maintain their market share and reputation.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Trolls online are trolls in real life. It’s just the person you are. The Internet has provided closet trolls an outlet. I don’t see it going up or down for that matter.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Online discussions will evolve, but there will always be individuals who want to provoke others. I imagine in the future there will be better tools for tracking trolls or at least, better algorithms that will be able to detect malicious comments. It will be all about community management and how effective the tools a community has to manage harassment on their online platforms are.”

An anonymous respondent said, “As the public becomes more used to interacting online, they will be able to better manage tone and infer meaning from online written content.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Comments left unmoderated are vicious because of the anonymity afforded to users. In the future, I expect mechanisms to develop that will rein in anonymous forums and users will be more controlled.”

An anonymous software engineer wrote, “It will evolve for the better, as bad actors and online harassment get worse, a backlash will happen to counteract the negatives. There will be even more importance placed on individual commentary. Free speech is important and should be something that is maintained, but there has to be some kind of shift to stop the progression toward more harassment and things like swatting [making false accusations that elicit police action against innocent people].”

An anonymous analyst programmer responded, “The problem will only get worse until it is worth spending enough resources on a solution.”

An executive director at an organization promoting digital education said, “There have been bad actors and the like on the Internet since its creation, and it hasn’t slowed anything down. I don’t expect a major change because of the negativity that can be apparent on the Internet.”

An anonymous technical director at a university-based global-good project wrote, “Large organizations are already taking actions to guard against skilled and determined bad actors based on revelations (e.g., Snowden) that nation states are subverting systems for their benefit. As the arms race at the state level for tools to monitor and control Internet activities advances, smaller organizations will gain access to older-generation tools and practices, and they will put these to use in preventing abuse. Currently abuse prevention takes a back burner because it is expensive to mitigate or there is not enough perceived benefit for even minor reductions. As the cost for mitigation falls, we should see more deployment.”

An anonymous network architect wrote, “Online discourse interacts with in person discourse and the general culture. It seems that our cultures are becoming more fragmented, with people resorting more quickly to ad hominem attacks and physical violence. I would expect the level of discourse on social media and the Internet at large to follow the general culture. The Internet could be a force to turn this around, but people have to want it. It doesn’t seem like people understand that sawing off the branch of free speech on which they are sitting in order to attack their opponents will eventually result in a major fall.”

An anonymous senior research director at Indiana University, observed, “I have no idea. Maybe the Internet for discourse will fade away.”

An anonymous president of a business-and-consumer-rights organization observed, “The trend of increased negativity has continued unabated for years and I fear it will only grow. The malcontents and extremists in the US and around the world have found a way to communicate with each other through the Internet and it will continue. Unfortunately, those who disagree with these negative views simply withdraw from those sites and stay away from them rather than seek out new technology. Sadly, I believe those with negative views are the ones who continuously seek out new technology to increase their reach and ensure their anonymity. Free speech will continue to thrive, but those who take advantage of this privilege will, more and more, be those who are using it to undermine societal mores.”

An anonymous digital coordinator wrote, “I expect the ordinary trollish behavior to decrease. People will adopt new social norms, and intentionally bad actors will be filtered out by improved community policies and algorithms. Unfortunately, the capture of digital social space by corporate (mainly) and governmental bad actors will continue. There are entities that have anti-democratic or other political agendas and those that put profit before social good. There will be a fascist-like partnership between corporates who own the means of communication and the governments that are supposed to be regulating them. The increased use of encrypted private chats is one encouraging counterbalancing factor. But this form of communication is private. Anything public will be monitored, logged, analysed, and used against you (in the form of highly manipulative advertising, state control, or other consequences). The recent Chinese government ‘gamification’ of social obedience is an example to watch, even if it fails in its first iteration.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Attempts to block this behavior just seem to shift the medium. The discourse in certain public forums may decrease, but the negative behaviors will still exist somewhere. The current response to ‘trolls’ seems to be the equally extreme ‘social justice warrior.’ Ultimately, most end users will become increasingly neutral and try to self-filter this noise.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “There’s no incentive to change trolls’ and other negative influences’ behavior, particularly when the onus remains on the harassed to deal with the problem themselves. Moderation remains ineffective, and in many cases, can be gamed by trolls to punish dissenters. Barring significant changes, there’s no reason to suggest that the quality of discourse on the Internet will improve. While there have been some strides in improving the tone of communication on the Internet, major actors such as Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit have proven unwilling and unable to implement any sort of meaningful change.”

An anonymous respondent said, “AI controls will limit the blatantly obvious offensive trolling. That will take a lot of the sting out the problem. Identification controls will minimize a lot of the remaining negative elements, though it will also clearly lead to the suppression of unpopular opinions.”

An anonymous IT architect for IBM wrote, “We’ve topped out—trolls have always existed and will never be eradicated—but they are balanced to a degree by calm, sane voices, and by curated content.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “We’re seeing a backlash against the negative tone of the Internet, and more platforms will seriously consider how to address these challenges as their users want to avoid those interactions.”

An anonymous respondent responded, ” People will not change. Social pressure to not be a troll isn’t going to be effective. There will be more access to better-curated and managed platforms and, as a result, the overall tone will improve as people will prefer them.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I expect some progress in tools and policies aimed at preventing harassment, but it would take major cultural changes that I’ve yet to see substantive progress being made toward to really eliminate the societal forces that enable and encourage trolling.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Communication will continue to sway along the pendulum, from the negative extreme to positive extreme.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “There are some pretty awful people out there, and there always have been. I don’t see the tone of public discourse changing much. Online communication is flexible, and people will continue to take communications to new venues—new messaging apps, games, or sites—when existing ones get crowded with trolls or jerks, much like bars or restaurants are trendy, then unpopular. There may be a faster churn of digital spaces.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The exponentially-increasing volume of social media posts and other digital commentary will make it necessary for most people to think about limiting the size of their online social groups or else risk any meaningful discussion being lost in the background noise. Free speech, anonymity, and privacy will thrive thanks to the dedicated programmers and hackers behind projects such as ‘Signal’ and ‘Tor.’ Unfortunately, it will become even more difficult to have your free speech heard by anyone who cares.”

An anonymous respondent working in IT governance said, “Lack of governance is a double-edged sword.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I witnessed more than a little griefing and flame wars in the 1980s, despite the BBS operators’ best efforts. The difference now is that everyone is on the Internet, and the trolling is therefore more visible. Short of a completely de-anonymized Internet, this will continue. I suspect the trend will be a societal maturity toward ignoring and squelching trolls instead of giving them fodder and publicity.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I expect a red-queen race between platforms and toxic actors. Platforms will take minimal action to curb the worst harassment, while the worst actors will find ways to evade any new measures put in place.”

An anonymous retired programmer wrote, “Whatever technical attempts are made to improve tone will be defeated by determined assholes. If the tone becomes too strident, most people will stop listening.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “I see major information providers either shutting down unmoderated discussions or using a professional service (e.g., Discourse, Disqus) that provides better moderation due to possible litigation. I also foresee communities in digital commentary facilitating much-needed support in discouraging trolls and encouraging civil online interactions. I also see social networking via Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn, waning in numbers of users due to possible privacy concerns and litigation.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Companies/corporations will do more to control content. I doubt most people will notice or care. People today are not only willing to give up privacy, they seem eager to do so. Scary stuff is coming, yet people don’t seem to mind.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Most people will ignore or shut out those they don’t know or need to know.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “The current culture of trolling, meaness, and debasement will be tempered as Internet culture and develops. We’re still babies at being ‘connected.'”

An anonymous respondent noted, “Platforms will begin to take harassment more seriously and build better tools to combat it. Concerns about free speech are hollow without this context: by allowing harassment to continue, the voices of the harassed are silenced.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I don’t think negative interactions will be any more widespread than today. I hope to see anonymity continue to be possible as sadly there will still be areas of the world where people will be in danger for expressing their views.”

An anonymous software engineer wrote, “Negativity has a tendency to breed more negativity. With social media, it has become increasingly easy to not only interact with several people at once, but also interact with corporations and businesses. The individual’s voice has a much higher perceived value than it has in the past. As a result, there are more people who will complain online in an attempt to get attention, sympathy, or retribution. With social media, it’s also easier to block out people who are dissimilar to yourself. This means that those who will agree with you will tend to band together and increase the negativity.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “This is not to say trolling will take over the Internet. But the rise of extremism will likely prompt more action and oversight in our social interactions.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Free speech will continue to erode, but mostly by omission, as the public will self-edit its online commentary.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “More-pervasive surveillance and an increased frequency of sensitive personal Information breaches will continue to chill free speech online and further limit what people are willing to communicate and transact online.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Some websites will give up on wide-open commentaries as not contributing to their readers’ needs, such as the Toronto Star did, and will rely on moderated comments in a ‘letters to the editor’ vein. Many sites will see the negativity as their contribution to Vox Populi or even sensationalist entertainment and will tolerate it if not actively encourage it. That is how the Internet will be more shaped by negative commenting.”

An anonymous economist at an Ivy League university wrote, “The Internet is includes a mix of insightful comments and toxic hate. I see no reason this will change either for the better or for the worse. “

An anonymous respondent said, “The easier it is to get access to social media and to post whatever one wishes, the more likely it is that the current bad situation will degenerate further. However, there is a bigger risk in over-policing communications and reducing freedom of speech.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “As Internet access becomes more ubiquitous, there will be more trolls”

An anonymous public utility manager commented, “The struggle between the civil and uncivil participants on the web will continue in the next decade. Both sides are strong and getting stronger. The platforms for interaction are still young, and there’s much room for growth and innovation. I’m encouraged by the decentralized Web movement—which is just beginning—and I hope to be a part of it.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “If we’re able to move toward a more equitable society, we will feel less scared and angry and regain some more restrained idea of what civil discourse is. I’m optimistic.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “Free speech will slowly yield in the face of negative activities.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Online hostility is fed by misogyny, racism, and other forms of bigotry. My belief is that we will continue to see a modest decline in bigotry over the next decade, reflected in online discourse. Attempts by governments or companies to impose speech controls will at best be ineffective, and at worst hurt vulnerable people (e.g., restrictions on anonymous speech would deter vulnerable people who need anonymity to speak about their experiences or organize for change).”

An anonymous senior software engineer wrote, “We see politicians and the media engaging in such tactics, a trend which will continue if this sees success.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “I’ve been stalked, harassed, phished, and spearphished online since 2008. It’s effectively impossible to be anonymous online, which means I’m much less likely to voice unpopular or controversial opinions in public forums. In addition, there seem to be a fair number of people who view arguing and harassing folks as a game online, and I don’t have the time or energy to pick their arguments apart or assemble a network of friends and allies to fight back. Online communication will become a series of walled gardens and safe spaces for folks to chat, and even so, folks will not be as honest as they once were, knowing everything may haunt them years down the line. In the best case scenario, bad actors will be filtered out to allow the majority of people to interact more freely without harassment, but training algorithms or even live monitors to deal with who is and isn’t a bad actor will be tricky and prone to abuse and/or bugs. I don’t always want to hear viewpoints I approve of, but I do want a community where everyone feels safe to voice their opinion without abuse or having it come back to haunt them later if they change their mind. “

An anonymous respondent observed, “Though I know it is a popular goal to reduce online harassment and trolling, almost any effort to do so will also impact free speech. That will in turn eliminate one of the greatest aspects of the Internet: unlimited communication. Any regulation that effectively targets trolls can just as easily be used to target any minority group by those who wish to silence them. It is better that a thousand trolls be allowed to spit vitriol or a thousand hateful schmucks be allowed to insult and conspire than that one person oppressed be silenced. I do not expect a major change: humans always have been and always will be what they are (within certain obvious constraints of scale, let’s call it 1,000 years in either direction). There will always be trolls, but I do not encounter them very much unless I go looking. They are easily kept out of all but large-scale public debate, no different than the relationship between face-to-face communication and a town hall meeting: the weirdos and unpleasantly hostile folks will go where they can make a mess, but won’t affect most day-to-day interaction.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “I don’t think things are going to change because the growth of new means of communication and new ways to communicate negatively will be countered by a growing awareness of the need to build systems that make for a constructive discussion.”

An anonymous respondent said, “The influence of so-called Internet trolls will continue to rise and foster a negative Internet experience across social media platforms.”

