However, rapid, unfettered access to information and communication platforms does not always lead to positive outcomes. For example, hate speech and online bullying can have devastating effects on individuals and communities, while malicious actors have learned how to exploit global networks to spread misinformation and fake news. Information-sensitive complex systems, such as financial markets, can also exhibit unexpected and unpredictable behaviour that can have significant consequences, such as the flash crashes thought to be caused by automated microtrading programs.
As a result, there are increasing calls for more effective moderation of information content. Financial markets have built-in circuit breakers, for example, which are designed to prevent feedback effects spiralling out of control.15 Social networks have been less successful at preventing the way hate speech and misinformation can spread.
One possibility for the future is to introduce social circuit breakers that make it more difficult to retransmit social messages, thereby preventing thoughtless redistribution of questionable content.16 Another is to improve moderation practices and technologies. Indeed, Europe's Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act17 places a greater burden on social media companies to create safe spaces for their customers, although critics say it does not go far enough.18 There are suggestions that blockchain can be used to create a public consensus algorithm that assesses author reputation and the reliability of posted information and the reputation of its authors. This might result in the ability to monetise a good reputation and earn digital certifications of accuracy.
All this has to be balanced against the right to freedom of speech. This requires careful legal safeguards and constant monitoring. In places where free speech is curtailed, a number of technologies can help individuals circumvent censorship, one example being The Onion Router (Tor) network, which allows the transmission of encrypted messages for anonymous communication.19 Messages sent via Tor are difficult to decrypt and hard to track, providing important channels for information flow in autocratic regimes.
This is being opposed, in some regions, by authoritarian regimes using AI to turbocharge their means of repression — mass surveillance, face recognition and gait tracking, for example. Various other factors undermine the ability to communicate anonymously. Some governments claim that secure networks can be exploited by terrorists, and attempt to legislate against them. The networks themselves have shortcomings that can be exploited to reveal the content, such as the entry and exit points of the network, which are not encrypted. Then there is the emerging technology of quantum computing, which is likely to be used at a state level, and has the potential to break many conventional forms of encryption used by ordinary citizens. For this reason, many privacy advocates suggest that conventional encryption needs to be urgently replaced with forms that are resistant to quantum computing attacks.20