2024: A Pivotal Year for Democracy
In the year 2024, democracy will face a critical juncture. Elections are set to take place in numerous countries across the globe, including South Africa, Ghana, Tunisia, Mexico, India, Austria, Belgium, Lithuania, Moldova, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Among these, the US election may be the most significant, as Donald Trump is expected to secure the Republican candidacy. Additionally, a significant portion of the population still believes that the 2020 election was “stolen,” and the Democratic Party is facing criticism for its lackluster performance.
If Trump were to win, the consequences would be monumental. It would mark the end of the US experiment with democracy, at least temporarily, as Trump’s supporters have been meticulously preparing for his second term. The country would transform into an authoritarian state, potentially abandoning its alliances and allowing corporations to prioritize shareholder value over environmental concerns. The stakes are incredibly high, and as the Economist aptly puts it, “Trump’s indictment has turned every American voter into a juror.”
In such a closely contested election, attention turns to the factors that could tip the balance in a fractured polity. Social media, an arena historically exploited by right-wing actors, becomes a focal point. While its role in the political earthquakes of Trump’s election and Brexit in 2016 may have been exaggerated, it undoubtedly played a part. As such, it would be unwise to underestimate its disruptive potential in 2024, particularly in disseminating misinformation and disinformation at an unprecedented speed.
What sets 2024 apart from 2016 is the presence of artificial intelligence (AI). Generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion, excel at generating plausible misinformation on a large scale. Combined with social media’s ability to make content go viral, this creates a whole new world of challenges. Fabricating an image of an explosive attack on the Pentagon or generating a paragraph from the perspective of an anti-vaccine advocate becomes as simple as requesting it from these AI tools.
The implications are clear: social media on steroids, with no discernible human or machine origin. The coming year is likely to see a tsunami of this manipulated content. It is crucial to prepare and find ways to mitigate its impact.
Recognizing the urgency, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has taken steps to address this issue. In June, it published a comprehensive paper by Sayash Kapoor and Arvind Narayanan, outlining strategies to combat the deluge of AI-generated misinformation. The paper categorizes malicious uses of the technology, including disinformation, spear phishing, non-consensual image sharing, and voice and video cloning. However, it falls short in proposing concrete solutions, instead resorting to vague suggestions of public education and civil society interventions.
The paper’s reluctance to hold tech companies accountable is notable. These companies, as owners of the platforms where this misinformation spreads, have a vested interest in maintaining profitability. It raises questions about the feasibility of speaking truth to power within academia.
In the midst of this evolving landscape, it is essential to stay informed and critically analyze the information we encounter. The media plays a crucial role in disseminating accurate and unbiased news, and as consumers, we must be discerning in our consumption. As the year 2024 approaches, the world must confront the challenges posed by AI-generated misinformation head-on, with a commitment to safeguarding the integrity of democratic processes.
– “It looks like 2024 will be a pivotal year for democracy” – The Guardian
– “Shake it up” – David Hepworth for LitHub
– “Dish the dirt” – Kashmir Hill for The New York Times
– “Truth bombs” – Haydn Belfield for Vox