An anonymous computer software sales engineer wrote, “There is no known scalable technique for distinguishing between bad actors and others who prefer to remain anonymous.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “I expect there to be less negativity because there will be more consequences (i.e., legal action, lawsuits, jail time) for those who engage in negative social media behavior. This may adversely affect free speech and the amount of online interaction, as people will self-censor out of fear of punishment. But overall, social media should continue to flourish.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “My first reaction was ‘expect no change’ but when I considered the fragmentation of community discourse I revised my answer. As long as social media allows us to speak exclusively to people who agree with us, the negative actions will continue or increase.”

An anonymous graduate student said, “A lot of the moving pieces involved in this will depend in no small part on the outcome of recent and impending political decisions. Politicians and their decisions for better or worse have a significant impact on the subject matter and tone of discourse.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Things are bad at the present time, and I expect things will deteriorate for some time to come before people give up on using the Internet for discourse entirely.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Anonymity permits people to be obnoxious in ways they would never do in person. Technological solutions are not always the answer to human frailties.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “It seems like every year a new and more-intrusive method is introduced to not only spam people, but to also try new and innovative phishing schemes and redirect online purchases. Since there is money to be made, this can only increase.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “How do we balance free speech (including hate speech)?”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The tone of discourse online is dictated by fundamental human psychology and will not easily be changed. People are snarky and awful online in large part because they can be anonymous, or because they don’t have to speak to other people face-to-face. Talking to complete strangers online is a dehumanizing situation, and because of that, it brings out the worst in people.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “I am a scientist. I have been using the Internet and its predecessors since the late 1980s. I don’t really think it has changed much over time. The websites, people, and issues may change, but the problems with negative activities are the same. Online communication may be a relatively recent phenomenon, but people are still people and that hasn’t changed. I would not be surprised if there is less anonymity and privacy in future, but that seems to be a general trend online over the years.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “People will choose the forum that will echo their own sentiment and rarely seek out other views. Negative activities will still occur and some will engage with them, but most will get tired of it and just ignore the bad actors and they will go somewhere else to spew their hate.”

An anonymous respondent said, “This seems like a fairly classic arms race. Companies will have an obvious incentive to lower criminal behaviour (death threats, etc.), while people will always misbehave some of the time.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Until there is pressure to reduce negative activities, they will increase over time.”

An anonymous teacher commented, “Until or unless privacy becomes regarded as a public health issue, the concept of privacy will vanish within 25 years to be replaced by a sort of punitive transparency regime. Only the technically talented elite will be able to maintain privacy, and they will likely be regarded with great suspicion.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Although I believe the online environment today is extremely negative, I also believe this environment has reached peak negativity and it will remain at this level.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “The Internet will fragment into silos where policed discussions stay civil and un-policed discussions resemble those of today’s Internet. “

An anonymous respondent said, “I don’t think it can get worse. There should be better methods to filter and block ‘bad actors’ in the near future.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “There will continue to be demand for better systems of moderation. The combination of a profit motive for sites in fostering engagement and the perceived need to be fair to all viewpoints will discourage sites from addressing it seriously.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Someone will figure out that strong communities are more durable and have more long-term value than easily trolled networks.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “No matter what technological advances people will still be people. I believe there will be an equivalent amount of bad behavior on the Internet.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “I see negative comments and tweets a lot, just as I see viruses on computers. As we try to find solutions for moderating and eliminating hate speech, the hate speech will find ways around it, just like virus creators and hackers are always one step ahead. Our Internet culture is reactive not proactive toward negative activities, so they will escalate and find new ways of expression. Anonymity and privacy already suffer. I don’t post anything remotely personal anywhere on the Net, ever. The only way to retain privacy is to not post.”

An anonymous respondent said, “As it becomes a more prevalent player in our lives, online discourse will be less the realm of trolls and more the realm of normal people.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I expect negative interactions to increase in the short term, until the users who actually create value online—especially women and minorities—either leave altogether or begin to create their own online spaces. At some point larger platforms will have to reduce trolling if they are to remain viable. I do not see managing (or suppressing) trolls as a free-speech issue.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “When groups of people have free voice in a social situation there will always be adolescent, rude comments, but there are constructive discussions too.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “It seems that the Internet, while making communication much faster, is also enabling a global tribalism. In addition, the anonymity that the Internet offers will only continue to bring out the worst in people. This combination will lead to more communication that is negative.”

An anonymous PhD at the California Institute of Technology noted, “Without accountability, people will continue to hide behind anonymous accounts and say vile things. This is preferable to full accountability, as it also allows for stronger freedom of speech through anonymity.”

An anonymous respondent said, “There has been no major shift in the ‘tone’ of cars and driving over the decades. Poor road etiquette in all of its frustrating forms continues to be universally hated, but people still use cars and roads (and debate public/private solutions like transit) because transportation in the physical world is so convenient. I don’t expect online public discourse to follow a different road, so to speak.”

An anonymous respondent, “A major contributor to the current tone of online public discourse is the fact that this is a new medium and the social norms are still being established. Once rules are established and generally understood the quality of conversation will improve.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “As has already happened, people who want to exercise the forms of free speech that amount to silencing others will find the corners of the Web where they can do so; others will refuse to engage with those forums. We will continue to extend and increase the thick walls of our own filter bubbles, for good and ill. I expect/hope that online discourse will start to evolve more proactive responses to these phenomenon as the limits of the ‘just ignore them/just don’t use social media’ approach are demonstrated and the link between online and offline harassment is more proven. On the other hand, that may be overly optimistic of me. Much as I found the anonymity of the early Web important and mourned its passing, it has very largely eroded already, largely thanks to Facebook’s real names policy and secondarily to the addition of photos to most forms of online interaction, and it’s a bit of a false dichotomy to set up protections against harassment in opposition to privacy. Moderated forums can include anonymity, and Twitter has shown that non-anonymous forums can still enable it.”

An anonymous software engineer at a major Silicon Valley technology company wrote, “I do not currently see any systems or cultures developing which will disincentivize bad actors in online communities.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “There may be no such thing as free speech. Cyber laws and Internet oversight are clamping down. Everything is about marketing and there is less and less about curiosity. This is very sad.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “Social media and digital commentary will continue along current trends of increasing negative activities. This is, in part, due to greater technological saturation and accessibility: as more and more people are getting connected online (and at a younger age), and as these connections are facilitated by the easy access afforded by more ubiquitous mobile devices, we will necessarily see an increased exposure to bad actors, harassment, trolls, etc. In turn, this will lead to more widespread demand for systems or solutions that encourage more-inclusive online interactions via greater moderation and other censorious efforts. These kinds of efforts, while typically well-intentioned, will have an overall chilling effect on free speech: for better and for worse, people will begin to think twice before freely speaking their mind online out of fear of retaliation, abuse, being ‘put on a list,’ etc. Governments and corporations will struggle to balance the concerns of free speech, security (national and personal), anonymity, and privacy. While these concerns sometimes have competing or conflicting interests, they all remain widely valued by people and institutions alike. As such, I do not see an easy solution to this struggle any time soon, if at all. Perhaps that’s for the better.”

An anonymous UNIX administrator said, “Things will stay the same if the status quo remains. Should major platforms actually go for moderation or Google trains AI to do the moderation for them I don’t expect any changes.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “As long as people can remain anonymous they will behave badly.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “I am particularly concerned about how fair use can survive when content is patrolled by bots which, by definition, cannot discriminate with regard to context. No fair use and no net neutrality will destroy the culture of the Internet. I do not participate in social media in general. I value privacy and don’t wish to market the information about who I communicate with. I am very concerned about free speech if corporate control is increased/enhanced because there is a fine line between asserting copyright or refusing to transmit data and censorship.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Smart people will work out technological solutions to reduce trolls’ effects, and services that use them will thrive over those that don’t. Increased social connectivity will continue to progress social causes. Equal marriage progressed much quicker since the Internet appeared, and we’re already seeing huge progress in the acceptance of trans people.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “Trolling is a stifling activity that can repress candor. If someone expects to receive abuse if they make a statement, why would they post that statement?”

An anonymous respondent said, “Things will be more ‘shaped by negative discourse’ in the sense that online discourse will be regulated against and increasingly brought into the purview of the criminal justice system.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Trolling attempts may not actually be reduced, but as time goes on more people will become more inoculated to the form as it is regulated to background noise. More so with other forms of negativity that do not produce a productive response. Some forms of activities that are currently viewed as negative will evolve and reform because of positive results. Conversely, the activities that are denied proper entropy through over control (corporate/ government attempts to shape in a particular way past supporting the existence) may stagnate and/or suffer a degradation and become worse.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Government-sponsored trolling will increase.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “It will swing toward the middle. We’ve had the lawless Internet, and now are in the time of severe policing of tone. As discourse evolves, what’s considered socially acceptable will even out.”

An anonymous teacher said, “The current populist trend will continue, but the liberal/Democratic end of it will largely prevail in politics and public policy. Those who are on the conservative/Republican/Libertarian end of the populist spectrum will have no real outlet other than trolling and posting threats and warnings online. This may lead to social media outlets that are self-segregated by worldview.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Things will be more shaped by the negative. Human nature + neoliberalism + the race to the bottom + attempts to overturn net neutrality.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I gave up on trying to discuss anything relevant 10 years ago. Confirmation bias and the distance between users make it impossible to change someone’s mind.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The only way it might improve is if anonymity is removed, and even then, probably not by much.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “The tone of discourse will always be affected by negative activities. It will swing back and forth between being more negative and less so. As the negative activities become more extreme and begin to cross over the line of the moral majority, people and companies will attempt to correct this with what they may consider ‘positive activities’ (technology and discourse) to correct the swing. These positive activities will be more successful sometimes and less successful other times. However, the back and forth of these two activities will continue and cause the system to stay relatively neutral when looked at in the macro, with spikes when viewed at the micro timescales.”

An anonymous respondent said, “People are people, so why should it be that you and I should get along so awfully?”

An anonymous IT consultant, wrote, “Unfortunately, the ease of anonymous/false-ID communications using the Internet is encouraging the rise of these bad people. I see no easy solution to this given the many different nation state governance, enforcement, and reporting regimes.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “If providers of services such as Facebook, etc., self-police more/better it will become quieter.”

An anonymous professor emeritus at San Francisco State University, noted, “There will always be racists, terrorists, and all kinds of other ‘negative’ people using the Internet but I don’t think the amount of this material will change and many people are now aware of this kind of content and will counter it. There may be more government regulation and control by people who run social media.”

An anonymous principal and thought leader said, “We have yet to develop a digital culture with common values and protocols of behavior in cyberspace. Until we collectively identify a ‘golden rule’ set of norms, behavior will continue to decline based on the most chronic and dysfunctional members.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Most online sites have become an echo chamber where people rarely come across differing opinions. There are no discussions, only angry reposts of talking points from partisan media. The ‘news’ media are held to almost no standards, and report only the outlandish and partisan.”

An anonymous hydrologist working at a state agency noted, “State employee, My opinion is that online discourse will become worse in the next five to eight years and then a correction will begin to happen as discourse becomes too outrageous. The hosts of the online comments and the general population will start creating etiquette that will be more closely adhered to. Before this correction though we will see more trolling and distrust. So on average over the next ten years it will be worse.”

An anonymous respondent said, “There will always be cesspool comment sections without monitoring, there will always be people who strive to make things better.”

An anonymous senior software developer wrote, “I expect a continuation of the constant up and down we have right now. Sometimes the trolls get the upper hand. This causes companies and individuals to take an active role in stopping them. This reduces the visibility of the trolls for a time until they come back (maybe via another channel). I expect that, over time, algorithms and AIs will become better at identifying antisocial behaviour and in return the trolls become better at avoiding those algorithms, keeping the bottom line about the same.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “As haters and trolls get increasingly called out for hate speech they will leave.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “I view the question to be largely inconsequential in the same way that someone might ask whether public discussion off of the Internet would be more or less negative in the next decade. There will always be anonymous outlets that can potentially be abused by those who want to be negative for the sake of being negative, and there will always be ‘walled garden’- style outlets that severely limit any kind of negative commentary through moderation. I just don’t see where the overall tone should or will shift in any meaningful way.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I do not believe that there will be any major social change which will result in less negative discourse online but the nature of that negative discourse is not generally an evolving phenomenon either. As the problem is not changing, I believe solutions to the problem will continue to get better at marginalizing and segregating discourse which would generally be considered negative.”

