Elon University

The 2017 Survey: The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online (Q3 Anonymous Responses)

Anonymous responses to the second follow-up question:
What are the societal impacts of prevalent misinformation?

Technologists, scholars, practitioners, strategic thinkers and others were asked by Elon University and the Pew Research Internet, Science and Technology Project in summer 2017 to share their answer to the following query:

Future of Misinformation LogoWhat is the future of trusted, verified information online? The rise of “fake news” and the proliferation of doctored narratives that are spread by humans and bots online are challenging publishers and platforms. Those trying to stop the spread of false information are working to design technical and human systems that can weed it out and minimize the ways in which bots and other schemes spread lies and misinformation. The question: In the next 10 years, will trusted methods emerge to block false narratives and allow the most accurate information to prevail in the overall information ecosystem? Or will the quality and veracity of information online deteriorate due to the spread of unreliable, sometimes even dangerous, socially-destabilizing ideas?

About 49% of these respondents, said the information environment WILL improve in the next decade.
About 51% of these respondents said the information environment WILL NOT improve in the next decade.

Follow-up Question #2 was:
What are the consequences for society as a whole if it is not possible to prevent the coopting of public information by bad actors?

Some key themes emerging from all 1,116 respondents’ answers: – We could be turning a corner into an extremely dangerous time in human history. – Democracy is damaged when people cannot trust in information; some are likely to be overwhelmed and simply give up on participating in civic life. – Social, economic and political inequities are seen by some as a root cause. – A lack of ‘common knowledge’ hinders finding common ground and common solutions. – An inability to trust is damaging to all human relationships and systems. – Societies must support and turn to credentialed sources in the future – to ‘trusted actors.’ – This is the human condition – misinformation lives – yet some choose to expect or at least be optimistic that ‘truth wins out.’ – The jury is out on whether any actions taken will have net-positive results.

Written elaborations by anonymous respondents

Misinformation Online Full Survey LinkFollowing are full responses to Follow-Up Question #2 of the six survey questions, made by study participants who chose to take credit when making remarks. Some people chose not to provide a written elaboration. About half of respondents chose to remain anonymous when providing their elaborations to one or more of the survey questions. Respondents were given the opportunity to answer any questions of their choice and to take credit or remain anonymous on a question-by-question basis. Some of these are the longer versions of responses that are contained in shorter form in the survey report. These responses were collected in an opt-in invitation to about 8,000 people.

Their predictions:

An executive consultant based in North America wrote, “The speed and broad spread of bad information could have devastating results – it has already impacted the outcome of a presidential election. It could also impact the markets and the economy by tainting corporate and personal reputations.”

A professor of information science at a large US state university wrote, “Consequences include a loss of trust in other people, in political powers and in countries.”

An internet pioneer and principal architect in computing science replied, “Governments claiming to live in a ‘post-truth’ age slaughtered tens of millions during World War II, so we’ve seen the movie before. It didn’t end well.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “The consequences are rather significant – we rely on evidence-based analysis to make sound decisions. Many decisions need public approval, aceptance and support – mustering this will be difficult without a common set of facts.”

An international internet policy expert said, “There will be public confusion and thereby a return to trusted actors.”

An internet pioneer and rights activist based in the Asia/Pacific region said, “Making decisions based on bad information is bad for everyone. The consequences are incalculable.”

A professor of law at a major US state university commented, “America will look more and more like Russia. There will be more extremes of rich and poor, more corruption, more distrust.”

A North American research scientist wrote, “We will need to rely more on trusted social contacts and networks to identify reliable information sources.”

A North American research scientist replied, “Parts of the e-economy may slow or regress.”

A leading researcher studying the spread of misinformation observed, “The confusion and polarization caused by the recent US election and Brexit result would be good examples. It’s not necessarily that these results are invalid, but more the fact that it’s unclear how these campaigns were executed in terms of using personal information to target and exploit ideological vulnerabilities in large segments of the population.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Harm to democracy, our economy, our social fabric.”

A project manager for the US government responded, “We will fight amongst ourselves and really do some serious damage to our way of life.”

A research scientist based in North America said, “Disinformation fatigue may lead to new forms of post-information politics.”

A distinguished engineer for one of the world’s largest networking technologies companies commented, “Unfortunately, the result is a schism between those who consume reliable information and those who thrive on unreliable sources. Like junk food, it is simply a matter of choice. It is unlikely that – under the current US administration – public policies will be put in place to prevent dissemination of false information. I’m hopeful this will change in the future.”

A longtime researcher and administrator in communications and technology sciences for agencies of the US government said, “This situation has prevailed since the founding of this nation and continues today. The consequences are unchanged.”

An assistant professor at a university in the US Midwest wrote, “More opportunities for demagogues and corruption in general.”

A research associate at MIT said, “Chaos.”

A media networking consultant noted, “Information-poor societies tend to be autocratic.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “It is a disaster when prime information sources spread disinformation.”

A retired local politician and national consumer representative replied, “Fake news has always been a challenge particularly for a democratic society. Education can help combined with free media with a wide range of views and diverse ownership. Today the ownership of the media is in too few hands. The dream for the internet was that it would give a wider range of viewpoints but instead it has created an echo chamber for false stories.”

An associate professor at a major Canadian university wrote, “This could have a destabilizing effect, and we may already be seeing some of the effects of this in the political events at play in the US and elsewhere. However, I believe that society is a sufficiently complex organism to adapt to this kind of ‘disease’ and find alternate ways to thrive. We may see a shift back to notions of authority that drove pre-internet print publishing and journalism.”

A professor and author/editor/journalist based in the US wrote, “The consequences are very dangerous – more leaders like Trump, less democracy.”

A professor of media and communication based in Europe said, “Society as a whole will suffer from lack of transparency. As long as information systems are hiding their selection and computing mechanisms, it will be impossible to prevent the coopting of public information by bad actors.”

A professor at MIT commented, “We can look forward to intensified tribalism and a breakdown of a commonly held social norms. The mistaken assumption of these questions reveals the old mass-comm cause-effect ‘transmission’ mentality: Send a (bad) message, and you’ll get a (bad) result. Some people may be dupes, but most are simply navigating the world in ways that they think make sense. Media don’t ‘do’ things – people do. So let’s push for economic and social equity, for inclusion, for critical thinking and solve the problem that way. Once we have systems that vet ‘the truth’, you can be sure that power will find a way to use it to its own advantage. My ‘truth’ is invariably another man’s ‘lie’, so while we can and should have a pitched debate over truth claims, nothing beats an empowered, thoughtful and critical populace.”

An anonymous principal technology architect and author replied, “The consequences will include the gradual squeezing of the voices that ‘cannot be heard’ (primarily traditional Christian believers) until they either collapse, and our society has no contrarian voice to prevent our culture from ‘going off the cliff,’ and hence either an indefinite totalitarian regime (the end of freedom) or a massive, from the bottom civil war with uncertain results.”

An anonymous professor of media and communications based in Europe observed, “It will continue as it always has. Truth is not a necessary condition for social function.”

An anonymous research scientist replied, “Consequences are unclear but are likely to be corrosive to social cohesion.”

An anonymous CEO and consultant based in North America noted, “This has been a problem since Man started communicating in a physical medium. We have yet to figure out how to deal with bad actors.”

A principal network architect said, “I am most concerned about the people claiming to identify the bad actors.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “The truth will go on being contested. People will be uncertain.”

An anonymous research scientist based in North America wrote, “We live with it, just as we do with crime.”

An anonymous software engineer based in Europe said, “Consequences will include counterproductive political decisions like the ones UK and USA made last year.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “We can make choices which go contrary to what we really want.”

An anonymous respondent from the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University aid, “The fall of society.”

