Disinformation, the most serious global threat in 2024: the World Economic Forum report

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By John

Misinformation and disinformation are the most serious threat to the entire world: the lack or distortion of news is at the top of the Global Risks 2024 ranking, the global risks analyzed by the World Economic Forum report for the year that has just opened, while in the long term the alarm over environmental threats grows.

The meeting in Davos from today to January 19th

The World Economic Forum, committed to improving the condition of the world, is the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation. The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2024 is being held in Davos from today to January 19 for the 54th edition with the theme “Rebuilding Trust”, rebuilding trust to relaunch economic growth in an increasingly fragmented world shaken by wars that continue to spread uncertainty about the prospects. According to the organizers, it is the most complex year given the geopolitical situation which puts governments and economic actors under pressure. 60 heads of state and government were present (including the Ukrainian president Volodimyr Zelensky and the Israeli president Isaac Herzog, the US secretary of state Antony Blinken and all the prime ministers of the Middle Eastern countries, while Italy is represented by the Minister of Economic Development Giancarlo Giorgetti) together with the 2800 economic leaders and the 16 central bankers, who in over 200 panels will talk about economic issues and many others, starting from challenge of artificial intelligence, with Open AI CEO Sam Altman.

The slow erosion of human development

And precisely between the horizons of technological development and international geopolitical dynamics, also in terms of analysis of the scenarios of the next electoral consultations between Europe and the USA and beyond, there is the very serious alarm about disinformation, its worrying polarizing effect and the relationship with social tensions, highlighted by the Global Risks Report 2024, which based on nearly two decades of original risk perception data “signals a global risk landscape in which human development progress is slowly eroding, leaving states and individuals vulnerable to risks new and re-emerging. Against a backdrop of systemic shifts in global power dynamics, climate, technology and demographics, global risks are pushing the world’s ability to adapt to the limit.” According to the Global Risks Report 2024, “cooperation on pressing global issues may increasingly decline, requiring new approaches to addressing risks. Two-thirds of experts surveyed predict that a multipolar or fragmented, in which medium and large powers will compete and establish – or impose – new norms and new rules”.

Raise awareness and respond to global threats

The Global Risk Report is a pillar of the Forum’s Global Risk Initiative which aims to raise awareness and generate consensus on current global threats, so as to promote risk preparedness and resilience. The Global Risks Consortium, a group of business, government and academic leaders, “plays a critical role in transforming risk predictions into ideas for proactive action, as well as supporting leaders with the knowledge and tools needed to address emerging crises and create a more stable and resilient world”. The report, produced in collaboration with Zurich Insurance Group and Marsh McLennan, is based on the opinions of more than 1,400 global risk experts, policy makers and industry leaders, interviewed in September 2023. The results highlight a predominantly short-term global scenario negative, which is expected to worsen further in the long term. In fact, if 30% of survey participants predict a high probability of global catastrophes in the next two years, looking at the next 10 years, this figure reaches 2/3 of those interviewed. “An unstable global order, characterized by polarizing narratives and insecurity, the worsening impacts of extreme climate events and economic uncertainty are accelerating the development of some risks, such as those linked to misinformation and disinformation – declared Saadia Zahidi, managing director of the World Economic Forum – World leaders must come together to address short-term crises and at the same time lay the foundations for a more resilient, sustainable and inclusive future.”

THE RISK ANALYSIS IN THE DETAIL OF THE REPORT

Increase in misinformation and conflicts
Concerns about the continuing cost of living crisis and the interconnected risks of misinformation, disinformation and social polarization, fueled by AI, dominate the risk analysis for 2024. The nexus between falsified information and social tensions will take center stage at the elections to be held in several major economies over the next two years. Armed conflict between states is among the five main concerns for the next two years. With several ongoing conflicts, underlying geopolitical tensions and the risk of weakening social resilience are giving rise to conflict propagation.

Economic uncertainty and declining development
The coming years will be characterized by continued economic uncertainty and growing economic and technological gaps. Lack of economic opportunity is ranked sixth among the risks for the next two years. In the long term, barriers to economic mobility could increase, depriving large segments of the population of opportunities. Countries at risk of conflict or vulnerable to climate change could be increasingly excluded from investment, technologies and related job creation. In the absence of pathways to secure livelihoods, people may be more prone to crime, militarization or radicalisation.

A planet in danger
Environmental threats continue to dominate the risk landscape across all time horizons considered. Two-thirds of experts around the world are concerned about the possible occurrence of extreme weather events in 2024. These, combined with critical changes in Earth systems, the loss of biodiversity and the collapse of ecosystems, as well as the shortage of natural resources and pollution represent five of the ten biggest risks we believe we will face in the next decade.

Respond to risks with cooperation
The report calls on leaders to rethink strategies for addressing global risks, focusing global cooperative efforts on rapidly establishing mechanisms to protect against the most serious emerging risks, such as agreements to integrate AI into decision-making processes related to conflicts. However, the report also explores other types of actions, which do not have to depend exclusively on international cooperation, such as strengthening individual and state resilience through digital literacy campaigns on disinformation and information manipulation, or through promoting more intense research and development activities in the field of climate modeling and technologies capable of accelerating the energy transition, involving both the public and private sectors.