An anonymous teacher wrote, “More people will communicate with others who share their worldview, or be exposed to those who hold different values. If I lived in 1750, I probably would not hear of tragedies far from my home. Today I hear of them and they affect me. If the world population continues to climb, and a greater portion of the world population has access to the Internet, mobile phones, and social media tools, there will be more exposure to things of all kinds. Public spaces will be environments where actions are supervised, recorded, and judged. The boundaries between private and public will necessarily forced to become distinct. I think of helicopters looking for heat signatures on the roofs of homes, indicating the potential use of lights to grow plants. Is this an invasion of homeowners’ privacy? Not legally.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Social media and digital commentary will become even more tribal. Border crossing, when it happens, will not be in the name of collegiality or understanding but rather as an incursion with the intent to disrupt.”

An anonymous chief information security officer observed, “The negative actions get media attention, even if they represent a sliver of the population. The media decides what trends based on its own biases and appetite for ratings. The nation is so divided now along so many lines, the media can cherry-pick any topic to amplify the division. No, I don’t see a ‘widespread demand’ for more-inclusive online interactions. The extreme sides of all arguments don’t want to hear opposition. The reasonable people find ways to communicate and don’t need special solutions to do so. The future of free speech will be safe as long as one or another of the major political parties never gets overwhelming control for a sustained period of time—safety net for 1A is long-term gridlock. Individuals have more control over their privacy and anonymity than they realize; they just can’t leave social media alone enough to exercise the control. Free speech is currently a given, but you may be called to account for what you say.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “Not only will trolls become more active in shaping public discourse, they will likely become just ‘part of doing business’ in that they will become active in both positive and negative aspects of any given topic.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I don’t expect much change. How much worse can it get?”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “There are very few repercussions for acting terribly online and it seems that public discourse is becoming a contest where the winner is the one who yells the loudest—verbally or online.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Eventually the major social media networks and other outlets will figure out how to filter this stuff. Also, as such speech becomes increasingly tolerated in real life, there is less need to go do it online anonymously.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “I expect online communities to become more willing to treat membership in those communities as a privilege, not a right. As such, ‘bad actors’ will be less tolerated as systems to involve community members in policing their own peers become more common and better supported. I do not expect anonymity to be eliminated in general, though membership in a community will probably require that the core admins be able to recognize attempts to create new identities for banned former members. Eventually, an unpolished venue will be recognized as unviable and either adopt such measures or become marginalized.”

An anonymous database manager for a large nonprofit organization replied, “Expect the situation to get worse because online communication favors short, pithy answers and non-thinking ‘gut’ responses. Inclusion will continue to favor the upper middle class and the one percent-fake ‘meritocracy.’ Free speech will belong to those who want to continue using bullying, offensive speech. Doxxing and anonymity will be routinely compromised as a ‘gotcha.’ Expect these trends to become part of standard corporate practice as strategies evolve to incorporate more ‘social’ communications within the workplace.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I’ve been a daily participant in Metafilter, a moderated, effectively nonprofit online community, since 2001. The amount of labor required to do effective moderation is at odds with the business model of the for-profit publishers generating the majority of content, and the traffic commenting generates benefits them in page/ad views. I can’t see the current state of affairs changing as a result.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “On the one hand, the technical capacity for massive nastiness will increase. On the other hand, doing so will feel worse and worse—much like doing it face-to-face in real life—as channels get broader and the experiences feel more real. And people will learn to avoid anonymous trolls.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “It’s gotten worse in the last ten years. Expect this trend to continue.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Trolls and bad actors have been a fact of life since the days of Usenet. Online forum owners in the West will continue to try to implement countermeasures against them while erring on the side of free expression.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “It will take longer than a few years for the overall tone of Internet discussions to change. The change needs to come from the people having the discussions, not from a change in technology.”

An anonymous systems engineer said, “It gets worse every year, so why would it stop now?”

An anonymous respondent said, “While there will likely be some prominent public discourses that revolves around the activities of bad actors and trolls, there will probably a balance from other online communication mediums that moderate user contributions, some with automated moderation as we’ve already seen, and community-moderation that encourages positive behavior. Hopefully the outsourcing of community discussion to disconnected third-party platforms like Facebook will become a thing of the past because they’re inherently difficult to record for posterity.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Norms and manners will develop and spread as talking online becomes more and more integral to society. However, the Internet will always be somewhere that one can be anonymous and where it’s very easy to find echo chambers of your own opinion. Those circumstances will always create trolls. Younger people will know not to listen to what people say online more than older ones do, though. And we already see serious media outlets either restricting comments or requiring that people post under full names. So things will change and evolve, but people online will probably still tend to be more extreme than they are face-to-face.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “It’s more likely that we’ll see more corporate-controlled, moderated, ‘closed’ spaces masquerading as open spaces in the next decade.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “I truly hope I am wrong, but if we do not take care of the trolls and haters soon the negative tone may get worse. As long as the most base and ugly actors get the attention people will keep acting shitty.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Human nature has not much changed over the past 2,000 years; I don’t expect much change over the next 10.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Better moderation tools, more seasoned Internet users developing tools and strategies to tune out the noise and report trolls, and hopefully a slow and steady maturation in the culture will make negative activities less influential.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Free speech absolutism hasn’t been serving the English-speaking world well, and balancing rights with responsibilities works better. To the extent that the UK wanes in influence in Europe and the US wanes in influence in the globe we might see some improvement in general tone. But ignoring toddlers having tantrums tends to make the tantrums worse in the short term, and that’s what I think we’ll see with negativity.”

An anonymous director of business appraisal commented, “The most likely outcome is that trolls will remain, forever ready to provoke a reaction, but that their job will become harder and harder as people’s skin gets thicker.”

An anonymous respondent predicted, “Interactions will become less anonymous and comment tools will have better moderation techniques.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “There will always be a spectrum of online communities ranging from the uncontrolled to the tightly moderated. The large social networks will take a cautious approach to moderation, with tighter approaches seen in more controlled venues (e.g., topic/area-specific discussion boards, Web page commentary). The crucial considerations are who is in charge and the consequences of content removal by whomever is in charge. An ‘owner’ of a Web page can exercise considerable leeway in removal of offensive, or even off-topic comments. A third-party provider has to be more conservative, and the larger providers will prefer free speech (e.g., the response to offensive speech should be more speech) to avoid perceptions of censorship. China and other controlled information societies will have more institutional censorship, but there are practical limits even there.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Nothing will change and the negative tone will only increase until we recognize: 1) There are other people on the other end of the screen. 2) Honest critique is not the same as public shaming. 3) We have some real accountability for negative speech.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I expect the negative tenor to decrease somewhat but not to disappear. Mainstream commentary has become more demanding of civility but there will always be areas online that defy mainstream conventions. People there will have their beliefs and behaviours reinforced by each other.”

An anonymous associate research professor at Rutgers University commented, “Facilitation of the capacity to be anonymous is the Internet’s worst characteristic.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I’d say it’s equally likely that online communication will become less shaped by ‘negative activities’ or that there will be no change. The reason for this is that it’s unlikely for things to get any worse in terms of trolling, incivility, etc., but I am optimistic that those who manage content spaces (online news outlets, social media) have incentives to work on ways to facilitate better discourse (through things like moderation, funneling discussion to places like Facebook where commenters are not anonymous). But even if no solution emerges there it’s difficult to imagine ways for trolling to increase over current levels.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “Populist politics will strengthen hateful rhetoric among citizens. Open fora like Facebook will have more negative activities (and they will struggle to find a solution to this). Many newspapers and other online sites will close down their comment sections, because they don’t know how to handle harassment and trolling.”

An anonymous senior security architect who works with a national telecommunications provider said, “I expect online communication to be more shaped by negative activities over the next decade. Social media and search engines filter results, and thus advertising, to capture the attention of participants. These are our tools for engaging in public discourse, finding venues for conversation, and attempting to learn about events. Previously, real efforts to maximize this effect for an intended outcome were the purview of organizations and specialists. This is being democratized and now any small, active group can make an effort to sway outcomes with very little monetary investment. We’ve already seen it used for commercial, military, political, and criminal ends. Manufactured urgency and outrage are triggers that people respond to. Our experience with spam and phishing over 30 gigaseconds (depending where you start counting) should already tell us that a significant portion of the population remains highly susceptible to this, but the technological means to automate defenses against adversarial manipulation always trail behind. They must. Sometimes we really do need to see things urgently; sometimes we really do need to be outraged. I expect that some voices online will naturally be silenced as a result, to the detriment of free speech. This may happen naturally as people who would otherwise join in discourse will choose not to for various reasons. It may happen as legislation pushes toward a more-censored view of the Matrix through right-to-be-forgotten style rulings, attempts to automate filtering of offensive speech, or abuse of existing copyright and digital rights laws. It may happen as the companies providing these platforms filter what their users see algorithmically, further isolating the bubbles of conversation that are producing such negative activity today. And I’m hard-pressed to see which of those is the worse outcome. There is already a very negative consequence to privacy and I expect this to get worse. Doxxing of users has become nearly as common as short-lived DDOS [distributed denial of service] attacks against online gamers, which swings between idle amusement and revenge while continuing to be cheaper. Doxxing of companies has proven to be similarly damaging to the privacy of employees and clients. The Web has never taken security particularly seriously and this trend is continuing. The current focus on end-to-end obfuscation is great for individual communications, but provides little support against the troves of information kept about us by every site, large and small, that we interact with. This has many carryover effects, as some kinds of discourse naturally lend themselves to vitriolic and privacy-damaging attacks. The overall state of privacy and security puts our services, histories, data trails, and conversation at risk whenever someone is sufficiently motivated to retribution. Normalizing this activity in society does not lessen the damage it does to speech.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Having run a social web site since 1998, I can tell you that actors will exploit any loopholes that exist, and right now, the major sites are still not paying enough attention to anti-social behavior.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “I see no reason it will particularly change. It is already a mix.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “I expect the negative tenor to continue before a counter-movement emerges. It will require political leadership that addresses disgruntlement in the developed world in ways that tone down the rhetoric.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “I do not expect that trolls will dominate communication because it will become much more ordinary.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Trolling in the public space will lead to people retreating to more-closed online environments where people communicate within private groups. Facebook private groups, for example, have the ability to create microcosms within the larger social media discussion. The closed nature of the group keeps people free from anonymous trolling, and bad behaviour can be immediately identified and the offender can be expelled. This protects respectful discourse and keeps these closed groups a safe place for all participants. I am a member of several private groups of over 3,000 people each.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “We see more polarization in politics around the world and this is also seen online. Women are most adversely affected by trolls and harassment—especially in places where women’s use of technology is seen as a transgression. Women are shouted down more in online spaces than in public settings. I hope anonymity and privacy are retained, particularly for women who are not served by being found online. Privacy is important to me, and I worry and try to caution others, but this is really difficult. I would love to see solutions that encourage more-inclusive interactions, but the tech bros of Silicon Valley are not pushing this agenda forward. We need different ways to set the agenda to include better access and diversity.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “I fear that there will be more censorship, leading to fewer people speaking up, especially in today’s political climate.”

An anonymous CEO wrote, “We will see an ongoing increase in violence and vilification in the online space until people understand that such crimes are as serious online as offline. This requires ongoing education, action by governments and by service providers to bring serious offenders to account. Free speech does have limits in all societies, and it is impossible for the online space to exist as a haven where normal expectations are not able to be met.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I do not foresee major changes in the degree of political polarization or in the behaviors that shape online communication generally.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “People interact the way they do because they are anonymous and there are only stripped-down social control mechanisms. Given how the current social media platforms operate (e.g., Twitter)—without actual proof of a participant’s identity via, say, a credit card (which I’m not recommending), then anyone kicked off will just reappear. In fact, it could get worse, because there is a learning curve for effectiveness, and that works just as well for insidious motivations as well as those for marketing or community engagement.”

An anonymous principal engineer commented, “I don’t see human nature changing substantially in the next 10 years. The one thing that might improve discourse as stated in this question is the removal of anonymity.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Despite significant efforts to encourage more-inclusive online interactions in my online networks, I am not sure if the scope is bigger than the prevalent negative interactions that I have seen in mainstream platforms. Once such example is the practice of doxxing, which has become a very common strategy online (even when the intention is sometimes agreeable). We will also see an increase of abuses of free speech, given how easy it is to say your opinion online although at the same time it will probably be harder to hide behind anonymous profile.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “Yes, the negative will grow because it’s a total need that no communication can’t be manipulated.”

