Davos 2024: Deepfakes, wars, climate change and sluggish economy will hurt global resilience: Reports

With close to three billion people expected to vote in polls in several economies over the next two years, the trend of fake videos, misinformation and disinformation may have disturbing consequences.

Shefali Rekhi

Shefali Rekhi

Asia News Network

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File photo of a man looking through social media for news. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

January 15, 2024

SINGAPORE – Two days before Taiwan voted for its new president, fake videos featuring President Tsai Ing-wen added more turbulence to an already tense election environment.

These videos, made using artificial intelligence-generated voiceovers and fake show hosts, seemed to be based on a 300-page document – replete with false content and rumours – titled The Secret History Of Tsai Ing-wen, published online in December.

If deleted or banned, the videos would promptly reappear on various social platforms, a report in the Taipei Times said.

This was not the first instance of Taiwan’s torrid election campaign period being marred by attempts at misinformation.

Two weeks ago, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Lo Chih-cheng called on the Investigation Bureau to probe a manipulated sex video circulating online that featured his likeness.

Another fake video showed United States congressman Rob Wittman promising military support for Taiwan if two DPP candidates were to win Saturday’s election. The video was debunked by AFP’s Fact Check service.

Misinformation and disinformation, particularly AI-enabled campaigns, will be the biggest short-term risks, the World Economic Forum (WEF) said in its latest Global Risks Report released on Jan 10.

With close to three billion people expected to vote in polls in several economies over the next two years – among them India, Indonesia, the US, Britain and Pakistan – this trend may have disturbing consequences.

Growing distrust may undermine the legitimacy of newly elected governments, leading to violent protests, hate crimes, and civil confrontation and terrorism, WEF warned.

Together with misinformation and disinformation, extreme weather events, societal polarisation, cyber insecurity, interstate armed conflict and the lack of economic opportunity will severely impact the world’s state of affairs in the near term.

The report’s findings are based on the views of 1,400 global risk experts, policymakers and industry leaders who were surveyed in September 2023.

Those polled voted for extreme weather as the top risk “to present a material crisis” on a global scale in 2024, with the warming phase of El Nino projected to persist till May. It will exacerbate extreme weather and climate events, such as heatwaves, floods and droughts.

This is also seen as the second-most severe risk over a two-year timeframe, while environment-related issues will be a bigger risk over a 10-year time span.

WEF’s latest risks report predicts a continuing phase of global disorder that will be characterised by polarised narratives amid economic uncertainty and rapid technological change.

The report presents a picture of a confounding global landscape in which progress in human development is “being chipped away slowly, leaving states and individuals vulnerable to new and resurgent risks”.

This comes as the world is looking to rebound from shocks of previous years caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Russia-Ukraine tensions and, most recently, tensions in the Middle East.

The report was released ahead of the Forum’s Davos 2024 meeting, taking place from Jan 15 to Jan 19, with this year’s theme being “Rebuilding Trust”. It is one of several reports being released by WEF and other global organisations focused on tracking the global outlook ahead of the meeting.

Emphasising the need for more conversations, WEF managing director Mirek Dusek pointed to “deep transformations taking place all around us”. “(It is) acute underinvestment in dialogue that has led us to the geopolitical depression of today,” he said during an online briefing for the media.

Separately, risk advisory firm Eurasia Group assessed the No. 1 risk for the world is “the United States versus itself” in a year of “grave concern”.

The US presidential election will worsen the country’s political dysfunction, testing American democracy to a degree the nation has not experienced in 150 years and undermining US credibility on the global stage, it noted.

“Partisan bitterness will increase in the run-up to the election,” noted Eurasia Group founder and president Ian Bremmer.

From the moment Donald Trump secures his party’s presidential nomination, he will hijack Republican and US politics, Mr Bremmer said. “Even the most reluctant of Republicans in Congress – and most conservative media, activist groups, and monied interests – will fall in line behind him.”

The outcome of the election will have profound implications for the world’s security, stability and economic outlook, with the results having diplomatic and security implications across the Indo-Pacific and Eastern Europe, as well as the Middle East, Eurasia Group said.

Meanwhile, the World Bank in a report earlier last week said the global economy is set to see its slowest half-decade growth in 30 years.

Although the global economy is in a slightly better place with the risk of a global recession having receded, mounting geopolitical tensions present “fresh near-term hazards for the world economy”, it added.

Still, a sense of optimism about the state of affairs is reflected in WEF’s new Global Cooperation Barometer developed in partnership with McKinsey, which shows that global cooperation has shown signs of strength during the past decade.

McKinsey’s global managing partner, Mr Bob Sternfels, said: “We’ve seen progress in collaboration across multiple areas, with special cause for optimism on climate and nature, and breakthroughs in frontier technologies that draw on global contributions to innovation.”

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