An anonymous internet pioneer and longtime leader in ICANN said, “Consequences include wholesale fraud and other malicious behavior. We haven’t been able to prevent it in real life, so why should we assume that we can do it in cyberspace?”

An anonymous internet security expert based in Europe predicted, “Commerce and the law fail.”

A professor and researcher of American public affairs at a major university replied, “Perhaps the most troubling consequences are a general lowering of trust in institutions and withdrawal from public life. This creates a self-reinforcing spiral in which the least scrupulous people gain outsize influence on the political system.”

A professor of law based in North America replied, “Many people will not trust the information, which makes it possible for rumor and innuendo to play an even bigger role than today. Policy making, already difficult, will become even harder. People will not trust.”

An anonymous ICT for development consultant and retired professor commented, “More global disorder, except it will be at micro and multiple levels in societies, both developed and developing.”

An anonymous research scientist based in North America wrote, “It’s bad.”

An anonymous author, editor and journalist based in North America replied, “We’re witnessing it since the last election.”

A media director and longtime journalist said, “This is no worse than the impact of bad actors throughout history. In other words, sometimes terrible, but generally just a drag on the system.”

An anonymous internet pioneer replied, “None, it’s business as usual.”

An associate professor in strategic foresight and innovation commented, “This has already happened – the CIA has been documented as controlling many stories (especially foreign affairs) in US mainstream media since the 1950s. The real bad actors are all the major corporate players that refuse to publish true content when they do know the difference. This is why (My Lai massacre reporter) Sy Hersh is never published in corporate news. The affect on society is a mal-informed populace that demands the wrong public actions due to propaganda.”

An anonymous respondent from the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard University noted, “There have always been and will always be bad actors. The danger is in the unwillingness of the general population to accept responsibility for assessing the intentions, actions and information of those people around them. When the people won’t accept that responsibility, a society can slip easily into group thinking or absolute rule by the minority who control the channels of information.”

An anonymous user-experience and interaction designer said, “A well-run, modern society needs a central sources or sources its members can trust (for reliable information and governance), or society degenerates into a mass of individuals or other informal units that form their own rules – not all of them to benefit the common good and general progress of society.”

An anonymous North American program officer wrote, “It might lead to more or continued polarization and the spread of extreme views as people only listen to information that agrees with their original thinking.”

A professor of law at a state university replied, “Terrible. The republic will continue its accelerating collapse. The risk of authoritarianism will continue to rise as people become more confused, overwhelmed and radicalized and institutions are discredited by false information and irresponsible politicians. Trump could be followed by much worse.”

A researcher based in Europe said, “Bad consequences, so we need to use technologies to identify bad actors.”

A content manager and curator for a scientific research organization, commented, “We’ll get to the point where society will not believe anything, and are we moving toward the partisan news of the 1900s newspapers.”

A knowledge management and digital media consultant replied, “Bad? It depends on your perspective as to degrees of goodness and badness. It would be disastrous, which is why I trust it will be stopped as a general trend, although specific instances will continue.”

A professor and chair in a department of educational theory, policy and administration observed, “A world where Trump is popular and effective.”

A head of systems and researcher working in Web science said, “We will spiral into a world where the deepest funded spin doctors get their way. This is deep rooted and not limited to internet content, look at Fox news, Sinclair media efforts, et cetera.”

A leader of internet policy based in South America predicts, “The expansion of Digital Violence (www.fundacionredes.org).”

A lecturer at the University of Tripoli in Libya predicted, “They might lead to instability in some societies particularly in those societies which are in the phase of transition towards democracy. For example, in Arab Spring countries, information are somehow used badly by some actors to direct people’s attention towards specific ideas, gain support and consequently shape peoples’ views and opinions.”

A principal network architect for a major edge cloud platform company replied, “It seems more likely that the coopting of public information will be less effective over time. Shock value is not something that you retain over repeated abuses.”

A technologist specializing in cloud computing observed, “Public information and public systems are forever in doubt under this proposed model. It may not be a bad state for the citizens to mistrust information to the point that they seek to verify through second- and third-order sources.”

A research scientist said, “We shall have to improve our education systems.”

A principal statistician replied, “The consequences could be awful! But I am optimistic.”

A senior solutions architect for a global provider of software engineering and IT consulting services wrote, “The consequences are dire if this information is hijacked by bad actors, but this is not a new problem. It used to be that only governments were capable of this kind of propaganda and disinformation campaigns. Now non-state actors have the ability to do this as well.”

A professor and researcher based in North America noted, “We will be more polarized and less trusting.”

An institute director and university professor said, “As a planet, we’re doomed. We’re very close to there already (and I consider myself an optimist).”

A professor at a major US state university wrote, “Injustice, unfairness. People will be unhappy. Some sort of war would even be possible.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “There would be distrust and society would struggle to maintain honesty and will find a way around one issue until a new issue arises and the cycle starts again.”

An anonymous respondent said, “The awareness, appreciation and education of the digital persona is still just underway. Digital personhood will be a defining factor but also the necessity to create safe spaces for disenfranchised or threatened minorities must also be balanced with the necessity to have accountability.”

A professor at the University of California-Irvine, replied, “I don’t think this is such an issue. What/who is a bad actor?”

The dean of a major US school of information sciences commented, “Things have gotten a little worse in this area, which is too bad as improvements seemed to be starting. But please keep an historical perspective: Were things ever so much better? Some features of the technology lead us to misjudge and exaggerate, change and overreact.”

A professor based at a North American university noted, “We will have a more fraught and contested society. More resources will be spent on prevention than production, et cetera.”

A director of standards and technology who works with the Internet of Things said, “There would be many different groups and competing ideas leading to a uprising that could be violent and dangerous.”

An anonymous respondent based in North America said, “Economic terrorism generally leads to dictatorship.”

An anonymous head of privacy commented, “I don’t believe this is going to be the outcome long-term. In the short term, we already have seen the hijacking of the election of the president of the US and concern among citizens.”

A technology analyst for one of the world’s leading technology networking companies replied, “Society as a whole has to live with a Trump administration and make our own allowances for public information, regardless of source.”

The assistant director of a digital media and learning group at a major US university, said, “It’s critical to have journalism organizations such as the Washington Post continue to fight to provide deep and critical political coverage. The consequences of not supporting an independent press are a lack of a public record, the inability to provide a coherent approach and narrative to a variety of issues, as well as the broader enterprise to keep in check immoral and incompetent government entities, corporations and bad actors.”

A researcher based in North America said, “Poor policy making because voters are misinformed about real issues, further fragmentation of society into silos that each believe in their own twisted version of reality and can’t talk to each other because they don’t accept the others’ basic assumptions.”

A retired professor and research scientist said, “More of what is happening today. Maybe people will get used to it, especially younger people. Schools need to get involved. We can’t leave it all to technology.”

A retired senior IT engineer based in Europe observed, “The willful manipulation of opinion, spread of diverse embezzlement viruses, spam, phishing, et cetera.”

A North American researcher replied, “Propaganda, politically influenced by people within and outside the US, will be based on their agendas, income generation (Macedonian teens) or amusement.”

A political science and policy scholar and professor said, “The result could be the end of a shared reality, which makes it much harder to work together as a society.”

A professor based in North America observed, “This is deeply problematic. It’s hard to have a reasonable discussion of policy solutions in a democracy if we can’t agree on basic facts.”

A policy analyst for the US Department of Defense wrote, “The result could be that a superstate and its residents are dictated to by a political regime.”

A research scientist who works at Google, said, “The consequence could be a two-class society where the competent minority is ruled by an ignorant majority.”

An independent journalist and longtime Washington correspondent for leading news outlets noted, “The consequence? It’s called life.”