An anonymous professor of public relations said, “We are on a downward spiral, but I disagree that it is because of bad actors, trolls, etc. This is a time of great unrest in this country with distrust of media, academic experts, and government. The voices of anger, anxiety, and frustration are loud, and discourse by elites that these are uneducated or uninformed disgruntled citizens, contributes to the malaise and feelings of disempowerment. I continually hear, ‘What the hell can the average person do?’ voiced by these angry citizens as they shake their heads in disgust. This negativity will spiral out of control without leaders’ recognition of the legitimacy of these concerns.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “The current versions of public discourse—Facebook, Twitter, and so on—will be superceded, left to the polarized masses. I’m not sure what will replace them, maybe walled collections of the like-minded.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Despite the growing awareness of the pervasiveness of online harassment, and fact that many online companies are attempting to filter and discourage negative online comments and behavior, it seems like an incredible challenge to actually limit this behavior and hold people accountable. It seems likely that if trolling or harassment is reduced in one community, it will simply spring up in others, or emerge through new platforms. The one thing that might begin to reduce this behavior is the trend toward reducing anonymity on the Internet, but it remains difficult to prevent people from obscuring their identities.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “People are lazy and don’t read. They just click, forward, comment. That won’t change.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “There will be more-effective screens to prevent good-faith users of media from encountering trolls and to moderate harassing online behavior. The downside of this is that it may lead to an even greater echo chamber effect.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Online forum software systems will become better at organizing discourse and hence unwanted communications will decrease a bit, but the main factor is human nature and that’s not going to change.”

An anonymous software developer said, “We are at a point where there are a large number of negative activities taking place online. As the proliferation of devices increases, the opportunity increases. So over time negative activities will increase. Online communication systems have certain techniques available to combat these. However these techniques shape the communication systems themselves, despite how much we would like them to be entirely transparent. Hence with increased proliferation and techniques to reduce the effect, our online communication will more shaped by negative activities.”

An anonymous technologist, observed, “The Internet community is sensitive and it tries to put together its own form of social justice. In the future there will be a lot more citizen journalism, more livestreaming of events both good and bad, and it will also allow negative coverage from slanted points of view to happen. It is hard to rein in the trolls. Privacy will continue to take hits.”

An anonymous survey participant who works in the US military said, “There will be no major change. Social media will continue on its path of instant video and short paragraphs. Free speech will continue. I don’t really see us in the USA being detoured from our freedom of speech. BroHam, I hope that no consequences for anonymity or privacy would ever exist other than a loss of notoriety and what I would consider other tradable benefits.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “People are not connecting with others they are communicating with over the Internet. People are a penny a piece on the Internet, and average Internet users aren’t likely to sink their time into those people. This was caused by the surplus of negativity and trolls on the Internet. The excessive hate caused people to refuse to bat an eye to the offenders as to defend themselves and this, in turn, caused the average user to not value a profile picture as a human being. Overall, I think hate will further seclude the average Internet user and push us toward a more anti-social environment.”

An anonymous professor of sociology noted, “The Internet reduces the cost of interaction to near zero while at the same depersonalizing the contact to reduce the inhibitions typical of face-to-face contact. It is also easy to keep Internet contacts and interactions anonymous. All of this adds up to greater potential for cyber-stalking, cyber-bullying, and harassment.”

The chair of a Peruvian foresight organization, wrote, “Anonymity of social networks allows the use of the Internet for negative interactions.”

An anonymous respondent said, “The usual trend is that negative events tied to negative activities each lead to changes. Given we’ll see new types of negative events, I expect we’ll see demand for new types of changes, some of which we’ll avoid but others we’ll have to accept.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Social media and digital communications will continue. but newer users will likely make things more positive, with negative elements existing”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The social media platforms have a responsibility to enforce behavioral guidelines so that all members of the community feel safe.”

An anonymous respondent predicted, “Websites will become more restrictive about making comments publicly available. Rather than having them appear automatically, they will require a login or similar. It may be a sad day for free speech, however it will be a win for those of us who don’t really care about the opinions of trolls. People get too much of their ‘news’ from unregulated or unreviewed sources. We need to somehow teach the importance of the source.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “The current tension between anonymity and accountability will continue for the foreseeable future. I expect that the benefits of anonymity, especially as it relates to free speech, will continue to outweigh some people’s desire to ‘name and shame’ the trolls and bad actors. What I expect to happen to combat the negativity is an increase in capabilities within the social media platforms for participants to flag/ignore/block/filter extreme negativity and harassment. Much like the old adage that it is better to ignore a bully than give him/her the spotlight by responding, it will become easier for social media users to ignore the bad actors.”

An anonymous director of research at the European futures studies organization said, “I work on the assumption that there isn’t much change in human nature over time.”

An anonymous research assistant and instructor at Texas Tech University wrote, “We will see more of social media as an outlet for people to share their personal views. It would be difficult to suppress their views but these views will always be open to criticism. Because people think they can say anything they want, most likely it will come across as negative.”

An anonymous research associate commented, “I don’t think the tone of the general public will change much over the next 10 years, although I do notice quite a bit of demand for more-positive and inclusive interactions online.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “More online activity means more vulnerability. More detailed information online means bad guys can better target their actions.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “I expect there will be continued fast growth in people accessing social media. However, since this will most likely represent a broad spectrum of the population, and not any one strata, I expect the level of griping and distrust will be about the same; proportionally as it is today.”

An anonymous respondent said, “We will see a huge growth in negative speech and regulators forcing a cut in anonymity or, at least, the right to stay anonymous.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I’ve seen online discourse become more hostile as time passes, and particularly in the heat of the 2016 US election campaign. This will get worse, as cohort replacement brings new generations of Internet natives to the arena. Fears about terrorism will increase both hostility and invasions of privacy.”

An anonymous assistant researcher at the University of Wisconson-Madison commented, “The tone of Internet dialogue is a reflection of dialogue in other public spaces. There tend to be more negative messages shared on the Internet because people don’t have the same inhibitions present in face-to-face interactions. I don’t expect these dynamics to change much.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I am unaware of any trends, tools, or technologies available or coming in the near future that will have any meaningful effect on the quality of online discourse. As always, there will be sites, comment threads, etc., that are a joy to read, and those that are cesspools. I do think demand for tools or platforms that encourage positive interaction will increase, but I despair that they will be effective. I’m concerned that over-inclusiveness on the part of these tools or policies will impact freedom of expression/speech, especially on private platforms, and that attempts to grapple with the problem of extremely negative online discourse will result in a removal or dilution of basic rights, including anonymity and privacy.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “The immediacy and anonymity of online communication has emboldened negative, hateful bullying. That will continue and only get worse.”

An anonymous principal engineer said, “Political polarization is the source of much of this negativity, and that polarization is being actively encouraged by entities that see political and financial advantage in it. That is not going to stop. It has taken on a life of its own.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “We are currently seeing a rise in the politics of hate: Donald Trump in the US, and the right-wing in Europe. Maybe the rest of the world can save the West. It has been said that the light of knowledge will extinguish the darkness of ignorance. I am not sure that is happening at all. It appears that darkness is quite resilient, despite mass media and the Internet.”

An anonymous professor at the University of California-Davis commented, “Things will remain the same.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “There will be more online censorship of politically incorrect opinions, but on the unfiltered Web the tone will be more hostile than it is today. It will merely reflect the fact that the middle class is disappearing.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “Donald Trump’s candidacy has given legitimacy to negative and harassing tones in public discourse—this will translate across all modes of communication including the Internet.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Online discourse, to some extent, will be driven by changing cultural and economic pressures, pressures which appear to be growing.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Technology only amplifies underlying human tendencies, and I don’t expect basic human behavior to change.”

An anonymous student and research assistant, said, “Let’s start at the beginning: online harassment is a serious problem. But at the same time, it’s been dragged out into the light lately where people can take a stab at it. And people are coming up with solutions. Awareness, at the very least, is one issue, but I also saw suggestions of Bayesian ‘harassment filters’ in the same way spam filters of modern email programs work; while it might be somewhat more difficult than a spam filter, I believe both technological and societal measures (social norms, etc.) are coming to help minimize the effect of ‘negative activities’ online. That said, I’m sure such negative activities will always be with us. The trick is making sure it only minimally impinges on the activities of most people. As for free speech: I don’t think you’ll be able to kill free speech online. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be listened to, and I suspect toxic voices will, through this combination of measures, be listened to less.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I don’t see much changing about the tone of the online demographic. It’s possible that private companies will be more involved in setting polite discourse on their own sites, but as more people post it becomes more and more cost prohibitive.”

An anonymous application security architect at a major US corporation, commented, “The Internet has been around for quite some time now. Public discourse online is more of a matter of human psychology that technology merely enables. I haven’t seen major changes over the last 10 years in this regard, and I don’t see much evidence that it’ll be different in the next 10.”

An anonymous professor commented, “I expect more-vigorous moderation and less support for anonymity as harassment comes to be recognized as a serious social problem.”

An anonymous senior fellow at an organization assessing the potential future of privacy observed, “I selected that it will be more shaped by negative activities. My decision was fueled in part by the current US presidential campaign and Trump’s lack of civility. I hope I’m wrong.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “I anticipate that online communication will become more shaped by negative activities because there is more personalization happening with regard to activity feeds. This means headlines are becoming even more competitive, and it also means that we feel emboldened in our thinking instead of reflective about what others might think.”

An anonymous senior IT analyst said, “We will maintain the steady state.”

An anonymous scientific editor noted, “I expect more astroturfing; more self-censorship; far less real, substantial, ‘meaningful’ ‘online public discourse’ than there is even now; more echo chambers about fewer and fewer ‘safe’ topics. On the plus side, there will probably be a lot less sexist, racist, etc., trolling, too. Do I think we will see a widespread demand for technological systems or solutions that encourage more-inclusive online interactions? No. What do I think will happen to free speech? Ha ha. You’re kidding, right? It’s pretty much happened already. What might be the consequences for anonymity and privacy? There won’t be any.”

An anonymous researcher wrote, “Over time people will become more comfortable with online communications, and as their comfort level rises people will stop paying so much attention to trolls. The less attention that is given to them the less damage they can cause. If more attention was paid to reasoned argument the trolls would currently not have as much of the spotlight as they currently do.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Media reports have been complaining about the aggressive, uncivil tone of online media for twenty years. Online has been consistently less edited than media and less constrained by in-person civility than normal interpersonal communications. Change, if it happens, will merely be a reflection of increasing invective elsewhere in society, but not a distinct online dynamic.”

An anonymous senior researcher at Microsoft Research wrote, “I’m extrapolating based on my perception that online communication has magnified negative activities in the past few years. For example, the rise of Donald Trump, the racist and sexist treatment of Leslie Jones for her role in Ghostbusters, and Gamergate.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Online communication seems to follow a version of Gresham’s Law, where the bad money drives out the good. In this case, the bad actors drive out the good ones, which will shape the way online communications take place as users seek safer ways to communicate.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Providers of online communities need to build mechanisms for dealing with trolls, harassers, etc., into the development of their product. Dealing with it after the community is live has proven ineffective. My guess is that existing communities will continue to struggle with the issue, but new ones that crop up will be better at addressing it on the front end, which overall will lead to little net effect.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “It may be more shaped by the negative, but I would qualify this by saying it really depends on the content. E.g., media provokes huge emotional reactions from people. It tends to draw the negative/polar points of view. However, there is tons of online activity (and associated discussion) related to using the Internet for research, help, etc., that seems to be more neutral or positive.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I expect increased attempts to turn online discourse negative. I also expect counterbalancing efforts to keep it civil and positive. There may be cycles, as one side ‘wins’ temporarily.”

An anonymous senior research scholar at a university-based digital society project wrote, “Ten years is a long time. It will continue to go downhill the next 3 to 5 years but consolidation in the media environment is likely to be a countervailing force and fewer players will lead to more ‘management of tone’ and regulation. Then 7 to 9 years from now we might be at a whole new starting point in the cycle of media ownership, media model, and tech adoption, which will start cycle again. By that time regulations on speech—built to counter this cycle of hate/negativity—will be in place. In other words, the countercyclical pace of tech innovation, media consolidation, and regulation will all come into play over a decade.”

