To get a sense of what to expect in 2022, Tech Policy Press partnered with four other independent publications — Everything in Moderation, New_Public, Reboot, and the Information Ecologist — to ask a variety of individuals the same question:
What one idea, issue, person or event should people look out for in 2022?
Each publication covers a slightly different area related to technology and society, but the answers we received from across the world suggest some common concerns. To see the entire set, subscribe to each of the publications above. Here is a selection of responses:
The idea that we can use the multi-stakeholder approach to create content policies and regulation that are efficient and rights based seems like something we will see more in 2022. The Content Policy & Society Lab at Stanford University is the first initiative exploring how fostering dialogue and collaboration between Governments, Companies, Civil Society Organizations and Academia, globally, can lead to solutions to some of the major challenges posed by content online.
In 2022, consumers, creators, platforms and regulators are going to at the very least admit the importance of a fair, transparent and balanced governance of nudity and sexuality on the Internet. Although spaces for nudity and sex are shrinking due to FOSTA/SESTA, pressure from payment providers and platforms’ PR damage control, the backlash received by OnlyFans when the company announced it was going to ban adult content – and its almost immediate U-turn – highlighted a new understanding of the demand for online nude and sexual content, and of the dangers of banning it outright, affecting the lives and livelihoods of not only sex workers, but of users who use their body to work in digital spaces. While a solution for the regulation of various online harms will probably not be reached by 2022, we are coming to an understanding that Internet spaces cannot apply one-size-fits-all approaches to their governance without serious consequences.
The institutionalization of neoliberalized practices of “care” and “compassion,” which are often enacted, accommodated, and extended through the “flexibility” and “hybridity” made possible by digital technologies. It has become increasingly clear over the past two years that these qualities and conditions, naturalized as inherently virtuous, are instead means of transforming institutional and social problems into individual concerns that, we are told, can be addressed through unpaid affective (and often technologically mediated) labor.
People should look out for a dramatic rise in falsified content. With algorithms being able to write convincing news stories at a breathtaking pace, I can only imagine how much worse it will get. Can social media companies adequately figure out how to stop it, and will their efforts be enough to deter malicious actors from doing it anyways and finding ways around their policing? How long until deepfakes get put on TikTok, and the TikTok algorithm pushes that video towards people more likely to believe in its legitimacy? 2022 will be the first big test for people to counter near-personalized fake content online, and I have no clue whether we will succeed or fail.
Must-carry legislations. As more and more populist governments come to power around the world, they’d be looking to use social media fueled disinformation to consolidate their strong-hold. Must-carry legislations that compel social media platforms to carry speech, would appear to be a rather convenient tool for achieving this end. Texas and Florida have already tried to float some versions of these laws, Poland is reportedly planning somethings, and Bolsonaro in Brazil has already floated a decree that got junked. If news reports are to be believed, India’s Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) report on the Personal Data Protection (PDP) bill is going to include a similar clause.
The person to watch in 2022 is Jennie Rose Halperin. The librarian and longtime digital community builder is the executive director of Library Futures, an organization that launched this year. As Halperin puts it, Library Futures champions the “right to equitable access to knowledge” including wifi access, fair pricing for ebook licenses, data privacy and other concerns of library workers and library patrons alike. With Halperin’s thoughtful leadership, the organization has established itself in this short time as a crucial force in information and digital access. I’m excited to see what Halperin accomplishes next year.
Bread & Net – the Arab region’s preeminent digital rights conference! While the conference is for and by the region, it hosts speakers from all over the world (and hopefully will be back in person in Beirut soon enough) on a range of topics.
The further decentralization of organized extremist movements is something to watch in 2022. The continuation of the trend will produce new and more frustrating challenges to those who monitor and work against their negative impacts.
Keep an eye on the demolition derby in Congress. Will any vehicle for tech reform survive, or will partisan strife (intensified by social media) doom the idea of reining in the platforms?