A professor at a major US university replied, “The internet ecosystem runs a great risk of losing consumer trust and confidence.”

A professor at a Washington DC-area university said, “Increased confusion and instability in public opinion – some convergence by elites on semi-trustworthy systems.”

A senior research scholar at a top-ranked US law school observed, “Reliable information is a cornerstone of American democracy. Without it, the information system is as vulnerable to distortion and manipulation as the electoral system has become to cascades of dark money.”

A post-doctoral fellow at a center for governance and innovation replied, “The likes of Donald Trump will continue to occur. Democracy will be diluted by fake information.”

A professor and research scientist based in Europe commented, “Distrust.”

A senior vice president of communications said, “We are seeing them today – in less than a year, the idea that the president would outright lie has gone from a Nixonian past to the Trumpian present.”

An editor at large predicted, “Chaos.”

A research scientist from Latin America replied, “Darkness and sadness. Society will not be able to react until it is too late.”

An IT director said, “The global elite benefit if as large a percentage of the 99% are unwilling to unite in agreement on any foundational principles. The less trust people can place in anyone but themselves the more malleable they become.”

A librarian based in North America noted, “This has always been done – bad actors can co-opt public (or private if they have access) information for their own purposes. Think of every scam artist out there who can act like someone they’re not.”

An anonymous lawyer replied, “Society has to cultivate responsible and thoughtful people.”

A director of research for data science based in Spain observed, “Economic inefficiencies, inaction in the face of global threats, growing inequality.”

A global telecommunications leader based in Central America, commented, “Societies need to put in practice ways and means mainly through education, formation and training to lessen the impact of bad consequences. Societies need to find appropriate incentives. Defense and attack will gain in sophistication over time. Although technology will continue to evolve to guard information, the same is true for bad actors.”

An anonymous consultant noted, “There is always some misinformation, but now it is flagrant abuse. Society dissolves at some point of dis/misinformation. The result is systemic collapse.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “There would be a continuation to look for solutions. It will take years for a social norm or technology to adjust to the current climate.”

A professor of rhetoric and communication noted, “Our democracy depends on the presumption of shared facts, rational behaviors, and a kind of regularity and trust in the laws. Online, all information, even bald-faced lies, can be made to look equal to the actual facts. The consequences are that we swing from one extreme to another, that people stop talking to anyone they disagree with, that we move away from building trust based on a common set of values and truths.”

A student researcher based in North America commented, “There will be a decrease in productive debate between those with differing viewpoints because we will lose the ability to establish a baseline of agreed-upon facts and terms.”

An anonymous futurist/consultant said, “Runaway climate change is perhaps the worst consequence of those with bad intent coopting public information.”

An anonymous MIT student noted, “Having access to timely and accurate information is critical for a functioning democratic society.”

A research professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University observed, “Society will become increasingly polarized, as people accept the information that conforms to their inherent biases.”

An assistant professor of sociology at a US university, said, “We have to continue to try to outsmart them. We may only ever be one step ahead, but it’s the only way to get any public trust.”

A CEO for a consulting firm said, “Increased polarization that has real consequences on the economic well being of the world’s citizens.”

A research psychologist commented, “It’s the rise of ‘personal truth’ over verifiable truth.”

A researcher/statistician consultant at a university observed, “Bad consequences for the uninformed. We will have to become very circumspect in our reading and reacting to news, et cetera.”

A vice president for learning technologies emerita said, “Even in very suppressed/oppressed systems (more closed than open systems), societies have tended to find ways to share information pertinent to their lives – to living. These adaptations for living tend to be underground, under-the-radar systems but social systems nevertheless. In such societies, shared information tends to look like another part of somewhat closed systems among trusted parties.”

A partner in a services and development company based in Switzerland commented, “Ultimately, bellum omnium contra omnes – the war of all against all – as described by Hobbes. Of course society automatically creates new centers of power, making do with disparate inadequate tools if no orderly adequate ones are available. One such inadequate tool is censorship; it is likely to spread and further compound the problem of trust.”

A web producer/developer for a US-funded scientific agency noted, “Continued and/or worsened lack of trust for online interactions.”

A journalist who writes about science and technology said, “Erosion of the social contract, lack of trust, and possibly more authoritarian regimes and/or institutions.”

An assistant professor based in Southeast Asia commented, “It would look something like China: the result is a society that is based on fear, rather than trust. Where no accurate measure of public opinion is possible because of propaganda, echo chamber and spiral of silence effects.”

A retired university professor noted, “It will be democracy undermined.”

A postdoctoral researcher based at a university in Germany, replied, “Society will have to develop mechanisms that make its individual members aware of the ambiguity of most information that exists. It will need to support the development of critical thinking while at the same time preventing that an over-skeptical climate emergesin which no actor or individual trusts any other actor or individual any more. This is a pretty tough task for all of us.”

The president of an information technology foundation wrote, “It’s not the end of the world. There are still plenty of trusted sources, like the mainstream press.”

A publisher commented, “Then trust erodes, and ultimately when people have no trust in government, government becomes irrelevant.”

An anonymous mental health clinician wrote, “People will come to trust news less and less and even begin to doubt what they see with their own eyes unless there is some sort of major shake up.”

A research scientist at a university based in New York responded, “A reduction in the confidence and efficacy of democratic engagement. But other than that, nothing too devastating.”

A senior fellow at a center focusing on democracy and the rule of law observed, “Populism. Nationalism. War.”

A professor of information technology at a large public research university in the United States said, “History contains many examples of societies whose beliefs we now consider erroneous or harmful. Regarding members of other races or religions as inferior beings, ingesting lead to enhance beauty, and infant exposure and just a few examples.”

A retired educator observed, “We’re seeing this now in the social construction of reality based on political or social ideologies.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Devolution.”

A researcher at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology replied, “It is extremely difficult to regulate online information flows and it seems likely that such strategies will fail. However, that doesn´t mean that such ‘bad actors’ will reach their goals. Societies need to develop strategies (and can) to identify and tackle unwanted actions. One effect might be, that trust in established authorities will increase because they will be regarded as the only “safe zones” in the otherwise wild information scape. This obviously requires that such authorities meet the expectations, otherwise alternative (‘bad’) actors might prevail.”

An eLearning specialist noted, “People have to learn to gather information from multiple places and understand that sources are biased and try to make their best understandings. Hopefully by people flat out refusing to believe certain sources of biased information they will no longer be seen as credible.”

A vice president for stakeholder engagement said, “The consequences are that governance becomes feasible only at the small group or local level. Societies with robust civil societies, a culture of self-organization and networks of communities of interest will weather this trend more successfully.”

A professor at a major US university noted, “The failure of democracy.”

A principal research scientist based in North America commented, “The erosion of trust in public information will lead to dramatic segmentation within the populace leading to severe polarization in civil discourse.”

A principal engineer said, “Information online will become essentially useless.”

An associate professor of sociology at a liberal arts university replied, “The problem is not bad actors coopting information, but a lack of consensus about who are bad actors or what their behavior represents.”

An anonymous journalist observed, “It may not be able to prevent the coopting of public information by bad actors entirely, but not everyone will fall for it. One of today’s most glaring class divides is between those who are internet-savvy and so skilled at evaluating different sources and information critically that it’s almost instinctive/automatic, and those who have very limited skills in that department. This divide is usually glaringly obvious in anyone’s Facebook feed now that such a large portion of the population is on Facebook, and the lack of ability to evaluate sources online critically is most common in older persons with limited education and/or limited internet proficiency – and can sometimes also be observed in young people with the same attributes (limited education/internet proficiency).”