An anonymous research scientist commented, “Companies managing social media platforms are doing more and more to eliminate trolls, bad actors, and harassment, so that should improve the tone of public discourse.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Online communication facilitates impulsive expression and lacks censors, and this has led to the negative activities you cite. It also facilitates reactions to those activities, ranging from vicious cycles to shaming, blocking, and post-expression filtering. While the negative makes the news, the technology affords a fuller range of communication than mass media, and that won’t change.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “I started my online experience in 1985, and I’ve watched the exponential increase of online discourse and digital extremism. The Internet, specifically social media, has opened a worldwide venue to extremist views. It appears that factions of people with extreme view have taken up arms to exert their will and influence on the Web. Considering the history that I have observed, this trend is only going to intensify.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Internet spaces can learn from video games here. Both Internet and video games originated with a wild-west mentality toward speech and discourse, leading to the toxicity and bad behavior we see on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, etc. However, some recent games (including League of Legends and Overwatch) have developed many mechanisms to detect, monitor, and address toxicity. I see these systems as successful, both from the perspective of a player and according to papers including high-level analyses. Spheres of Internet discourse are different in nature, to be sure. But the question is no longer if the structure of the medium can promote better behavior. It can and does for millions of video game players. It’s hard to say if we will see increased demand for more structure in online discourse. The negative consequences of bad actors will always be experienced by the few, whether they are public figures or members of minority groups. As long as these mediums are shaped by the many (straight white males), the default action will be inaction.”

An anonymous principal analyst wrote, “There are no controls online to reduce or eliminate ‘negativity’ and clickbait. Teaser headlines are now the front end to online revenue, which appears to be growing.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Soundbites and irrelevant snippets of data (often lacking any context) will be sent around, causing much temporary, frenetic confusion, unease, and—possibly—injury.”

An anonymous consulting partner wrote, “The breadth of topics that social media allows us to skim through virtually ensures that the vast majority of people do not actually get exposed to topics at any depth. The most important issues of our time are complex, and social media does not allow for a complex discourse. Furthermore, algorithmically selected content based on our existing interests also steers us towards more ideological isolation, not openness.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “It could go either way, or neither way.”

An anonymous chief marketing officer said, “Give both the current state of affairs, and the long-term trends, it’s hard to imagine public discourse being elevated from its current state. At the same time, we’ve reached such a low point that it’s hard to imagine it getting worse. Many in the technology community are thinking of ways to address this issue, and my hope is that some creative solutions are found. To date, we’ve seen attempts to control the tone following two paths: limiting discourse, which is in some ways self-defeating, and limiting anonymity, which helps but also limits participation.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Technologies do not change social contexts, they are shaped by them. At the outset the Internet was shaped by a group of egalitarian thinkers and makers; it reflected the ideals of open discourse common to the social movements of the 1970s. Now that it is embraced by sizeable state and economic actors, as well as by many different groups within society with different norms and standard hatreds, I fully expect it to lead to a society that is more economically unequal, more surveilled, more siloed (in the effort to provide pleasing content to individual personalized and tracked eyeballs) and more frequently used for abuse and misogyny.”

An anonymous Internet Hall of Fame member said, “The Internet needs a better balance between anonymity and accountability. There will always be a need for complete anonymity, for example, to shield dissidents and whistle blowers. There will always be a need for casual anonymity, for everyday privacy. However, fraud and harassment necessitate accountability, and that means the same kinds of verified identity that high value financial and other transactions require. Accountability can discourage the kinds of fraud and harassment we see on many user-generated content sites, like discussion boards and comment sections. For example, if a harasser can be held accountable for abuse, he’s much less likely to commit the abuse. The balance between accountability and anonymity is something that can be freely chosen between the provider of the space and the users of that space. Remember, that helps everyone, particularly dissidents and whistle blowers, choose what keeps them safe.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I do not think I like the question. Negative public discourse can indicate greater freedom, so it is not the right measure. Freedom should be the measure. A great deal of negative discourse has flowed in the past 500 years, but the human condition (and human freedom) have improved. The issue us not the absence of hate, it is the presence of freedom. My concern is for the future of freedom.”

An anonymous associate professor at MIT commented, “As of now—in the months prior to the US election—online discourse in the US is already shaped by aggressive harassing messages. I do not expect this to change much during the next decade, although I do expect this to vary depending on whether the US is on election season, and based on who are the candidates.”

An anonymous founder and executive chairman wrote, “Unfortunately discourse will get worse, before islands of courtesy will develop. Editorial communities will rise from the gutter with rules of propriety and responsible speech for membership. Over time these communities will grow. Barbarians will surround the communities, but not make their ways inside.”

An anonymous developer replied, “China constitutes a large part of the Internet, and Chinese social media cannot continue to be as repressed by the authorities as now occurs. In the US, the main political parties are fracturing over whether free and frank discussion is healthy or the appearance of party unity is better.”

An anonymous director at Flipboard said, “It couldn’t get any worse than it is. I believe we’ll gradually adapt to a more civil way of communicating online.”

An anonymous chief scientist emeritus at a major technology-innovation firm wrote, “The intellectual level of discourse in social media is very, very low. But, those who operate such media have little incentive to try to elevate the discourse, so I anticipate the situation will get worse, not better.”

An anonymous policy advisor commented, “I believe an informed discourse will be dependent on fundamental abilities to critically assess information. Hence, this will be dependent on awareness and how education copes with critical thinking. I see no trend in either direction overall.”

An anonymous deputy CEO wrote, “The debate is becoming more temperate in many forums. People, generally, are more ready to disregard trolling and platforms are getting better at weeding out the automated trolling. There is increasingly a broader expectation of participation in the public discourse through online mechanisms, so the number of people participating across a wider range of topics is increasing. That said, the ‘smackdowns’ still exist and that will persist as it does in real life, as the tendency online to express sentiment more strongly is a feature. The move to e-government and collecting opinions from the citizenry in broader ways is also clear. Traditional approaches through collating letters and submissions is moving to more dynamic mechanisms and getting both breadth and depth of input. This is clear for developed nations certainly, and cannot help but be partly the case for developing nations also.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “Technology will hopefully evolve whereby anonymity and authenticity go hand in hand. Anonymity without authentication and reputation management will drive bad behaviors since there are no repercussions. Authenticity without anonymity can limit freedom and security. Even with these in balance, digital citizens may gravitate toward mutually exclusive tribes where ‘free speech’ becomes confined to the self-selecting communities.”

An anonymous respondent said, “More people will begin to see the Internet as more of a secondary tool to engage in serious and worthwhile debate.”

An anonymous researcher at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology wrote, “Most actors become increasingly aware of the addressed issues. Countermeasures are already being taken and should help to reduce the issues to some extent.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “We will have less privacy, but it will be easier to expose trolls and bad actors. I think there is increasing pressure to hold them accountable.”

An anonymous computer science professor at the University of California-Los Angeles observed, “Use of social media will be affected by each country or region’s political system. For example, in Islamic countries imposing Sharia there will be less free speech and privacy but in democracies there may be more.”

An anonymous professor at Stanford University replied, “I expect an increased awareness of the potential negativeness of online communication. This awareness will lead to new levels of user responsibility and the development of new tools. ‘Online free speech’ needs to be defined so as not to include abuse/bullying, terrorist recruitment, etc. There will always be a need for anonymity and privacy either online or offline.”

An anonymous respondent said, “This will likely reflect the increasingly rancorous tone in society. We are becoming more and more polarized and the Internet provides a place for people to be less polite and more extreme in their views.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “With greater numbers of people on the Net there will be more information, greater transparency, lower states of privacy, greater personal empowerment, 24-hour connectivity, change in perception of what is considered reasonable. This equals greater opportunities for issues to arise.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “No one can really say they know these things. But the current trend seems bad to me, and I don’t know any reason why it would reverse itself.”

An anonymous social scientist observed, “As the influence and revenue potential of online media is better understood, marketing and media firms as well as consumer groups will act together to achieve a more regulated, managed, useful and hospitable public online space. This could happen either through subscription services which customize or package user preferences. Users are attempting to do this now, but the tools lack coherence, are clunky, and work with mixed success. More explicit tools and algorithms will be developed and marketed for consumers. These advances will help reduce, filter or block the spam, harassment, and trolls and preserve the intents and purposes of an online space for public discourse. Without these steps, the online world will go the way of the telephone—it may ‘ring,’ but no one will pick it up.”

An anonymous global network professor at New York University said, “Shaped by and characterized by are two different options. I am betting that online communications will be shaped by bad actions and actors in the same was email last decade was shaped by spam, which is to say that the investment in keeping users somewhat safe from the worst predations became an industry-wide obsession.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “The digital world and the real world have important differences, which have not been fully explored by those building digital platforms, or by those using them. On the one hand, the physical world makes it difficult to participate in protests while remaining anonymous, and the advancement of various technologies such as face-print and finger-print systems make this worse. However, in the physical world, mob behavior has real consequences that tend to reduce participation if the local environment has police forces which are generally trustworthy or at least fair. On the other hand, the lack of borders in the digital world, and lack of general ability to identify anonymous commenters, leads to greater levels of mob behavior. Restricting commentary to registered users creates an environment of distrust, due to how the digital and real world interact, when it comes to identity disclosure and privacy issues. I believe there may be technological solutions, but that those are likely to be limited to specific platforms rather than universal solutions. Finding a balance that can be met in both the physical and on-line worlds is the most difficult part, especially when the distinction between pseudonymity and true anonymity is considered. Online threats of real-world violence are some of the greatest threats to participation in social discussions. Similarly, the ability of governments or vigilante groups to force the unmasking of identities online is a threat to freedom and equality facilitated by social media. This may not be solved without changes to the real world being involved.”

An anonymous director of business and human rights commented, “I do not think it will be shaped by negative actors since more and more people will communicate online. There will always be some bad actors, but the vast majority of communications will not be shaped by them. The greater danger is that governments or companies will highlight those bad actors to shape their approaches to others communicating online, such as calls for more surveillance or censorship.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “The tools to enable negative activities in public discourse are in place, and they are unlikely to be rolled back because doing so would be commercially detrimental to the companies that run the platform. It would also inspire massive pushback from people who would interpret it (rightly) as control over speech. There may be some tinkering with regards to actual harassment, but it seems that the vices and the virtues of modern forms of communication can’t be divorced from one another.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “Mainstream platforms need to do a better job of establishing rules of the road for use of their service. They are hiding behind free speech arguments so they don’t have to invest in solving hard problems. I don’t think it is contrary to free speech to have standards of behavior for use of a commercial service. The major platforms are hiding behind that argument.”

An anonymous CEO said, “Take the recent dustup concerning the female casted Ghostbusters movie. Just one example of many negative activities online these days.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Unfortunately, unless people will be educated since childhood to conduct civil, mature, and non-offensive discourse online and perhaps be penalized for their online misconduct, public discourse will not improve but will rather worsen. Furthermore, bad actors will still have incentives to interfere and affect online processes and discussions.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “It seems to me that the pitched battle between hate speech and civility in public discourse is already raging, and I don’t see strong evidence that either side will give way. The forces of hate and division are strong, and loud, but it does appear that in addition to the persistent, if disenfranchised undercurrent of civility amidst a plurality of humans, that large corporations have made an economic calculus, which weighs in on the side of inclusion and civility. See as example: Intel corporation rebuking their CEO’s effort to align the Intel brand with the anti-immigrant/anti-woman hate speech of Trump. Although ‘corporate calculation’ is hardly an impassioned rallying cry, it does seem that the coalition of financial interest + vocal (largely powerless) protest + a reasonable percentage of the population who are disengaged but not aligned with the hate message will continue to hold the small ground they have now.”

An anonymous user experience manager observed, “The Pandora’s box of bad behavior is now open. There will be positive evolutions and backlashes against extremism, but also, unfortunately, new frontiers, such that things will be as they are.”

An anonymous computer security researcher replied, “Fear and Insecurity are increasing and it will be passed down in the pecking order. Social media lessens the consequences. It will be used along with terrorism as the excuse for degrading privacy and anonymity protections.”

