October 19, 2017

The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online

About this canvassing of experts

The expert predictions reported here about the impact of the internet over the next 10 years came in response to a question asked by Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center in an online canvassing conducted between July 2 and Aug. 7, 2017. This is the eighth “Future of the Internet” study the two organizations have conducted together. For this project, we invited more than 8,000 experts and members of the interested public to share their opinions on the likely future of the internet. Overall, 1,116 people responded and answered this question:

The rise of “fake news” and the proliferation of doctored narratives that are spread by humans and bots online are challenging publishers and platforms. Those trying to stop the spread of false information are working to design technical and human systems that can weed it out and minimize the ways in which bots and other schemes spread lies and misinformation.

The question: In the next 10 years, will trusted methods emerge to block false narratives and allow the most accurate information to prevail in the overall information ecosystem? Or will the quality and veracity of information online deteriorate due to the spread of unreliable, sometimes even dangerous, socially-destabilizing ideas?

Respondents were then asked to choose one of the following answers and follow up by answering a series of six questions allowing them to elaborate on their thinking:

The information environment will improve – In the next 10 years, on balance, the information environment will be IMPROVED by changes that reduce the spread of lies and other misinformation online.

The information environment will NOT improve – In the next 10 years, on balance, the information environment will NOT BE improved by changes designed to reduce the spread of lies and other misinformation online.

The web-based instrument was first sent directly to a list of targeted experts identified and accumulated by Pew Research Center and Elon University during the previous seven “Future of the Internet” studies, as well as those identified across 12 years of studying the internet realm during its formative years. Among those invited were people who are active in the global internet policy community and internet research activities, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Internet Society (ISOC), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). We also invited a large number of professionals, innovators and policy people from technology businesses; government, including the National Science Foundation, Federal Communications Commission and the European Union; the media and media-watchdog organizations; and think tanks and interest networks (for instance, those that include professionals and academics in anthropology, sociology, psychology, law, political science and communications), as well as globally located people working with communications technologies in government positions; top universities’ engineering/computer science departments, business/entrepreneurship faculties, and graduate students and postgraduate researchers; plus many who are active in civil society organizations such as the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Access Now; and those affiliated with newly emerging nonprofits and other research units examining ethics and the digital age. Invitees were encouraged to share the canvassing questionnaire link with others they believed would have an interest in participating, thus there was a “snowball” effect as the invitees were joined by those they invited to weigh in.

Since the data are based on a nonrandom sample, the results are not projectable to any population other than the individuals expressing their points of view in this sample.

The respondents’ remarks reflect their personal positions and are not the positions of their employers; the descriptions of their leadership roles help identify their background and the locus of their expertise.

About 74% of respondents identified themselves as being based in North America; the others hail from all corners of the world. When asked about their “primary area of internet interest,” 39% identified themselves as research scientists; 7% as entrepreneurs or business leaders; 10% as authors, editors or journalists; 10% as advocates or activist users; 11% as futurists or consultants; 3% as legislators, politicians or lawyers; and 4% as pioneers or originators. An additional 22% specified their primary area of interest as “other.”

More than half the expert respondents elected to remain anonymous. Because people’s level of expertise is an important element of their participation in the conversation, anonymous respondents were given the opportunity to share a description of their internet expertise or background, and this was noted where relevant in this report.

Here are some of the key respondents in this report (note, position titles and organization names were provided by respondents at the time of this canvassing and may not be current):

