In its annual ranking of global threats, the World Economic Forum has declared that the top issues endangering the world are misinformation and disinformation. 

The WEF Global Risks Report 2024 is the 19th iteration of the organization’s annual threat rankings. 

Released just a week before global leaders head to Davos, Switzerland for the WEF annual meeting summit, misinformation and disinformation jumped to the top spot, ahead of extreme weather events, war, terrorist attacks and inflation. 

“Emerging as the most severe global risk anticipated over the next two years, foreign and domestic actors alike will leverage misinformation and disinformation to further widen societal and political divides,” the report reads. 

The WEF warned that the use of false information would “undermine the legitimacy” of governments which could result in unrest and civil conflict. 

“Beyond elections, perceptions of reality are likely to also become more polarized, infiltrating the public discourse on issues ranging from public health to social justice,” the report reads.  

“In response to mis- and disinformation, governments could be increasingly empowered to control information based on what they determine to be ‘true.’ Freedoms relating to the internet, press and access to wider sources of information that are already in decline risk descending into broader repression of information flows across a wider set of countries.”

Several developed nations have already taken steps to legislate government control over the online realm, including in Canada, where the Liberal government has pledged to introduce laws which would sanction “online hate” even to the point of criminality. 

True North will be heading to WEF to cover this year’s summit, which starts Monday.

The WEF blames recent advancements in AI technology like Chat GPT and their widespread availability for the spike in concern. 

In the report, authors commend countries like China for their “nascent regulation” of generative AI. 

“For example, requirements in China to watermark AI-generated content may help identify false information, including unintentional misinformation through AI hallucinated content,” the report reads. 

“Even as the insidious spread of misinformation and disinformation threatens the cohesion of societies, there is a risk that some governments will act too slowly, facing a trade-off between preventing misinformation and protecting free speech, while repressive governments could use enhanced regulatory control to erode human rights.” 

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