A researcher based in Europe commented, “I would say the same consequences as a newspaper incapable of producing research investigation on a subject unpleasant to one of the stakeholders. There are good and bad actors everywhere and although the bad information produced by the so-called citizen journalists is to be taken into consideration, there is also great potential in citizen journalism with the aim of revealing and denouncing situations every hour in different regions of the planet.”

A futurist based in North America said, “An uninformed or misinformed citizen will make uninformed decisions; hence, democracy and free-choice become an illusion.”

A research scientist based in Europe observed, “The end of democracy; loss of trust in public institutions; rise of authoritarianism.”

A software engineer commented, “Democratic societies will make an increased amount of poor decisions, such as decisions that benefit only very few members of the group or risky decisions that can lead to disastrous outcomes.”

A research scientist based in North America commented, “This problem is not new (remember Hearst’s yellow journalism, or Churchill’s “bodyguard of lies”). The internet just makes it more effective.”

The president of a business observed, “We’ve seen this throughout recent history and it is catastrophic. Totalitarian governments and dictators, revolutions, suppression and political imprisonment, disease epidemics (diabetes, obesity and lung cancer), natural disasters (climate-change denial), recession and depression (financial manipulation), I could go on.”

A professor of sociology with expertise in social policy, political economy and public policy, listed, “Growing suspicion, public paranoia, declining civic trust.”

A research fellow based in Australia, said, “Actually, my opinion is that things have not changed that much. In the days of National Enquirer, Martians were always landing (in print) and Jesus was appearing in toast. The internet has just sped this up. Unfortunately, really unintelligent and easily-led people generally have reproduction rates higher than highly-educated people. So more conspiracy theorists will populate the future planet than scientists. People in Australia have told me, in all seriousness, that the Moon walk never took place, that it was US propaganda.”

An anonymous lecturer said, “I don’t know how we can share a common definition of bad actors.”

An anonymous editor and publisher commented, “The consequences will be dismal, with a loss of liberty and leadership.”

An anonymous researcher based in North America said, “Consequences will be serious in many ways.”

An anonymous research scientist based in Europe noted, “We are going to have to redefine how democracy can work.”

A professor of communication replied, “Powerful people with strong financial interests will control our democracy even more and hate groups will take advantage more to increase polarization.”

A fellow at a UK university said, “We need legal safeguards in place to address the most blatant and deliberate attacks, for instance from foreign powers who have an interest in manipulating information to undermine lawful democracies. But I maintain that the challenge is broader and, to a significant extent, endogenous in our modern capitalist societies.”

An anonymous researcher observed, “There will be negative economic consequences as consumers flee online purchasing as they grow to believe information about services/products is unreliable; increasing political fragmentation as people adhere to those online venues they see as ‘safe’; a growing inability for society to engage in rational decision-making.”

A vice president of professional learning commented, “The optimist in me says, we will continue to utilize online networks to meld minds and create a knowesphere of collective identity in service of public good. The pessimist says that we’ll continue to devolve into more sharply divided fragmented and unequal world.”

An anonymous activist replied, “Many people will believe the bad actors.”

An associate professor of public policy and economics at a major US university wrote, “Without shared knowledge about reality, it becomes impossible for citizens to work together to protect and improve society.”

A researcher at the University of Oregon commented, “Bad actors? This question is misleading. They aren’t bad actors, they are people in power who intentionally spread misinformation. Bad actors makes it sound like if you took out the bad apples magically everything would be fine. They aren’t bad actors. They are intentionally spreading information that will keep the power status quo.”

An internet and web pioneer wrote, “The result of a society where a leader tries to distort the truth is Nazi Germany.”

An associate professor at Brown University wrote, “There are severe consequences for society if a large segment of the population, whether that is people with less education, certain ideologies, or children, are susceptible to the spread of misinformation. This is a non-technical problem that also needs to be addressed.”

An anonymous respondent based in Asia/Southeast Asia replied, “Society is there to be used by the ‘few’?”

An associate professor at a major university in Italy wrote, “The bad actor will become president of the United States of America.”

An internet pioneer/originator said, “Exactly what you see today: a narcissistic child as president.”

An analyst at Stanford University commented, “The solution is social, not technological. Let’s assume we’ll always have bad actors; people will learn to discriminate more thoughtfully.”

A leading expert in society and technology replied, “Democracy becomes more about worldview than facts.”

An author/editor/journalist wrote, “To continue the virus analogy, misinformation weakens the whole social organism. It creates a tension between those who can analyse information and are willing to check its accuracy, against those who are happy to surround themselves with information sources that confirm their preconceived notions. A weakened social organism can fall prey to many real forces. There are forces both in the political spheres of the world and the natural spheres that are ongoing and untreatable without the collective strong-minded action of people. They require a determined and relentless response from humans to be overcome, and when humans are too busy fighting each other, there is scant energy left.”

A pioneering internet activist said, “The consequences would be negative, but this is no entirely new, so not massively negative.”

A vice president for public policy for one of the world’s foremost entertainment and media companies commented, “It is harmful to representational forms of government, open markets and good policy making if facts can not be understood.”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Immoral behavior of any kind, including the insidious relationship between corruption and falsehood – destroys trust, and trust is what holds a society – and a democracy – together. We can see even less voting behavior, and even more extremism, whether it’s in the name of the right or the left. If there is a solution it’s recognizing that the phenomena of ‘fake news’ emerges from the desire to have unbridled market forces (see a recent review of ‘Polanyi’ by Fred Block and Margaret Somers).”

An anonymous respondent who works with nonprofits and mission-based organizations said, “We are seeing the consequences right now in the actions of the current presidential administration.”

An historian and former legislative staff person based in North America observed, “Fear and misunderstanding is already growing. It is very important that individual citizens do their best to reach out to protect the poor and needy and to have empathy for those of other races, faiths and ethnicities.”

An anonymous respondent predicted, “There will be increased skepticism and polarization, although there is also opportunity to teach critical consumption of information in schools.”

A computer information systems researcher said, “Ignorance.”

A futurist/consultant based in Europe said, “Consequences will be serious.”

A professor of philosophy at one of the world’s foremost universities observed, “I’m not sure it will get any worse. In many countries it is tolerable, the real problem is in the US where money has been allowed to affect the input into the political system so badly.”

A futurist/consultant based in North America said, “None of this stuff is new. We know what happens when bad actors seize control of the flow of information: authoritarianism, which typically leads to widespread suffering. It’s bad.”

A professor of humanities noted, “With any luck, the public will learn to be more skeptical.”

A North American research scientist replied, “If not properly managed, it could severely restrict the full exercise of democracy.”

A senior research fellow working for the positive evolution of the information environment said, “An even faster and more erratic news cycle. In elections, candidates that bark the louder and raise the worst controversy will prevail.”

A small-press publisher based in North America commented, “You name it: dictators, government overthrow, anarchy.”

A professor and researcher noted, “In we want to preserve civil liberties and privacy, we will need to deal with disinformation from bad actors ourselves.”

An anonymous respondent said, “The dumbing down of an already low base.”

A retired public official who was an internet pioneer replied, “This doesn’t bear thinking about. As we have already seen.”

A principal with a major global consultancy observed, “Well, the reader might spend more time thinking and less time in blind acceptance of what they read or hear. Individual responsibility also won’t be going away, and we should demand such.”

An engineer based in North America replied, “The public would be forced to come up with their own sources of information that they inherently trust.”

A CEO based in Canada replied, “It is a threat to democracy, social systems, stability and things like health and stock markets.”

The president of a center for media literacy commented, “The consequences are perilous – yet history is filled with examples through the millennia.”

A senior research fellow based in Europe said, “You can see the consequences already when looking at the US election or the refugee crisis in Europe: echo chambers, fear mongering, prejudices, racism, social disintegration, mistrust in fellow citizens and political institutions.”