Bill Adair, Knight Professor of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University; Daniel Alpert, managing partner at Westwood Capital; Micah Altman, director of research for the Program on Information Science at MIT; Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation; Patricia Aufderheide, professor of communications at American University; Mark Bench, former executive director of World Press Freedom Committee; Walter Bender, senior research scientist with MIT/Sugar Labs; danah boyd, founder of Data & Society; Stowe Boyd, futurist, publisher and editor-in-chief of Work Futures; Tim Bray, senior principal technologist at Amazon; Marcel Bullinga, trend watcher and keynote speaker; Eric Burger, research professor of computer science and director of the Georgetown Center for Secure Communication; Jamais Cascio, distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future; Barry Chudakov, founder and principal at Sertain Research and StreamFuzion Corp.; David Conrad, well-known CTO; Larry Diamond, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI) at Stanford University; Judith Donath, Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Stephen Downes, researcher at the National Research Council of Canada; Johanna Drucker, professor of information studies at the University of California, Los Angeles; Andrew Dwyer, expert in cybersecurity and malware at the University of Oxford; Esther Dyson, entrepreneur, former journalist and founding chair at ICANN; Glenn Edens, CTO for Technology Reserve at PARC, a Xerox company; Paul N. Edwards, fellow in international security at Stanford University; Mohamed Elbashir, senior manager for internet regulatory policy at Packet Clearing House; Susan Etlinger, industry analyst at Altimeter Research; Bob Frankston, internet pioneer and software innovator; Oscar Gandy, professor emeritus of communication at the University of Pennsylvania; Mark Glaser, publisher and founder of MediaShift.org; Marina Gorbis, executive director at the Institute for the Future; Jonathan Grudin, principal design researcher at Microsoft; Seth Finkelstein, consulting programmer and EFF Pioneer Award winner; Susan Hares, a pioneer with the NSFNET and longtime internet engineering strategist; Jim Hendler, professor of computing sciences at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; Starr Roxanne Hiltz, author of “Network Nation” and distinguished professor of information systems; Helen Holder, distinguished technologist at Hewlett Packard (HP); Jason Hong, associate professor at the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University; Christian H. Huitema, past president of the Internet Architecture Board; Alan Inouye, director of public policy for the American Library Association; Larry Irving, CEO of The Irving Group; Brooks Jackson of FactCheck.org; Jeff Jarvis, a professor at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism; Christopher Jencks, a professor emeritus at Harvard University; Bart Knijnenburg, researcher on decision-making and recommender systems at Clemson University; James LaRue, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association; Jon Lebkowsky, web consultant, developer and activist; Mark Lemley, professor of law at Stanford University; Peter Levine, professor and associate dean for research at Tisch College of Civic Life; Mike Liebhold, senior researcher and distinguished fellow at the Institute for the Future; Sonia Livingstone, professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics; Alexios Mantzarlis, director of the International Fact-Checking Network; John Markoff, retired senior technology writer at The New York Times; Andrea Matwyshyn, a professor of law at Northeastern University; Giacomo Mazzone, head of institutional relations for the World Broadcasting Union; Jerry Michalski, founder at REX; Riel Miller, team leader in futures literacy for UNESCO; Andrew Nachison, founder at We Media; Gina Neff, professor at the Oxford Internet Institute; Alex ‘Sandy’ Pentland, member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the World Economic Forum; Ian Peter, internet pioneer, historian and activist; Justin Reich, executive director at the MIT Teaching Systems Lab; Howard Rheingold, pioneer researcher of virtual communities and author of “Net Smart”; Mike Roberts, Internet Hall of Fame member and first president and CEO of ICANN; Michael Rogers, author and futurist at Practical Futurist; Tom Rosenstiel, director of the American Press Institute; Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC; Paul Saffo, longtime Silicon-Valley-based technology forecaster; David Sarokin, author of “Missed Information: Better Information for Building a Wealthier, More Sustainable Future”; Henning Schulzrinne, Internet Hall of Fame member and professor at Columbia University; Jack Schofield, longtime technology editor and now columnist at The Guardian; Clay Shirky, vice provost for educational technology at New York University; Ben Shneiderman, professor of computer science at the University of Maryland; Ludwig Siegele, technology editor at The Economist; Evan Selinger, professor of philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology; Scott Spangler, principal data scientist at IBM Watson Health; Brad Templeton, chair emeritus for the Electronic Frontier Foundation; Richard D. Titus, CEO for Andronik; Joseph Turow, professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania; Stuart A. Umpleby, professor emeritus at George Washington University; Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of media studies and director of the Center for Media and Citizenship at the University of Virginia; Tom Valovic, The Technoskeptic magazine; Hal Varian, chief economist for Google; Jim Warren, longtime technology entrepreneur and activist; Amy Webb, futurist and CEO at the Future Today Institute; David Weinberger, senior researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society; Kevin Werbach, professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania; John Wilbanks, chief commons officer at Sage Bionetworks; and Irene Wu, adjunct professor of communications, culture and technology at George Washington University.

A brief selection of institutions at which respondents work or have affiliations:

Adroit Technologies, Altimeter Group, Amazon, American Press Institute, Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC), AT&T, BrainPOP, Brown University, BuzzFeed, Carnegie Mellon University, Center for Advanced Communications Policy, Center for Civic Design, Center for Democracy/Development/Rule of Law (CDDRL), Center for Media Literacy, Cesidian Root, Cisco, City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, Cloudflare, CNRS, Columbia University, comScore, Comtrade Group, Craigslist, Data & Society, Deloitte, DiploFoundation, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Farpoint Group, Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Fundación REDES, Future Today Institute, George Washington University, Google, Hackerati, Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Business School, Hewlett Packard (HP), Hyperloop, IBM Research, IBM Watson Health, ICANN, Ignite Social Media, Institute for the Future, International Fact-Checking Network, Internet Engineering Task Force, Internet Society, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Kenya Private Sector Alliance, KMP Global, LearnLaunch, LMU Munich, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Mathematica Policy Research, MCNC, MediaShift.org, Meme Media, Microsoft, Mimecast, Nanyang Technological University, National Academies of Sciences/Engineering/Medicine, National Research Council of Canada, National Science Foundation, Netapp, NetLab Network, Network Science Group of Indiana University, Neural Archives Foundation, New York Law School, New York University, OpenMedia, Oxford University, Packet Clearing House, Plugged Research, Princeton University, Privacy International, Qlik, Quinnovation, RAND Corporation, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Sage Bionetworks, Snopes.com, Social Strategy Network, Softarmor Systems, Stanford University, Straits Knowledge, Syracuse University, Tablerock Network, Telecommunities Canada, Terebium Labs, Tetherless Access, UNESCO, U.S. Department of Defense, University of California (Berkeley, Davis, Irvine and Los Angeles campuses), University of Michigan, University of Milan, University of Pennsylvania, University of Toronto, Way to Wellville, We Media, Wikimedia Foundation, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, World Broadcasting Union, W3C, Xerox’s PARC, Yale Law.

Complete sets of for-credit and anonymous responses can be found here: