World at risk of ‘digital misinformation wildfire’
DIGITAL wildfire — the dissemination of misinformation on traditional and social media — is a nexus of global risk and could "enable the viral spread of information that is either intentionally or unintentionally misleading or provocative", says the World Economic Forum.
Technological risks — such as the safety of satellites and the unforeseen consequences of new life-science technologies — have also jumped up the risk index, as their use becomes more widespread, and in some cases a foundation of modern life.
"The global risk of massive digital misinformation sits at the centre of a constellation of technological and geopolitical risks ranging from terrorism to cyber attacks and the failure of global governance," the forum says in its Global Risks Report 2013.
It cites the example of the Innocence of Muslims video that was uploaded onto YouTube, resulting in worldwide protests and the death of 50 people.
Social media platforms offer another serious threat to companies, and even global stability, with social media being linked to the Arab Spring.
Facebook has more than 1-billion active users, while Twitter has attracted more than 500-million active users in its seven-year existence, it notes.
Fake tweets have moved financial markets, it says, citing a fake tweet that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad had died, which caused "crude oil prices to rise by more than $1 before traders realised the news was false".
Possible damage to satellites was also pointedly mentioned in the report. "Few appreciate how much we depend on satellites to support our most critical infrastructure and to live modern and mobile lives," the report notes, citing the reliance of telephony, the internet, markets and banking, among others, on satellites.
South African National Space Agency CEO Sandile Malinga said that damage to satellites was a serious concern. "It is a serious threat because there are a number of satellites being launched each year, about 100 per year."
People had become reliant on satellites — for services such as GPS and communications — which "increases the demand to put more and more into space", Mr Malinga said.
A section in the report, X-factors, details "known unknowns", compiled in partnership with scientific journal Nature and "grounded in the latest scientific findings". These include the possibility of rogue geo-engineering — where companies or individuals manipulate the Earth’s climate — the costs of living longer, and the discovery of alien life.
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