An associate professor at a major Australian university noted, “Possibly more cynicism.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Good actors will need constantly to call them out.”

A chief economist for one of the top five global technology companies, commented, “Brand will become even more important.”

A futurist/consultant replied, “A breakdown of democratic norms and values, and increased power for those who don’t care what ‘truth’ is.”

A postdoctoral scholar at a major university’s center for science, technology and society said, “Without a robust publicly-funded service with a mission to serve the public good, I look to the news landscape of southern Europe as a possible guide: balkanized, unabashedly partisan ‘news’ services, with little public trust in them.”

A university professor based in Europe said, “Defiance.”

A futurist predicted, “Democracy distorted.”

An anonymous respondent based in Europe wrote, “The definition of ‘bad actors’ is quite critical here, for example, would it include pretty legitimate political powers playing games with domestic and foreign ‘influencers’ to win the political battle and debate? But consequences would be gruesome – we can already see some early signs in East Europe and even the ‘old democracies’: mistrust and disappointment with the democracy mechanism, rise of radical groups and their influence, lack of respect to the other groups / opinions and diminishing collaborative culture in countries, but also on international level, e.g. in international aid sector.”

A principal research scientist at a major US university replied, “Distrust and paranoia in everything.”

A professor at the University of Maryland said, “The failure to reduce fake news would be serious. Social media providers need to be pressured to do their job.”

A researcher of online harassment working for a major internet information platform replied, “We end up with false information running rampant and then creating spaces of panic.”

An anonymous respondent who works at a major US university said, “We’re already seeing those consequences – an upsurge in urban legends and a lack of faith in social and political systems. It could get really bad.”

A North American research scientist observed, “A less-informed public.”

A journalist and experience strategist for a top-five global technology company said, “The consequences are far reaching; any outcome that is based on individuals acting on information delivered through digital means may be impacted. This ranges from electing political candidates to discriminating against certain groups or individuals. An extreme example is in India, where a WhatsApp rumor spread about a certain ethnic group, which resulted in lynchings.”

A faculty member at a research university noted, “We will see more of the same we are seeing now.”

A director of research said, “We’ll see increasing numbers of breakthrough-mainstream, former fringe groups (e.g., anti-vaxxers), and continue to lose the ability to act cohesively as a society.”

An author and journalist based in North America noted, “It depends on the society. Are members of the society motivated to work for common good, or are they coming from a position of hatred. It’s not about the transmitter. It’s about the receiver.”

An anonymous research scientist commented, “The consequences would be ruinous: The further deterioration of once-trusted and formerly reliable news sources, loss of the availability of and respect for expertise, and an inability to rely on facts as the foundation of debate and dialogue.”

A North American politician/lawyer wrote, “A major consequence is the continuing weakening in public trust towards institutions, such as government and the press. It also fosters the tribal group-think where users affirmatively limit their information sources and screen out information that does not align with their pre-existing views. The danger is that this becomes a self-perpetuating cycle of ignorance.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Continued and increased chaos and a split society.”

A vice president for a company based in North America replied, “Let the ‘public’ work out its own way of coping. Top-down solutions are more amenable to corruption than no solution at all.”

An anonymous research scientist observed, “Not clear. Society has become very polarized and ideological. Reasoned thought seems to be going the way of the dodo bird.”

An anonymous futurist/consultant predicted, “An increasingly divided polity, less trust in the internet even as more consumers are essentially forced to do more transactions there, higher walls between portals, perhaps less competition.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “Satisfying framing of issues, contributing to ‘confirmation bias’ will replace thoughtful assessment and evolution of thinking.”

A North American research scientist observed, “Individuals will need to take more responsibility for their online consumption of news.”

A self-employed consultant said, “Silly question invites speculation.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “Substantial: if we cannot be sure what is being said, and by whom, it brings out our darkest angels.”

A chief operation officer replied, “Society prospered prior to the emergence of the internet. If the public generally does not trust the internet as an information resource, it will not be used for that purpose.”

A chief operation officer of a global nonprofit focused on children’s issues wrote, “Impact on all areas of society, democracy, health, wealth, security.”

A CEO observed, “When institutions are discredited, and there is no majority social contract for overall better lives then anarchy will prevail.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “We are seeing this now. The total inability for some members of society to evaluate sources and believe almost anything that is printed.”

An assistant professor of political science wrote, “The consequences are likely minimal. Ordinary people have always relied on questionable public information to make decisions. Consequences are potentially more severe if public officials use questionable information, but the elite backlash against Donald Trump has shown that public officials still value reliable information.”

A senior staff attorney for a major online civil rights organization said, “I am not sure I even know what that means, ‘the coopting of public information by bad actors.’ Are they being truthful or not? Free speech proponents believe that the answer to bad speech is good speech, more speech, debate, discussion, et cetera. To a good extent that all presupposes listeners of a certain kind, and the listening side may be more important than the speaking side.”

A researcher based in Europe replied, “We are already witnessing some of these consequences: degradation of democracy, totalitarianism in the raise, polarization…”

A CEO and research director noted, “No different than information and agenda control have ever been. This is not a new issue, just new tools.”

An associate professor at a US university wrote, “Increasing social division down class-based and other lines, increasing inability for different groups to effectively communicate and cooperate because they’re operating from increasingly divergent worldviews.”

An internet pioneer in cybersecurity and professor commented, “More bad decisions, contested elections and election of demagogues. Isolationism and conflict. Decline of science.”

A senior researcher at a US-based nonprofit research center replied, “Misinformation can lead to poor public policy and eventually conflict, especially in an international affairs setting. That is a worst-case scenario, but it is possible. Lesser consequences include more deaths due to certain medical and political misinformation (anti-vaccine propaganda is one example) or on the other side, not tackling an important issue that might be of critical importance in the near future (climate change).”

A senior lecturer in communications at a UK university said, “We’ve seen that happen already; it’s called PR.”

A research scientist based in Europe observed, “The consequences are exactly: not being able to think critically about consequences (for you yourself or for your nation), such as voting for Trump or Brexit.”

A vice president for an online information company said, “Bad decisions based on bad information; Big Bad Data; loss of trust; increased suspicion; divisive behaviors; harmful actions taken on the basis of misrepresentation and lies. Ugh.”

A program manager for the US National Science Foundation wrote, “We will not change human nature, which won’t change confirmation bias.”

A professor of journalism and public policy at a major university commented, “Unrest.”

An anonymous respondent from North America wrote, “Unclear. 2016 could be a harbinger.”

A researcher affiliated with a company and with a major US university noted, “Severe. Manipulations will be more sophisticated than most of us can imagine, or detect.”

A professor based in Australia replied, “Public trust in the media and in powerful actors like politicians and industry leaders is already very low. People need to be able to find ways to verify and trust information, otherwise a climate of uncertainty is intensified.”

An anonymous North American research scientist said, “Dire.”

A professor of management at a US university replied, “The social consequences are devastating.”

A distinguished professor of information systems replied, “Increasing schisms and hatred between parties and factions; perhaps leading to violent resistance and the end of democracy as we have known it.”

An associate professor of political science commented, “Loss of privacy and ultimately freedom.”

A user-experience designer replied, “The consequences is a continuation of the digressive state of that applies to human spirit and soul.”

A retired technology reporter for a major US news organization, said, “The election of people like Donald Trump.”

A global business leader noted, “More groups of activists and people who feel they need to be loud when expressing their opinions.”

A research scientist observed, “We in the US are living that reality TV show right now.”

A researcher based in Europe said, “We could see the internet crash.”

A public-interest lawyer based in North America commented, “Democratic values will be undermined.”

A self-employed marketing professional observed, “There could be a loss of trust in society and its rules/order.”