An anonymous Internet social researcher working in higher education said, “While the communications themselves may not increase—or may even decrease—the public’s reaction will inevitably cause changes to our rights and ability to communicate completely freely.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “How do you expect social media and digital commentary will evolve in the coming decade? Digital commentary and social media, along with any other disruptive technology will serve for both bad and good purposes. Do you think we will see a widespread demand for technological systems or solutions that encourage more-inclusive online interactions? Online interactions will grow naturally and will potentially empower people to participate in more critical decisions for both personal and political interests. What do you think will happen to free speech? What might be the consequences for anonymity and privacy? Free speech will leverage different opinions and possibly create a more diverse environment in terms of groups of people following ideals. No one will be shocked to see the different anymore (more tolerance I hope).”

An anonymous devops engineer wrote, “You are always going to have bad actors, anything from trolls to full on propaganda machines trying to shape public discourse. There are still places online where people try to act in a civil manner, but truthfully there are a lot of people who only go with their knee-jerk reactions and don’t apply any critical thinking skills to the information they are presented with, or to their arguments. What I suspect is that online discourse will get more toxic until there is a social reaction to it that swings things back towards being more civil.”

An anonymous psychologist and mobile technologies lead for a US national health project wrote, “While there is certainly a need for more positive online interactions, I do not think we have yet hit ‘rock bottom’ in terms of the negative side of public discourse online. In fact, most of the positive changes have come about as a response to alleviate the problems cause by bad actors (e.g., better online commenting systems or the ‘never read the comments’ trend.) So in this way, I expect that these bad actors will come to be more influential in terms of shaping the overall online experience, both positive and negative, as a result of their behavior.”

An anonymous business owner and consultant commented, “It will get worse before it gets better but the pendulum will have swung toward more civility and cooperation by 10 years from now.”

An anonymous university professor in Internet studies commented, “We are already seeing major changes to digital commentary framed by the ability for minority views to take over majority positions—the rise of Donald Trump for example, even of Bernie Sanders. I don’t foresee any demand for ‘technological systems or solutions that encourage more-inclusive online interactions,’ indeed, not even sure what that means. I do see the need for algorithmic solutions to understanding the full range of big conversations—evaluation of opinion across multiple platforms, mapping conversations in the public sphere (begun already, but not yet adequately sophisticated)—at present we only get the tip of the iceberg—’trending’ stats rather than mappings. Free speech—safe in the US; unsafe in many other places—but a different question is whether social media is the place for free speech, should social media posts—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., be given the same protections (and prosecutions) as other outlets? Can we agree to discount social media for the play environment it often is? Or do we turn to tracking every utterance just in case free speech limits are violated?”

An anonymous respondent observed, “The spiraling of negative speech is taking place both online and offline.”

An anonymous professor emeritus of history replied, “Sites will begin to control postings more than they do now. Law enforcement will seek to monitor and perhaps to identify and warn trolls more than it does now, and such action would reduce trolling.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Frankly, today’s online discourse is 90 percent I-now-have-a-personal-platform-so-I-will-express-myself! Keep in mind I’m not an old fogey, only 44 years of age, but things will devolve.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I don’t see anything driving an improvement in engagement and mutual trust, but I refuse to admit it could get worse. The driver is concentration of wealth; if the middle class expands and the GINI [the index that measures income distribution inequality] shrinks, discourse may start to calm.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “We are beginning to see significant legislative and regulatory backlash toward bullying, harassment, and other online activity. Companies are beginning to seriously develop and enforce punitive policies to crush it and people are being fired for cause for it. Bad actors will have means to do more and more significant bad actors will be automated as bots and funded in extra-statial ways to do more damage because people are profiting from this.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “Expression in social media is like opening up the ‘barbaric yawp’ that Walt Whitman wrote about. There are layers to it, much like the stratification in geologic sediment. That said, the ‘griping, distrust and disgust’ have their own layer that is in a kind of equilibrium over time. I don’t see it evolving much.”

An anonymous respondent said, “We trust messages we receive from a significant number (say 10s) of distinct sources, possibly because such messages were, in the distant past, either quite likely to be true, or there were social consequences to disbelieving them (being the outcast in the village). This leaves us unprepared for modern communications where it is quite possible to receive the same information from 10s or 100s of sources, those sources being a tiny minority of people across the world that modern communications have joined us to who are exactly the tiny minority believing some particular thing that is false. This principle applies to what are acceptable standards of behavior online, meaning that over time not only will increasing numbers of people hold increasingly diverse opinions, but will feel it is acceptable to defend those in increasingly negative ways.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I believe that open dialog will take place in a new and as-yet undeveloped application that will focus more on positive and constructive contributions and will push the negative discussions, answers, or comments to the bottom of the stack. The readers and participants will exert control over the forum and those seeking valid information will elevate the useful responses. The information will take on a character of being less about what is “trending” and more about what discussions have value. This may actually become a niche area of the Internet and will eventually become the go-to side of the Internet used for research and may not be searchable via a Google search, but will require a more selective search tool. While Google may develop the algorithm that will find the useful information, it will not be branded as Google. The distinction between Google and “Useful” will evolve in a natural way.”

An anonymous librarian commented, “From a librarian: No true anonymity exists on the Internet. Because of this, as more people react negatively and with hate, those who are not part of a protected class (or perceived majority) will hesitate to show disagreement or dissent. This will make the perceived majority even more bold, assuming they speak for everyone. Those who do not think for themselves will follow in line. Out of intimidation, we will lose free speech. Free speech is only free when it is allowed to be anonymous; otherwise, we do not know what taints the expression of that speech or know its omission.”

An anonymous instructor at the University of Missouri, St. Louis observed, “I believe that a key determinate of the civility of public discourse is anonymity. The online sphere offers extreme anonymity, which allows even thoughtful people to vent to their more negative expressions.”

An anonymous political science professor replied, “Many people are unhappy about the tone of online communications, but I don’t currently see a viable route to change. One way would be to make trolls etc face sanctions; that’s hard to imagine right now, since people who have something to lose by their online behavior are probably not a big part of the current problem. Another way would be to exclude ‘bad actors’ from participation rights online, making online communities more selective and elitist; that would presumably hurt the bottom line of Internet firms. The only other option would be for a critical mass of people to change their behavior; without sanctions, though, that seems unlikely to me.”

An anonymous research psychologist said, “I think the negativity is a part of the self-absorbed ‘me’ culture.”

An anonymous chairman and CEO at a non-profit organization wrote, “I’ve long feared the Internet/mobile networks would encourage groups to balkanize around their common interests. This happens more when people are emotionally bought in and, unfortunately, I believe this happens more in negative vs positive causes”

An anonymous respondent commented, “The increase in vitriol online activity is juxtaposed with the increased idea that anyone who disagrees with you shouldn’t be allowed to speak (this we’re seeing on college campuses). I think this has a number of antecedents (among them what children are taught in our education system about how nobody has the right to hurt you in anyway, and if you DO get hurt, you should get an adult involved), among them the increased hyper-connectivity of the world–you don’t have to connect with people in your immediate community and can always find someone who agrees with you. I worry about the implications this has for free speech.”

An anonymous professor observed, “The anonymity of the Internet opens up a platform for incivility.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “The nature of online communication is driven more by social conventions than anything else; these can be influenced by the venue that it occurs within (e.g., Facebook, Twitter), but these parties have conflicting incentives regarding meddling here. Also, the most negative speech can always find new venues (albeit without as much reach, usually). There will continue to be calls to reduce anonymity to combat such speech, but demographically, I suspect there will be less and less support for doing so, over time.”

An anonymous technologist at Berry Labs said, “The use of open comments is declining—higher requirements for identification and additional active monitoring will improve tone if not intention.”

An anonymous engineer at Neustar wrote, “The reaction to pervasive eavesdropping from nation-states has been to vastly improve the privacy protections in the technology. This has the effect of making it easier to be anonymous, and those tools will end up being used more to shield negative commenters’ identities and thus encourage more negative comments.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Currently the Internet is shaped by strong opinions and interests, negative emotions play strong on us and I do not foresee a shift in human psychology coming anytime fast.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Despite technical advances, it will still be humans using the devices and therefore all the good and bad about humanity will still be reflected in interactions. Privacy expectations will be something only the older generation will expect – emerging generations will never have expected nor experienced online privacy.”

An anonymous CTO replied, “We’re reaching a low point in civility in many aspects of the media. I hope we can only go up from here.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Politics, particularly on the left, has become a fountain of bile, hate, and demonization. It is well-funded and is the pathway to free government goodies. As long as this strategy continues to work—and there is no sign that it will ever stop working—then online communication will be just another of the many communication channels that carry this message.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “More cases of cyber-bullying and trolling. More use of online communications to abuse and stalk people anonymously.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Although some will move to use the Internet to learn about others and to engage in dialogue, others will continue to dramatize expressions with polarizing language and graphics. The level of abuse will remain stable. “

An anonymous respondent observed, “We will have better semantic filters to curb trolling, harassments, etc. (Just like email spam is largely a thing of the past due to better backend analysis).”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Because there will always be an element of society who see this as either fun or their right things will continue in the same vein, the majority will learn to ignore this as I do not believe that there is a technical way to stop this.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “I suspect we will move through a sequence of new technologies that go through a similar life cycle. There will be a burst of enthusiasm about it’s potential for reasoned speech and democratic discourse. That will be followed by the influx of negative uses (trolls and the like). Things will settle into a pattern where most users use the tool in a limited way for acceptable ends (most of which will focus on pop culture and little on major social issues) while a minority use the tool in negative ways. Then a new tool will come along.”

An anonymous respondent said, “I expect that organizations that host message boards and comments to continue to struggle to control bad actors, mostly due to a lack of focus on those areas and an unwillingness to expend resources. However, there is a good chance that as online discourse expands and is further normalized that the average user will be better able to recognize and filter out bad actors. However, pervasive effects such as the so called ‘filter bubble’ could undercut any progress from individuals becoming more savvy. I think we will see very strong pushes that are antithetical to free speech, and are in fact seeing them at this time. There are prominent individuals in many governments accusing encryption of being a security threat as opposed recognizing it as a necessary safeguard of privacy, and pressure to attack what is currently an easy target in so-called ‘radical Islam’ comments and websites. That private companies are silently capitulating to this just further endangers future speech, and adds another quiver to the constant scaremongering about pornography and child-molesters who are /apparently/ clogging the Internet already. There will only be more facetious arguments about if you don’t have anything to hide, why do you mind the government/large corporations seeing everything you do? I have only a slight hope that people are starting to see that argument for the bunk that it is.”

A staff member at the University of Pittsburgh, wrote, “Platforms and developers will be pressured to curb the tide of online harassment. However, people are creative and will find ways to harass each other if that is truly what they want to do with their time online. We have seen a great rise in this behavior in the past few years with teens and other young people on Facebook and other social media platforms receiving bullying and harassment. The change we might see is that this will become cordoned off to some sectors of the Web; people may have more ability to filter what they see and who they interact with instead of interacting with the masses. I base this idea on the fact that more and more news outlets and blogs are closing comments. This is a trend that will continue. Makers of the game World of Warcraft recently released their ‘solution’ to the harassment in the game, which involves silencing the harassers and only allowing them to interact in certain sectioned-off chat channels. This seems to be the way that we are going with online interaction.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Gaming as an example: a decade ago it was racist homophobes online, but now there are loving communities that dominate the metaverse.”

An anonymous executive director at an association that studies cyber issues, said, “With the integration of commercial platforms that provide real identification the role of trolling is becoming a more high-risk activity. While beneficial on the one hand, the lack of anonymous platforms with widespread use may lead the public to police their speech.”

An anonymous CEO wrote, “More and more people will hide behind their computer, mobiles, devices. Real interactions and people skills will decline leading to ‘all for one’ and not ‘one for all.'”

An anonymous head of privacy at major US telecommunications company wrote, “Free speech will continue to strengthen on the Internet as a result of the Internet’s role in democratization and consciousness raising. I do feel, however, that there will be greater monitoring for sexual exploitation and hate speech. Certain governments will likely continue to intercept content and limit Internet access. Globally, digital norms of acceptable behavior may further emerge.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “As better social filters and Internet intelligence becomes more advanced ‘bad actors’ will become less of an issue.”

An anonymous professor at Florida State University, noted, “More and more social communication as well as journalism forms and political communication are moving to existing and new online platforms. However, this does provide a relatively complete record for private sector or state actors. New legal and security norms and institutions will need to be initiated and supported to provide safe spaces for expression, speech, and social interaction.”

