Disinformation top risk as elections loom: Davos study

Published January 10, 2024
FILE PHOTO: Vehicles pass by a sign on a snowy day at the entrance of the town ahead of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland — Reuters
FILE PHOTO: Vehicles pass by a sign on a snowy day at the entrance of the town ahead of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland — Reuters

Misinformation and disinformation driven by artificial intelligence ahead of elections in major economies are the biggest global risks this year and next, the World Economic Forum (WEF) warned on Wednesday.

The organisation’s Global Risks Report 2024, released ahead of its annual meeting of political and business elites in Davos next week, also warns of the threats posed by climate change, the cost-of-living crisis and war.

“Misinformation and disinformation are biggest short-term risks, while extreme weather and critical change to Earth systems are greatest long-term concern,” the report said.

“Concerns over a persistent cost-of-living crisis and the intertwined risks of AI-driven misinformation and disinformation, and societal polarisation dominated the risks outlook for 2024,” it added.

The World Economic Forum also noted that “with several live conflicts under way, underlying geopolitical tensions and corroding societal resilience risk are creating conflict contagion”.

The WEF survey, produced with Zurich Insurance Group and consulting firm Marsh McLennan, took into account the views of more than 1,400 global risks experts, policymakers and industry leaders surveyed in September.

The report said that “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”.

It noted that close to three billion people were expected to vote in national elections over the next 24 months, including in major economies India, Indonesia, Mexico, the United Kingdom and United States.

The WEF warned that during that time, “the widespread use of misinformation and disinformation, and tools to disseminate it, may undermine the legitimacy of newly elected governments”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Middle East leaders will attend the Davos talks, which will be dominated by the Israel-Hamas crisis as well as the Ukraine conflict.

Argentina’s libertarian new president, Javier Milei, French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese Premier Li Qiang will also be among the headliners at the January 15-19 meeting in the Swiss Alps.

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