The vast majority of COVID-19 anti-vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories originated from just 12 people, a report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) cited by the White House this week found.

The Guardian, July 2021

The Disinformation Dozen

These 12 ‘personalities’ have a combined following of 59 million people across multiple social platforms with Facebook having the largest impact. CCDH said 65% of misleading posts and tweets came from this ‘disinformation dozen.’

The social liars

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google failed to remove 95% of COVID-19 misinformation reported to them. While some platforms have subsequently removed a few of the persistent liars, and all four companies now have policies that are supposed to prevent the spread of vaccine misinformation – these are not being policed, let alone enforced.

First contact

Internet users are growing at an annual rate of 5.7 percent annually, about 700,000 new users every day. The advantages of being connected are both personal and economic. Doubtless new opportunities will emerge at pace, reaffirming the tech industry and its engagement with our lives is still in its infancy.

Bad connection

But the disadvantages of our individual connectivity at scale are also revealing themselves. The business model of tech companies with economic interests promoting engagement rather than public interest, is exposing us to fresh harms.

How just 12 people aided by attention seeking algorithms can morph an untruth into a real life public health crisis points to this megatrend accelerating. While the allure of individual empowerment via increased connectivity is a powerful inducement, users will need to develop more sophisticated understanding of the role of algorithms in curating information flows across the internet (and the presence of bad actors) within social media platforms. But ultimately the power of the tech platforms with their opaque systems can only be met with the combined force of governments regulation.

Megatrends watch: amplified individuals

Subverting
Stable
Accelerating

This update is part of our Megatrends Watch series, which tracks developments that inform our six global megatrends….

Sydney Business Insights is a University of Sydney Business School initiative aiming to provide the business community and public, including our students, alumni and partners with a deeper understanding of major issues and trends around the future of business.

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