Will the Digital Public Sphere Become More Civil by 2035?

January 2022
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Worries over the toxic tone and manipulations of social media — and how technology companies encourage such problems — have tech activists pushing for online spaces to be redesigned in ways that facilitate debate, enhance civility and provide personal security, Pew Research Center reports.

For a new study, “The Future of Digital Spaces and Their Role in Democracy,” Pew teamed with Elon University to ask technology innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists whether they expect the digital public sphere to evolve in ways that significantly serve the public good by 2035. Sixty-one percent said yes, and 39 percent said no.

Seventy percent said current technological evolution has both positive and negative aspects. Eighteen percent said digital spaces are evolving in a mostly negative way that’s likely to create a worse future for society, 10 percent said the online world is evolving in a mostly positive way likely to lead to a better society, and about 3 percent said digital spaces are not evolving in one direction or another.

Those who were canvassed predicted that legislation and regulation of digital spaces will expand. Some argued that too much government regulation of technology could stifle innovation and free speech, empowering authoritarian governments to punish dissidents under the guise of “fighting misinformation.” 

Respondents who doubt the digital democratic sphere will significantly improve anytime soon argued that digital networks will continue to “amplify human frailties and magnify malign human intent.”

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