Pew: Trolls Will Continue to Lurk Under Info Highway Bridges

Fake news, other antisocial online behaviors will be ‘weaponized’
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Don't look for internet trolls or online news fakers to be going away anytime soon.

That is the conclusion of a Pew Research canvass of 1,500-plus technologists, futurists and scholars, including father of internet protocol Vint Cerf, now a top Google exec.

“The vast majority of these experts believe the online environment will continue to be shaped by trolling and other anti-social behaviors and struggles over phony or semi-phony information sometimes presented in ‘weaponized’ forms,” said Lee Rainie, director of internet, science and technology research at Pew Research Center, who co-authored the report. “They predict that human and technological fixes will be implemented, but that an arms race with bad actors will persist...”

Eight out of 10 of those sampled said they expect the tone of online discourse to stay the same (42%) or get worse (39%) over the next decade. The experts were canvassed between July 1 and Aug. 12 2016, so the answers preceded the White House social media attacks on 'fake news.' 

“People feel free to make unsupported claims, assertions, and accusations in online media," said Cerf in the report. "As things now stand, people are attracted to forums that align with their thinking, leading to an echo effect...Bad behavior is somehow condoned because ‘everyone’ is doing it...It is not clear whether there is a way to counter-balance their socially harmful effects.”

Pew said the main themes in the responses were that things weren't going to improve because 1) trolling is human and anonymity abets that bad behavior; 2) there are economic and political incentives that mean mainstream media will support and even promote uncivil behavior; (3) "surveillance will rise; the state may regulate debate; and these changes will polarize people and limit access to information and free speech"; and 4) things will improve because solutions will arise as the online world is splintered into "controlled" zones" with the help of AI."

(Photo via Jeroen Bennink's Flickr. Image taken on Feb. 6, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 9x16 aspect ratio.)

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