A CEO based in Canada wrote, “One word: Trump. He is teaching too many people that pants-on-fire lying, obfuscation, and tone get results. Tied to media with the FCC US Supreme Court decision that supports news media’s right to bear false witness as freedom of speech/press—you have two active players using negative tone to get results measured by ratings, polls, votes, etc.”

An associate professor at Northeastern University, noted, “Just like regular communication in the world, there will always be trolls, bad actors, bullies, etc., but there will also be good, intellectual discussion happening at the same time.”

An anonymous longtime professional communications leader for several top Silicon Valley technology companies commented, “It’s messy out there, but there is no single technology or platform or tool that is going to magically handle trolling or bad actors (they will always find a way). But as the newer generations who are digitally native come up, they will be more adept at dealing with bad behavior. I’d rather have messiness than unintelligent restrictions.”

An anonymous chief technology officer commented, “There will be more of a focus on pushing the people’s comments into the background as they’re exhausting. Systems will get better at percolating up ‘representative’ discourse so they feel like they get more of the full story.”

A professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, wrote, “I expect stiffer controls on bad behavior, but more vigorous efforts by malicious actors. The battles will continue. I encourage holding people more responsible for their actions, by restricting use of anonymous accounts in some situations, but preserving the rights for responsible free speech. As users gain power, they have to be held more responsible to community norms. Bottom-up social methods could be effective, rather than harsher top-down enforcement.”

An anonymous principal architect at Microsoft, wrote, “Trolls and online abuse have now become routine and should now be considered a major threat to free speech (along with SLAP lawsuits).”

An anonymous associate professor at the University of New Hampshire, replied, “The behavior patterns have been set for some time now, I don’t expect they will change much.”

An anonymous vice president of data observed, “Research into the reasons and nature of negative activities in online communication will lead to better tools and better editorial processes, improving online discourse.”

An anonymous managing director said, “Current populist political activities are on the rise, and they will stimulate more negativity.”

An anonymous computer scientist, wrote, “The basic nature and psychology of people doesn’t change. The tone of Usenet in the early 1990s and the tone of online fora today are essentially the same. I don’t expect bots to warn us ‘this may cause more offence that you intended’ in the near future.”

A senior strategist based in Boston, noted, “The result of the 2016 US presidential election will be a strong indicator of the trends in online public discourse. While the election is about many other more important issues, it also seems to be a de facto referendum on bullying and hate speech.”

A computer science professor at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, commented, “We already witness wide usage for technological solutions that provide inclusive, participation and democratic processes. I expect this will increase. The challenge is whether such technological facilities will remain free or whether governments will step in and curb those initiatives. As for anonymity and privacy they may be ensured with techniques such as privacy by design.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “There will always be those who seek to derail or control conversations. The sites where that takes place will quickly lose credibility. In their place will be gatherings of people who—with the help of ever more effective software and operating systems and their own intellects—will prevail in most circumstances.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Elevated negativity has already been evidenced with the political and activist everything-matters campaigns and the uninformed/disinformed reactionary knee-jerk responses.”

An anonymous computer science PhD researcher at a university in Ireland, noted, “Online behaviour is too multi-variant to be categorised with simple binaries as ‘negative’ or ‘positive.’ The same goes for our understanding of it. As a reflection of society it will contain both negative and positive aspects, just like the rest of society.”

An anonymous senior futurist with a futures consultancy, wrote, “During the near-term future, social media has an obvious polarization problem. If they don’t find a solution, social media will be replaced by something else.”

An anonymous executive director for an institute focused on new technologies and their ethical implications, wrote, “Anti-troll activism will emerge to counter trolls.”

A professor of media and communications at the University of Sydney, said, “I hope that there will be renewed attention to reshaping public discourse online to make it more welcoming, open, and genuinely conversational – hoping that a very bad patch has now passed, with much more awareness of need to remake online platforms inclusivity, but also balancing for free speech.”

An anonymous journalist at América Solidaria, replied, “The fight for free speech, privacy, and anonymity will continue more or less in the same terms, as long as the current form of democracy persists. Yes, we will see a demand for more-inclusive technological solutions, but the use we will make of them depends on a lot of ‘external,’ social aspects: the quality of education, the job situations, the economic panorama, etc. How we behave online is a reflection of how we do it in the ‘real’ world.”

An anonymous director at a nonprofit technology network wrote, “While I don’t think we’ll ever fully do away with negative activities online, they will become less pervasive as the overall percentage of people taking part in online conversations continues to increase, such that positive or normal activities will help drown out the negative. I also predict that as the separation between online and in-person interactions continues to blur, public peer pressure will help quiet or remove some of the bad actors the same way that it usually does in face to face interactions.”

An anonymous respondent said, “It will become more polarized and siloed. So the tone may not change, but I do think people’s commentary will be more directed to previously held opinions.”

An anonymous education director at a nonprofit network, wrote, “Our maturity with these tools will evolve rapidly in the next decade. As such we will begin to move closer to the norms we experience in in-person/offline interactions and the social boundaries that get set around these types of activities.”

An anonymous CEO commented, “There are great efforts underway now in the field of community management and support but as with many things most of the interventions, apps, and projects are victim-facing. This means there’s really little effort to change or eliminate the actual trolls or harassment.”

An anonymous professor at the University of Michigan, replied, “Configuration management takes more of my time. The IoT thing will be a disaster for IT security, requiring more of my time. And who knows what those who are trying to ‘monetize’ me have in store?”

A career specialist at Indiana University wrote, “Things will get worse before they get better. Trump is a symptom of a reaction against ‘PC-ness’ that was bound to happen. This is also happening in conjunction with cultural growing pains with digital communication technologies—we’re a long way from having cultural norms around what ‘appropriate’ behavior looks like. Being new, in other words, there are painful growing pains. The long-term trend will be a shift back to courtesy as a basic element of public discourse. At least, one hopes.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Communication will be shaped not by those activities themselves per-se, but the increasingly stringent activity taken to control them.”

An assistant director at a university, commented, “Anyone with a voice, good or bad, will have the ability to make a global impact when they speak in an online forum. Mix this with the ability for anyone to speak up on any topic that they want to be heard about (for altruistic or any other reason) and we quickly shift from a back and forth conversation and replace it with polarized noise. As we move forward, this polarized noise is going to cause people to drop out of the conversation, looking for places with fewer negative activities, or content producers will stop allowing outside comments or find a way to filter out those that ‘offend.’ These are all things that reduce free speech and reduce the public discourse necessary for a free society.”

An anonymous principal consultant, said, “I’ve been on the Internet since the early 1990s, back when Usenet newsgroups were what passed for social media. The bad behavior I see today is no different than what I saw 25 years ago. The trolling, the hate, the flame wars, the naked racism, sexism, and homophobia, it was all there, although there were people building a sense of community and resisting the bad actors. The only real difference I see today is the mainstream is more aware of what is going on, it isn’t just the nerd tree house it used to be.”

An anonymous technical operations lead, wrote, “It’s simple economics that communication will be more shaped by negative activities. Most business models involve people coming to their site. Controversial sites get more clicks.”

An anonymous systems administrator in municipal government, said, “The Internet breeds anonymity and a false sense of courage to say things you normally would not say.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I’ve been on the Internet since 1982. People were complaining then about this same thing and yet here we are today. The Internet will never go away, warts and all.”

An anonymous respondent said, “It has gotten worse and worse. I don’t foresee anything to change that downhill spiral.”

An anonymous faculty member at the University of Virginia, said, “As a society, I expect that we will develop norms and habits of mind to help us make sense of social media in public culture. Crucially, we need better techniques for measuring and communicating public opinion at a mass scale.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Positive activities are not remarkable. They are taken as fact an nothing is said negative activities always get a response.”

An anonymous systems engineer wrote, “There will likely be ways to find, flag, and ‘mute’ trolls and bots.”

An anonymous project architect, wrote, “As online media becomes the established, rather than the emerging, medium, trolling and other bad behavior encouraged by anonymity will likely be readily dismissed. The Internet will always be full of jerks, but we are already learning to mentally filter the noise.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Currently the Internet is perceived as an opportunity for comments and criticism to be made anonymously and without penalty. As extremist views and hate-speech increase, there is likely to be an increasing community drive to holding these people accountable. Perhaps, at minimum, knowing who they are; moving onto linking their digital identity to their actual one (much like what happened to the dentist who killed the lion), or perhaps even greater penalties. It would be great if legislation could keep up with these new digital issues and better protect the victims.”

An anonymous college professor, said, “It’s my belief that Internet discourse will remain pretty much at its current tone, simply because this, realistically, is the tone of discourse that we as a society have always had. The only difference is that before the Internet these opinions didn’t have a widespread platform and could only find small audiences. However, historically discourse in the media has always included, racism, sexism, conspiracy theories, personal attacks, etc. Christopher Owens, PhD. Adjunct Instructor.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “I expect people to become more cognizant of diverse opinion and more readily question opinion presented as fact.”

An anonymous executive manager at a large NGO in Canada, commented, “Actually, I rather think the trend has been to a slightly improved tone over the last decade, and this trend will continue. People forget how awful the early trolls and griefers were. A lot of the shock value has gone out of the game, and Internet users are a lot less naive than they once were (even police departments with SWAT teams have wised up to the fact that harassers were sometimes using false reports to punk people). We learn, and are a lot less easily abused. Heck, in another 20 years I expect Facebook will meet its well-deserved end.”

360|Conferences, An anonymous respondent wrote, “Online harassment, etc., will get worse and then it will get better as we figure out more-accessible and appropriate ways to deal with it, and bad actors in general.”

An anonymous database analyst wrote, “I have been participating in online communication since the mid 1980s, starting on the old FidoNet discussion groups on the dial-up BBS systems. The negative activity we see today is no better or worse than 30 years ago.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Until and unless the Internet can duplicate the ability to identify people as in real life, anonymity will continue to bring out the worst in people.”

An anonymous financial analyst, commented, “Human nature doesn’t change much over millennia, so I expect that to continue as it has.”

An anonymous marketing specialist said, “People, as a species, are who they are. What they are doing right now is what they do. They will continue to do this. Paid propaganda, paid trolls, and squads of paid commenters will continue to drive discourse into the bin.”

An anonymous president of an LLC, said, “Bad behavior has always been around. I don’t think it is any more prevalent just more public.”

An anonymous faculty member at the University of Mississippi, said, “There are no consequences for online behavior that harms the public good, only for behavior that harms powerful interests, and there is no economic incentive to alter this situation. Sociopathy thrives in such an environment, and Western culture in particular has a morbid fascination with tolerating it.”

A anonymous director of innovation and technology commented, “The amount of frustration at bad behavior online will continue to rise, effectively giving more power to those who engage in civil discourse. That said, it may also become true that any dissenting opinions are viewed as inflammatory, and we may see further splintering into like-minded groupings online.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Online communication will be less shaped by negative activities primarily because, using hope as a strategy, I believe people will grow tired of the baseness that seeks to dominate online communication. I believe the instinct to ‘rise above’ will motivate people to moderate and be moderated. The Trumping of communication will likely fade, just as his tan will.”

An anonymous retired lecturer, wrote, “I would expect that governments will use the actions of ‘bad actors’ to try to regulate and control the content of the Internet. It will be done under the name of security, but will really be about power and control.”

An anonymous IT analyst, commented, “The majority of the harassment stories you hear online have a disturbing commonality between them. Police don’t do anything, with the odd exception of taking a report, but warning action against the perpetrator is unlikely. Until police are properly trained in how to handle online harassment I do not think much will change.”

An anonymous head of computing said, “Already poor interactions, and no technical change has been proposed.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “This has gotten worse over the past several years. There is no reason not to think it will not get even worse in the years to come.”

An anonymous survey participant commented, “Trolling, increased partisanship, finding online support for fringe theories, and distraction are known problems. This is the first step in solving these problems. I believe we will be successful in finding ways to interact online which are socially and individually supportive. One avenue would be programming individualized bots to filter Web content.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “As societal cohesion continues to disintegrate, negativity will continue to grow. While we may adapt to the new paradigm, I see that as less likely than a continued inability to cope. People, frightened and angry by the breakdown of social bonds, will either split into increasingly polarized groups, or fall into cynical apathy. Attempts to rectify this will focus on quelling the symptoms- such as negative free speech, and we will see attacks on the right to free speech. Examples of this have begun to appear on college campuses in the form of micro-transgressions. The elimination of privacy that is fully under way will increase paranoia and anxiety, feeding an unvirtuous cycle of negativity.”