An anonymous editor based in North America noted, “Without a common base of facts it is impossible to have an informed dialogue to solve problems. I am also very concerned about the lack of media literacy among the new generation of citizens How will they navigate complicated flow of information to make good decisions?”

A senior policy researcher with an American nonprofit global policy think tank said, “Long delays in making good decisions.”

A researcher based in North America wrote, “The same type of political gridlock and radical swings (Obama to Trump) we see now.”

The dean of one of the top 10 journalism and communications schools in the US replied, “Thinking that today’s ‘fake news’ is different from other major points in history is silly. We’ve always had enormous sources of fake news passed along one-to-one, by bad sources, through misleading PR efforts, by phone, by fax, by penny press, by party press, by McCarthyism and similar efforts, even in religious venues. We always believed that ‘truth and falsehood grapple,’ only that we are optimistic that truth eventually wins out.”

A research scientist at Oxford University commented, “The corruption of democracy, descent into venality and ignorance will be normalised.”

A director for a technology company said, “There could be total state control of citizens on the pretext of keeping the bad actors out when in fact they are responsible for misinformation, AKA propaganda. State control of media is a huge threat to the liberties of society and it’s ability to make truly informed choices.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “The internet needs to be radically changed if it can’t be reliable.”

An anonymous business leader said, “A loss of trust and decline in social cohesiveness.

A longtime technology writer, personality and conference and events creator commented, “We are living it now during the Trump administration. Downfall of economy, aggression by individuals and increased polarity.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “There will always be bad actors. The goal is to have the good actors dominate.”

A president of a public policy research and advocacy group said, “The consequences are pretty severe. Democracy dies, with a descent into a Mad Max apocalypse of anarchy and dictatorships by same bad actors.”

An associate professor of urban studies wrote, “Democracy depends on information and informed decision-makers. Ultimately, fake news is a threat to our democracy.”

A research scientist based in Europe observed, “It depends on how much these bad actors are considered as references by (part of) the public. Consequences can be extremely severe if bad actors are considered as the reference, since (some) people will live in an alternate reality. Depending on what is the “bad actors”‘s goal, this can lead to improper political decisions, increase hate, divide the populations within a country. However, if bad actors are recognized as unreliable by the vast majority of people, consequences are most likely limited.”

A retired consultant and strategist for US government organizations replied, “The consequences of society on the decisions of legislative and constitutional change agents (selected by national voter behavior) are what is referred to as ‘constitutional crises.” Where this goes, I am not able to speak.”

A senior research scientist who develops electronic publishing, media and technology for learning, wrote, “We need critical thinking at the core of our education system.”

A research scientist for the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT said, “In the most-extreme case, it could mean the dissolution of liberal democracies and replacement by chaos or tyranny. Any increase in risk of either should concern everyone, even if the probability is deemed small.”

A professor of journalism at New York University observed, “The public will be less capable of taking coherent action that is in its own interest rather than in the interest of parties who manipulate the flow of information.”

An independent systems integrator wrote, “It will be bleak, but that has always been the case. Look at WWI, WWWII, et cetera.”

A researcher investigating information systems user behavior replied, “Poor quality information will continue to proliferate. Consumers of that information will have to become more discerning and develop judging skills.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Nothing new, ‘bad’ actors have always coopted public information. The expectation or hope for a more ‘rational’ society will not be achieved, since society is not rational in the way idealised in the last 50 years.”

An assistant professor based in North America replied, “It’s a challenge to basic democracy to have bad actors shaping flows of information about politics. It also leads to a more divisive, polarized society.”

A development associate for an internet action group in the South Pacific observed, “The internet and what it tells the world will not be trusted, there will be total confusion where internet users will not trust anything that they see on the internet. Things could come to a standstill.”

An anonymous respondent noted, “This is difficult to answer, but the worst case scenario would be a continuing erosion of trust in central organizing institutions of contemporary societies (public administration, the state, news media, et cetera), which would contribute to already existing social cleavages.”

A senior political scientist wrote, “We will have more polarization and bad public policy.”

A content producer, entrepreneur and user activist said, “Results are revolution and WWIII.”

A senior researcher and distinguished fellow for a major futures consultancy observed, “A downward spiral of unimaginable social and environmental deterioration and disruption.”

A North American author and journalist said, “The nation-state is under threat, and religious influence will try to fill the gap.”

A chief marketing officer wrote, “People would be able to be elected to public office on lies and misinformation. That would damage any country and democracy, which in turn would lead to civil unrest.”

A director for freedom of expression of a major global citizen advocacy organization said, “Chaos.”

An anonymous professor of economics based in North America said, “Rent seeking.”

A founder of a community forum commented, “Like all forms of pollution, the coopting of public information by bad actors risks destroying the ecosystem – in this case, the internet – on which we depend.”

A research scientist with IBM Research said, “Large swaths of our society are based on trust. Without it, we will probably revert to a more feudal system in which trust is more localized, and mistrust is rampant across tribes.”

An associate professor of communication studies at a Washington, D.C.-based university said, “Severely compromised public sphere, which leads to the breakdown of civil society and democratic self-rule.”

A town council member in a well-known region of the southeastern US commented, “The consequences are enormous. Society could become ungovernable.”

A principal architect for AT&T wrote, “Loss of trust in institutions.”

A research scientist based in Moscow said, “Fragmentation.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “Declining levels of trust in political and civic institutions, more polarization among the public.”

A senior global policy analyst for a major online citizen advocacy group simply sent the link to a photo representing Dante’s Inferno: https://media.npr.org/assets/artslife/arts/2010/02/dantesinferno/inferno_archive-becf91cdf5140a602f77b5514b518ba7db4db4f6.jpg?s=1400

A chief technology strategist for a national research and education network predicted, “We’ll be at the mercy of tyrants and despots.”

An anonymous research scientist based in North America wrote, “The consequences will be severe. Democracy is certainly at risk.”

A senior marketing analyst replied, “The consequences could be catastrophic if public information continues to be coopted. The legitimacy of some of society’s most important institutions (e.g., the free press, academia, our electoral system, our government) are all at risk. It could become impossible for the public to separate the truth from lies.”

The director of a networked information group predicted, “Ultimately this would result in the undermining of democracy and civil society worldwide.”

The technology editor for one of the world’s most-trusted print-news organizations commented, “Danger to democracy.”

A North American research scientist said, “There will be more Donald Trumps, policies based in misbelief and inaccurate information, worsening health, worsening economy, worsening environment, more violence.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Distrust of all information.”

A publisher said, “Society will adapt and increasingly only trust a narrow self-affirming group of sources.”

An anonymous North American research scientist wrote, “Depends on society. A strong one will survive. One where weakness and suspicion are encouraged will not.”

An anonymous research scientist based in North America observed, “I’m not sure. We have had this problem in the past. The early 19th century was known for lurid news (as indeed, was the early 20th with yellow journalism). Yet sometimes news that was thought to be bad at the time is actually correct (cf. James Callendar’s accusations that Thomas Jefferson had a slave mistress).”

An anonymous survey participant replied, “If business can’t be reliably done online it will move offline – a more reliable system will emerge. I can’t envisage a post-internet world in which information, communication and systems go back to paper, so a post-internet world would have to be something we can’t even imagine now.”

An editor and translator commented, “The consequences are the same as they always were, polarization, hate speech, rising conflict and most importantly informed but ignorant people in there echo chambers.”

A consultant based in North America said, “A central premise of democracy – that all citizens share a common set of facts about the world – is eroding. Intentional disinformation operations are accelerating the phenomenon. If unaddressed, the result will likely be the weakening of democratic institutions, declining trust in the validity of self-governing elections, and a further balkanization of society into antagonistic social units.”

