Lee Rainie, Director of Internet and Technology Research at the Pew Research Center, presented this material on October 29, 2020 to scholars, policy makers and civil society advocates convened by New York University’s Governance Lab (GovLab). He described findings from two canvassings of hundreds of technology and democracy experts that captured their views about the future of democracy and the future of social and civic innovation by the year 2030. Among other subjects, the experts looked at the impact of misinformation, “techlash” and trust in government institutions.
• Rise of cyber attacks
• Shift to mobile
• Advent of filter bubbles
• Growing concern about privacy and surveillance
• Destroyed boundary between home and work
• Growth of fringe groups
• Rise of crypto-currencies
• Rise of virtual and augmented reality and mixed reality
• Mixed social impact – tolerance vs. human clashes
• Minimal / modest impact on education and health care
979 expert responses
Technology’s impact on democratic institutions and
Between now and 2030, how will use of technology by citizens,
civil society groups and governments affect core aspects of
democracy and democratic representation? Will they mostly
weaken core aspects of democracy and democratic
representation, mostly strengthen core aspects of democracy
and democratic representation or not much change in core
aspects of democracy and democratic representation?
49% - mostly weaken
33% - mostly strengthen
18% - not much change
Democracy is at risk because those with power will seek to
maintain it by building systems that serve them not the masses.
• Surveillance capitalism creates an undemocratic class system.
• Citizens’ lack of digital fluency and their apathy produce an ill-
informed and/or dispassionate public, weakening democracy
and the fabric of society.
• Info-wars allow exploiters to target vulnerable populations and
The rise of misinformation and disinformation erodes public trust
in many institutions – and social trust
• Tech-borne reality distortion is crushing the already-shaky
public trust in the institutions of democracy
• Journalism is weakened. There seems to be no solution for
problems caused by the rise of social media-abetted tribalism
and the decline of trusted, independent journalism.
• The speed, scope and impact of the technologies of
manipulation may be difficult to overcome as the pace of
697 expert responses
Social and civic innovation and its impact on the new difficulties of the digital age: As
the Industrial Revolution swept through societies, people eventually took steps to
mitigate abuses and harms that emerged….
Today’s “techlash” illuminates the issues that have surfaced in the digital era.
The question: Will significant social and civic innovation occur between now and 2030? By
“social and civic innovation,” we mean the creation of new technology tools, legal
protections, social norms, new or reconfigured groups and communities, educational
efforts and other strategies to address digital-age challenges.
84% - significant innovation occurs
16% - no significant innovation occurs
Will humans’ use of technology lead to or prevent significant social and civic
69% - tech use helps innovation
20% - tech use hurts innovation
Social media: The reckoning
• Regulation will hold social media companies liable for users’
data privacy and safety.
• The social platform companies of 2020 will be broken up or die
• New platforms that do not rely on surveillance capitalism and
targeted advertising will evolve.
• A greater focus on honesty and accuracy on social media will
Privacy: Protections emerge
• Regulation will enforce digital privacy and punish abusers.
• Public norms will change to focus more on protecting privacy
online, and media forensics will be applied to tracking privacy
• There will be greater utilization of smart contracts and privacy-
• Cyberinsurance will be created to cover people who are victims
of cybercrime, and there will be more-effective technology tools
for privacy protection.
• Government-sponsored tools will be created to protect privacy.
Misinformation: Will be addressed
• There will be more education focused on digital literacy.
• Sites and apps will have methods to instantaneously fact-check
• Greater societal pressure will demand more accuracy and truth.
• Social norms will change so that skepticism is the starting point
of information searching.
• There will be better tools to help people fact-check information
found online, and trusted groups of verifiers will form to assess
• Online voting systems will make voting more accessible; new
online tools will allow citizens to voice their opinions directly to
• The ways in which public funds are spent and campaigns and
lobbying take place will become more transparent.
• Online court systems/virtual juries will be created for civil cases.
• A wide range of deliberative processes and hearings will be
opened on online platforms.
• Some communities will embrace volunteerism in lieu of taxes.
Artificial intelligence inserts itself
• Virtual assistants and avatars will anticipate and address
individuals’ wants and needs.
• AI will help identify/thwart misinformation, and it will be used to
create misinformation. A prime battleground: deepfake videos.
• Ethical AI will rise.
• AI will increasingly be used to address health issues.
• AI will be built to passively monitor tech platforms to identify if
manipulation is occurring.
• It will improve the quality of information available to those who
govern; they will depend upon it for policy decisions.
… and much more
• Health apps
• Connectivity payoffs (e.g. crowdsourcing)
• Education and training reforms
• Capitalism rethink
• Environmental and climate mitigation of harm