An anonymous respondent said, “These are human problems, not technological problems. We may see an arms race between good and bad actors, but until the underlying human issues are resolved no headway will be made by either side. Until civilization figures out how to feed, clothe, and provide shelter and education for everyone, you’ll have bad actors.”

An anonymous system analyst living outside the US wrote, “People will start to develop the idea of throwing out the toxic actors in debates. Trolls, haters, they’ll not have any space, except those they create for themselves. In a solid social network they’ll have no space.”

An anonymous chief scientist said, “The forces of reason and unreason seem to be well balanced.”

An anonymous system administrator at the Universidad Autonoma de San Luis Potosi said, “I believe the online interaction will be self-regulated. The trolling will not disappear; it will simply be ignored.”

An anonymous technical director for a technology company replied, “Without a focus on building community with real identities, many social media destinations are quickly becoming cesspools of hate and bigotry.”

An anonymous technical staffer at a technical services company, noted, “A major change in online discourse will need to emerge from a basic psychological change in the outlook of the individuals participating online and I don’t think this level of change will occur within the next ten years.”

An anonymous community advocate, said, “It’s going to get worse before it gets better, as more-pervasive broadband Internet gets more and more people online. We’re only laying the groundwork now for teaching empathy online and letting people know that just because it’s online, doesn’t mean you can be an evil human without consequences.”

An anonymous journalism professor wrote, “When incivility is tempered in one part of the Internet, say by eliminating anonymous article comments, it breaks out in another, such as trolls on Twitter. In response, people are gaining more skills in blocking or avoiding negative users, or substituting curated communities (Snapchat) for open ones (Twitter).”

A professor at Carnegie Mellon University wrote, “People will learn to ignore the bad things. As bad things get less focus/impact they will diminish (they won’t go away but they will have less impact.)”

An anonymous health information specialist said, “Online speech will become less anonymous in an attempt to manage so much online hate and threatened violence in corporate business managed communication platforms (Facebook etc.). The really awful, violent anonymous speech will get pushed to the darker recesses of the Internet where its authors find their own kind and support.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “By saying that it will be ‘more shaped’ by negative activities, I don’t necessarily mean that those negative activities will have more visibility. I think those negative activities will be taken more seriously, and more work will be done to discourage it. But the rewards for bad actors will increase as more and more of our discourse happens online.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Humans are what they are. If we can increase education and exposure to cultural diversity then we might see some improvement.”

An anonymous technology analyst at Cisco Systems wrote, “People are getting more used to all bits being retrievable. I looked at Google’s My Activities for the last year, and am comfortable with the breadcrumbs I’ve left. Negative news sells, but social media can overcome the shrinking civic participation.”

An anonymous president of a technology initiative wrote, “In an open global network there will always be a balance or it won’t survive for long.”

An anonymous professor in the social effects of mass communication at a major US university commented, “The general principle of entropy applies here. Structures, unless maintained and resourced, degrade. While some sites apply moderation and normative structures, others do not. So negative energy flows to those.”

An anonymous chief technology officer wrote, “This has been a fact of life for online communities since before the Web (e.g., in USENET and in MMORPG games in the 1980s).”

An anonymous marketing researcher wrote, “We have seen an escalation of such nastiness in the past 10-20 years and there does not seem to be a countervailing force capable of changing direction. Although consumers complain and say they don’t like the tone, it seems to be effective in political campaigns and other venues.”

An anonymous chief marketing officer wrote, “We have seen a lot of changes and adjustments on the subject. I think it has balanced out—it is often monitored and it is accepted from all parties that it’s a gray area for both sides and if one wants to utilize digital tech then one needs to give a little.”

An anonymous associate professor at the University of Maryland-College Park said, “Platform providers and social scientists are both working hard on issues of trolling, harassment, and online hate speech. A combination of legal and technical countermeasures can help to lessen the scourge of hate speech online.”

An anonymous global Internet policy consultant, commented, “As the international community is becoming more and more aware of the possibility offered by Internet to bad actors, I expect that relevant measures shall be taken to block those.”

An anonymous distinguished fellow at leading futures-thinking consulting organization wrote, “Both positive and negative forces will continue to flourish on the Internet with neither getting the upper hand or prevailing. Users will need to continue to exercise good judgment and caution to make the Internet a positive force in their lives.”

A professor at George Mason University commented, “As the use of online channels of communication normalizes and becomes the primary way that many people communicate, stronger norms for online communication etiquette will develop and there will be fewer acting-out behaviors. Some people act out online because they have not learned the rules for appropriate online communication. However, as they receive more feedback from others online about the best ways to communicate, most people will straighten up and interact nicely. Otherwise, they won’t have any online friends.”

An anonymous respondent who is active in global Internet governance activities said, “I hope we will see more use of online debate and political participation to help fix our broken democracies. But given today’s climate of alienation and tribal loyalties, we have to be prepared for more abuse and negativity online before things start to get better.”

An anonymous director of evaluation and research for a US university said, “The next decade will see more ways to separate the wheat from the chaff. The junk mail, nefarious paid content, and, more-importantly, trolling activities will be more readily siphoned off into places most people don’t direct their browsers and the most negative troll grounds and echo chambers will become garbage dumps where only a few find worthy scraps. People will just become too sick of the detritus, and providers who can solve the problem and keep spaces relatively clean will have the upper hand.”

An anonymous online course designer said, “Both social and automated means will be developed to lessen negative impacts. Children will learn in school how to use the Internet and automated tools will deter and detect unwelcome behavior.”

An anonymous directing manager wrote, “The move will be away from avatars and anonymous identities. That, along with better platforms, filters, and user awareness of digital literacies will lessen the influence of bad actors. Reputation will become a valuable currency and people will act accordingly.”

An anonymous president of a consulting firm commented “Dumber and dumber people will be able to use these tools in the future, leading to more impact by negative activities.”

An anonymous technical analyst at a major Los Angeles nonprofit organization, commented, “I see no compelling reason for the online tone to change any more than the tone of public discourse non-online.”

An anonymous supervisor wrote, “Unfortunately digital commentary is already shaped by bad actors, harassment, and a lack of empathy. I doubt that the tone will change significantly one way or the other, but I do think that many more people—particularly women, people of color, and members of other targeted communities—will simply opt out of these platforms entirely. As a generation of young people who are more inseparable from technology and social media than ever before join the workforce, older generations (including my own, and I’m not that old) will seek authentic interactions in the face-to-face world.”

An anonymous doctoral candidate of anthropology, commented, “Online publics will continue to evolve over time. Bad actors were present prior to online communication and they will be ever-present decades to come.”

An anonymous respondent working in global public policy for a major global telecommunications company said, “Online information communities appear to be fragmenting and discourse is often hostile to different views.”

An anonymous journalist, editor, and author wrote, “Some places will be more affected by these negative forces—which will increase the demand for spaces where the tone of discussion is moderated, and the moderated spaces will become more popular. I see this in discussion forums I participate in and moderate.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “People are increasingly using online forums to express their ‘voice.’ This trend will continue. Correspondingly, expectations of privacy and anonymity are diminishing.”

An anonymous associate professor and research center director at Michigan State University said, “Until the owners of technology (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) start creating policies and procedures—either algorithm-driven or moderator-driven—we will see zero change.”

If you wish to read the full report with analysis, click here.

To read credited survey participants’ responses with no analysis, click here.

About this Canvassing of Experts

The expert predictions reported here about the impact of the Internet over the next 10 years came in response to one of five questions asked by the Pew Research Center Internet Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center in an online canvassing conducted between July 1 and August 12, 2016. This is the seventh Internet study the two organizations have conducted together. For this project, we invited nearly 8,000 experts and highly engaged members of the interested public to share their opinions on the likely future of the Internet and 1,537 responded to this question.

The Web-based instrument was first sent directly to a list of targeted experts identified and accumulated by Pew Research and Elon University during the six Future of the Internet studies, as well as those identified across 12 years of studying the Internet realm during its formative years in the early 1990s. Among those invited were people who are active in global Internet governance and Internet research activities, IETF, ICANN, ISOC, ITU, AoIR, OECD. We also invited a large number of professionals and policy people from technology businesses, government (NSF, FCC, European Union, and so on), think tanks and interest networks (for instance those that include professionals and academics in anthropology/sociology/psychology/law/political science/communications); globally located people working with communications technologies in government positions; other technologists, entrepreneurs and innovators working in the technology sector; top universities’ engineering/computer science, business/entrepreneurship faculty and graduate students and post-grad researchers; plus many who are active in civil society organizations such as APC, EPIC, EFF and Access Now; and those affiliated with newly emerging nonprofits and other research units examining ethics and the digital age. Invitees were encouraged to share the survey link with others they believed would have an interest in participating, thus there was a “snowball” effect as the invitees were joined by people they invited.

Since the data are based on a non-random sample, the results are not projectable to any population other than the individuals expressing their points of view in this sample. The respondents’ remarks reflect their personal positions and are not the positions of their employers; the descriptions of their leadership roles help identify their background and the locus of their expertise. About 80% of respondents identified themselves as being based in North America; the others hail from all corners of the world. When asked about their “primary area of Internet interest,” 25% identified themselves as research scientists; 7% said they were entrepreneurs or business leaders; 8% as authors, editors or journalists; 14% as technology developers or administrators; 10% as advocates or activist users; 9% said they were futurists or consultants; 2% as legislators, politicians or lawyers; 2% as pioneers or originators; and 25% specified their primary area of interest as “other.”

More than half of the expert respondents elected to remain anonymous. Because people’s level of expertise is an important element of their participation in the conversation, anonymous respondents were given the opportunity to share a description of their Internet expertise or background, and this was noted where relevant in the reports.

A small selection from the hundreds of organizations survey participants identified as places of work:
AT&T, MediaPost, Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University, IBM, Tesla Motors, Vodaphone, Internet Education Foundation, Data & Society, York University, Michigan State University, Red Hat, OpenMedia, Singularity University, KMP Global, Mozilla, National Public Radio, Microsoft, Semantic Studios, Stanford University Digital Civil Society Lab, U.S. Ignite, Internet Engineering Task Force, NASA, Altimeter, Syracuse University, Square, Adobe, Social Media Research Foundation, Craig’s List, Google, MIT, New York Times, International Association of Privacy Professionals, Oxford University’s Martin School, Flipboard, Raytheon BBN, New America, Karlsruhe Institute, Gigaom, Innovation Watch, Cyborgology, Human Rights Watch, We Media, NYU, U.S. Department of Defense, Philosophy Talk, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, UCLA, Hack the Hood, European Digital Rights, Computerworld, Neustar, Institute for the Future, Gartner, Rochester Institute of Technology, Gilder Publishing, Rice University Humanities Research Center, Digital Economy Research Center, Wired, DareDisrupt, AAI Foresight, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Future of Humanity Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, Genentech, University of Pennsylvania, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Michigan State University, Cyber Conflict Studies Association, Georgia Tech, Intelligent Community Forum, University of Copenhagen, Digital Rights Watch, Futurewei, Kenya ICT Network, Institute of the Information Society, Telecommunities Canada, dotTBA, Farpoint Group, University of California-Irvine, University of California-Berkeley, Hewlett Packard, Cisco, United Steelworkers, University of Milan, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Federal Communications Commission, University of Toronto, Center for Policy on Emerging Technologies, Tech Networks of Boston, Queensland University of Technology, Privacy International, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, University of Michigan, Nonprofit Technology Network, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Internet Society, Booz Allen Hamilton, Lockheed Martin, UK Government Digital Service, Yale University, California Institute of Technology, Groupon, Nokia, Logic Technology, Unisys, Spacetel, University of California-Santa Barbara, Internet Initiative Japan, The Linux Foundation, National Science Foundation, InformationWeek, Free Software Foundation, The Aspen Institute, Center for Digital Education, National Institute of Standards and Technology, George Washington University, Future of Privacy Forum, Ethics Research Group.

If you wish to read the full survey report with analysis, click here.

To read credited survey participants’ responses with no analysis, click here.