An anonymous respondent said, “There would be a weakening of democratic norms, a slide towards illiberal governance and authoritarianism.”

An associate professor based in North America replied, “Reduced trust, reduced support for government acting to address problems when no common definition of causes or solutions, increasing competition over competition across political parties and other social groups.”

An early internet developer and security consultant commented, “Just as we see behavioral economics exploited by con artists, we now see behavioral voting exploited by con artists. If we accept that as somehow the new normal, I predict dictatorships, repression and revolution.”

An adjunct senior lecturer in computing said, “The shift in wealth will continue to lead to closer monitoring and control of the general population to avoid widespread civil disobedience. Pockets of civil disobedience will be shown by the media as against the new social norms to discourage replication.”

A distinguished professor emeritus of political science at a US university wrote, “For there to be alternative truths and narratives of what is occurring is likely to be very dangerous and divisive.”

A professor of information systems at a major technological university in Germany listed the following consequences: “Losing trust in the factuality of ‘news,’ separation of the public opinion, ability to ride the crowd.”

An instructor of political science based in North America wrote, “It will undermine democracy – effective political discourse requires a common vocabulary, which is undermined by fake news.”

A principal consultant said, “We risk running around blind, serving masters we cannot even identify.”

A professor based in North America predicted, “Democracy will be completely undermined and, I suspect, that civility will completely disappear.”

A North American research scientist predicted “The breakdown of public discourse.”

A technical writer predicted, “Continued stupidity and the overreaction to nonsense will escalate.”

A professor and researcher based in North America noted, “Near-term, there will be reality show hucksters in the Oval Office. Long-term, it leads to dystopia.”

A research scientist said, “Political decay and likely political violence.”

A professor of sociology based in North America said, “Distrust and division.”

An anonymous respondent wrote, “Loss of privacy, loss of currency.”

The director of a networking for development foundation based in the Dominican Republic said, “We need to put emphasis on education for information management.”

A futurist who works for a global-good organization commented, “The coopting of public information by bad actors has always happened. Nothing new here. Entertainment and disinformation are ambient conditions, noise of life. Question is how people frame and construct, sense and make-sense of emergence. Certainty and ‘truth’ cannot be defended by authority since authority cannot know for certain or know the truth. Civilizing our thinking by integrating the non-determinism and novelty of complexity will be a long road.”

A chief marketing officer replied, “The consequences are relevant and depend on the current social sensitivities and the degree that highly manipulated media/sources can be trusted. The key is building societies with critical thinking skills and globalised view of key subjects.”

A doctoral candidate and fellow with a major international privacy rights organization said, “The concept of ‘access to knowledge’ and ‘freedom of information’ are key features in human rights discourse. They are derived from Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UNGA Resolution 59(I) of 1946. These universal rights lose any meaning if we can’t agree on what is knowledge and what is information. If we live in a post-truth world, where basic facts can be disputed, then we embrace ignorance.”

A professor based in Europe commented, “We will see ever more Donald Trumps and his ilk.”

An anonymous research scientist based in Asia/Southeast Asia wrote, “Pluralism can help validate the credibility of online information.”

An anonymous business leader wrote, “We’ll transcend this, just like all else we’ve seen.”

An anonymous professor of cybersecurity at a major US university commented, “People will turn more and more to news sources they trust, which will by and large be news sources whose political views agree with their own.”

An anonymous educator noted, “Continued breaking down of trust with authority.”

An anonymous futurist/consultant noted, “Anarchy.”

An anonymous researcher based in North America replied, “A world of uncertainty, cynicism, and distrust.”

A Ph.D. candidate in informatics said, “A continuation of the disastrous political climate that we now live in.”

An anonymous survey participant said, “Mistrust which leads to all kinds of horrible outcomes. See Putnam’s analysis of southern Italy. It has deleterious effects on the economy.”

An anonymous researcher based in North America predicted, “A race to the bottom in government and big industry, where anything goes.”

A member of the Internet Architecture Board said, “We’re already on that train; look at the newspapers.”

An associate professor of business at a major university in Australia predicted, “Some corporations will thrive for maybe a decade while the lower 80% of the population live in increasingly deteriorating conditions. Then no-one will be able to afford their trinkets so the “elite” need to create another major war to get rid of the excess population – preferably with some tinpot dictatorship in South America or Africa, but China may be good for a prolonged exchange (not on the mainland though – we don’t want to disturb off-shore manufacturing).”

A Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois-Chicago wrote, “Those with the power to coopt public information will push issues that are in their interests. These entities will probably be governments and/or corporations.”

A Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan replied, “Richard J. Hofstadter noted the pernicious and pervasive influence of the paranoid style in American politics. I think we see it continue to thrive, and capture the imagination of larger segments of the American population. There will be more PizzaGates to come. I expect this to lead to further social fragmentation and polarization.”

A university professor based in Asia/Southeast Asia said, “There will be more need for education so that people will not feel empowered by the availability of bad-quality information.”

A postdoctoral associate at MIT noted, “The potential consequences have been exaggerated. I don’t foresee any major and immitigable consequences.”

A leading internet pioneer who has worked with the FCC, ITU, GE and other major technology concerns commented, “Society is getting screwed.”

A professor based in New York observed, “Further erosion in authority and legitimacy of institutions (politics, universities, media, et cetera).”

A research scientist based in Latin America predicted, “Ignorance and chaos.”

An author and journalist based in North America said, “A more uninformed, less engaged citizenry in a self-governed democracy. The stakes are huge.”

A technologist active in the IETF commented, “Define bad actors. There is a fine line between ‘banning bad actors’ and ‘enforcing an approved point of view’.”

A research scientist based in North America wrote, “Devastating lack of trust in basic institutions.”

A professor of education policy commented, “The consequences will vary tremendously for different groups of people. For some, it will mean the continued (or new) loss of the fundamental right to vote. For others, it will mean increasing precarity with fewer governmental safety nets to help cushion blows. For others it will mean loss of life, of property, of basic rights. For others, it will mean greater wealth, increased capacity to pillage natural resources, et cetera. And importantly, this is not US society – this is global. The new global gag rule is imperiling 11.5 million people’s lives, directly. The current health care efforts imperil 22 million in the US… these numbers are vast, and they are global.”

An anonymous survey participant noted, “We will learn to live with it and develop our own trusted sources. Generally, society will become more skeptical.”

A distinguished engineer for a major provider of IT solutions and hardware commented, “People will act based on misinformation, but that is no different than how things have been throughout history.”

A North American research scientist said, “The only consequence is status quo. Misinformation has always existed and people adapt to it and learn to question it.”

A researcher based in North America observed, “We need to figure out ways to deal with fake news and misinformation.”

A professor of law and political science at a major US state university predicted, “Potential breakdown of social order. Lack of faith in democratic legitimacy.”

An anonymous internet activist/user based in Europe commented, “Who decides who is a ‘bad actor?’ The correct approach is to educate people so that each person can figure out what is and what is not legitimate information.”

An anonymous consultant based in North America commented, “The result would be dissension and reductions in trust and cooperation.”

An academic based in North America replied, “People can be responsible information users or not.”

An emeritus professor of communication for a US Ivy League university noted, “Of course, there are differences between the consequences that flow from reliance upon information from incompetent, under-informed, careless sources, and those whom we would recognize as ‘bad actors,’ presumably, because their intention is to misinform. If those bad actors were also able to prepare and deliver strategic misinformation designed for particular targets (population segments), the nature and extent of inequalities would surely worsen.”

A former software systems architect replied, “In some cases, folks will rely more on trusted word-of-mouth and rely less on digital social networks for critical information. The public addiction to drama will not be overcome, however.”

A North American futurist/consultant predicted, “Societal stagnation, misappropriated public funding, the decline of American economic power.”

A consultant based in North America replied, “In the absence of reliable information, it would be easier to justify decisions based on belief and self-interest rather than logic and public-interest.”

A political economist and columnist commented, “Society fragments into information-savvy groupings who will trust other members of their grouping. Present class structures will harden into wealth and education much as the ivy-league vs. MIT-types do now. Only more so.”

A professor of political communication at a US university said, “The weak are more easily exploited by the rapacious and conscienceless.”

An anonymous author and journalist wrote, “Same as in prior media. We’ll just need to get smarter about what we trust.”

The chairman of a business predicted, “The consequences would be a breakdown of civil society and reasoned political process, and even the breakdown of democratic process.”

An anonymous consultant predicted, “A decrease in trust, and an increase in biased information.”

An anonymous author and journalist based in North America wrote, “It looks like a difficult chapter in human history is ahead, especially if public schools, libraries and universities are dismantled along with media institutions.”

A distinguished professor of computer science and engineering said, “There is a risk of continued division, of people separated by different sets of beliefs and ‘facts,’ and of deterioration of the bridging social capital needed to establish and achieve common goals.”

A policymaker based in North America said, “Political destabilization.”

The founder of one of the internet’s longest-running information-sharing platforms commented, “The consequences would be a steady decline in quality of life for most with possible dictatorships arising in previously free countries.”

A professor and institute director predicted, “Distrust in government. Distrust in in the electoral process. Cheap, intolerable interference by foreign governments.”

A professor based in North America noted, “We are in the process of becoming a oligopoly.”

The executive director for an environmental issues startup said, “Democracy can only work if there’s an informed public that honestly deliberates and reviews the facts.”

An anonymous respondent predicted, “People will put less faith into what they read and the value of these sensationalism on Facebook and other media will lose readership and ads as people realize it is just fake and a place for others to spout off; worse case scenario, society will be become more divided.”

An anonymous research scientist said, “We might see the nightmare that we are living with now – an unfit president both obsessed and at war with the media.”

An anonymous business leader said, “Low-information voters will continue to vote for liars. Society will suffer. There will be more division between information-have and information-want-nots.”

A project leader for a science institute commented, “Ignorance and intolerance will increase among the masses.”

A professor and researcher based in North America noted, “My gut feeling is that it will lead to fragmentation and a retreat into enclaves defined by belief. But that is wild speculation.”

The dean of a university library said, “We are seeing the consequences right now, as it becomes increasingly difficult to know who or what to believe. We are making ourselves vulnerable to the next really big lie.”

An anonymous respondent predicted, “Authoritarian regime followed by a revolution and, finally, better education.”

A professor of sociology at a major university in the US Midwest predicted, “The continued splintering of American society, as people only read what they already subscribe to.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “It would very bad. We would not know who to vote for, what are valid reasons for laws, nor who to trust.”

A department leader at a nonprofit organization commented, “Nothing changes. There are people at the very top of society that create and spread false information.”

An anonymous activist/user wrote, “Society will not improve with a predominance of truth, it will improve with greater decentralization of truth. We cannot struggle for something that we cannot define and often cannot find, but if we strive for decentralization, we make it easier for truth to be found by communities.”

The executive director of a major global privacy advocacy organization said, “It would be the same as it always has been: war, conflict, domination. But we’ve also had facile, ignored and pointless content and interactions. It’s only in the wealthy elite Western discourse have we presumed that the past 20 years is somehow different.”

An anonymous research scientist noted, “My hope is that society learns that ‘too much technology is a bad thing’ – that the scope of publically available information is narrowed.”

A US-based associate professor of political science commented, “Public confusion.”

A lecturer in media studies in a department of social, political and cognitive sciences, said, “Bad actors always existed. Propaganda always existed. We have already seen the consequences of Propaganda in the past. A society living on a biased information ecosystem is a society with high risk of political radicalization and authoritarian governments.”

A strategist for a nonprofit replied, “More than the past cases, but with a people with more information.”

A leader with a nonprofit civil liberties organization observed, “That’s the way it’s always been.”

An educational technology broker replied, “If we cannot find a way to prevent the cooping of public information our democratic values are at issue.”

A professor at an American research university predicted, “Continued fragmentation into differing ‘epistemic communities’ that cannot agree on fundamental facts and evidence, and the continued ability of politicians to exploit this.”

A professor emerita and adjunct lecturer at two major US universities commented, “At best it would mean that we would all have to be trained to suspect every kind of message we see and verify it before acting on it. At worst, society, as we know it, will lose all ability to trust anybody, anytime, anywhere. And that would be a tragic outcome for us all.”

A chief technology officer predicted, “Authoritarianism.”

A research assistant at MIT said, “The implications are very severe; society reaps massive benefits from the sharing of information both for innovation and societal efficiency gains. For example, consider the benefit of publicly available information on the internet for scientific advancement.”

A journalist based in North America said, “The cure is worse than the disease. Unless you want a ‘Pravda’ future, let democracy and freedom of speech work.”

The CEO of a major American internet media company based in New York City replied, “There have always been bad actors, media has always had a conflicted relationship with the public interest, what is happening now is challenging but not unprecedented.”

An owner and principal sage for a technology company based in North America predicted, “’Alternate facts’ will gain support. Governments will have increased difficulty establishing effective legislation, particularly legislation aimed at effecting social policy. Science skepticism will grow as contrary viewpoints proliferate.”

An engineering director for Google observed, “Democracy is founded on a feedback loop of critical scrutiny of those on power by the public and the media. Failure to secure the debate could undermine an important pillar of democracy.”

A librarian based in North America noted, “There will be a lot of disruption in society, such as the inability to govern, severe lack of trust by anyone, wars, market collapses, and more.”

A vice president of survey operations for a major policy research organization predicted, “Poor public policy. Biased decision making.”

A senior international communications advisor commented, “The consequences would be dire. Our environment is collapsing and we can ill-afford another foray into fascism and global warfare or mass repression. A misinformed public is a gullible public.”

A technical evangelist based in Southern California said, “If we don’t improve our digital literacy, we’ll be duped.”

A business owner replied, “There would be volatility, but not chaos. Most people will rely on trusted sources, but occasionally rumors and propaganda could gain traction.”

A doctoral candidate and technology researcher said, “Hopefully, a shift from attempting to stop bad actors from speaking to teaching people how to identify and critically examine their information sources. A shift from technological to educational/cultural solutions.”

A data scientist and blockchain expert based in Europe wrote, “Less trust in the internet and more attempts for fragmentation.”

An anonymous respondent commented, “Soylent Green for everyone.”

A historian and writer predicted, “An inability to frame constructive dialogue around a shared set of facts.”

A retired university professor noted, “Bad actors have always been able to coopt public information. Now in the US is that we have a particularly uneducated electorate, a polarized political system and a strong antirational trend. We have been there before. But never before have we been able to destroy the entire planet. I think the EU and Canada may have better luck preserving scientific rationality that the US does.”

An anonymous research scientist said, “Given that ‘bad actors’ are always the others, I guess that the answer to this question will be a universal ‘terrible.’”

A professor based in North America replied, “Public skepticism is our best hope. The problem requires adaptive, not technical solutions.”

An author/editor/journalist based in North America observed, “The public is unable to accurately assess the advantages and disadvantages of proposed public policy alternatives. It will therefore become increasingly difficult for Americans to make informed choices that reflect their genuine self-interests.”

An author/editor/journalist based in Europe commented, “It already is; we stay as we are.”

A data scientist based in Europe who is also affiliated with a program at Harvard University wrote, “Autocracy.”

A senior vice president for government relations noted, “A consistent set of agreed facts is essential to have informed debate in a democracy. Our democracy will be weakened without this.”

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