More tech workers will hopefully demand accountability from their leadership to employees, the public, and democracy, building on the work of so many who have exposed the most harmful business practices in recent years. Tech talent can use their voices to demand more ethical, transparent and inclusive decision making or take their skills elsewhere. These are real choices and risks that everyone in the industry has to weigh, but tech workers can no longer tune out the so-called critics if they truly want to make a positive impact in the world. I am hopeful we will see more head the call.
People should keep an eye out for growing controversy about the Copyright Claims Board (CCB) as it gets up and running. Situated within the Copyright Office, this novel small-claims court has already faced significant opposition. Recently, the Copyright Office exercised its right to postpone the CCB’s operational debut, which was originally slotted for Dec. 27th. I expect concerns over the numerous constitutional issues surrounding the CCB’s opt-out process, lack of judicial review, and improper chain-of-command to intensify over the next 12 months.
Silver linings. I’m interested in whether there’s a way to leverage the potential collapse of democracy and neoliberalism for the good of the climate. I’m listening for which authoritarian or anarchic path may unintentionally reduce our energy consumption.
The Disinfo Defense League has been quietly building capacity and power for awhile now, “organizing to disrupt online racialized disinformation.” Look out to hear a lot more about their work next year, starting with the policy platform they just released with more than 35 organizations behind it.
An explosion of regulation, proposed regulation, regulatory threats… There’s barely a regulator in the world right now that’s not passing or drafting some law to deal with social media platforms. While the US Congress may not be able to stop yelling long enough to pass a bill anytime soon, other countries aren’t waiting and local laws can have global effects (I’m looking at you, EU!). The legal environment for platforms is about to fundamentally transform.
The FTC using its authority to roll back one of the corporate giga-mergers rushed through while they were staffing up their merger review division, making good on their promise and taking billions out of the shareholders who let management subvert the FTC’s authority.
Look out for #transparency. Policymakers and academics including e.g @RebekahKTromble @persily @TaberezNeyazi and more are doing the hard work of developing privacy-compliant, practical ways to ensure researchers get data access that will help make our societies more intelligible.
The hard question for the future of the social web is not ownership or control, as web3 folks are primarily focused on. It’s governance. How do communities decide what speech and conduct they allow? How do we handle rulebreakers? Is tokenized democracy a reasonable way to answer these questions, or should we learn from existing communities?
I hope Facebook will start treating developing markets on par with their developed counterparts and invest more resources in content moderation. Facebook should not be allowed to operate in a language for which they do not have content moderators.
Social media platforms have been in the news in 2021 for their role in affecting teen mental health and well-being. 2022 will be the year we keenly look at what these platforms do to respond to this emergent crisis, and ensure teens and youth find a supportive and welcoming platform to express themselves and construct their identities.
As the European Union moves forward both the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act, the UK continues developing its Duty of Care law, while the US marches toward another messy election where both parties compete to show their anti-big tech bona fides. Greater regulatory scrutiny of American tech companies in 2022 is an inevitability, and I predict it will develop to a hard law change, though the question remains open as to what form it will take and who will move first.
My prediction is that we will start to see new forms of physical and digital disruption aimed at making activities that use a lot of carbon, like luxury vacations, less popular to do. If governments can’t act fast enough to stave off carbon emissions, activists will find other ways to disincentivize that behavior.
2022 should mark the end of calling people “users” online. Calling individuals “users” falls to capture the complexity of a social media ecosystem that is both influenced by, and influencing, the people on its platform. HX (Human Experience) is a concept that may allow us to evolve in our approach toward technology, as it centers the discussion around the wellbeing of the humans (not the business). HXProject.org recently launched and All Tech Is Human will have a report around the concept on January 30. Let’s shift from UX to HX.
Digital sovereignty. The core idea is that countries should have a greater control over information, data, and technology services within their borders, and is a rebuke of dominant US-platforms and American approaches to “free speech”, privacy (as in, lack thereof), and intermediary liability protections. The growing backlash against surveillance capitalism also fuels the idea that we must develop alternatives to US-market driven behemoths. This idea resonates globally in populist authoritarian, post-colonial, and European countries alike. But it’s just as much at odds with the idea of an open- interoperable, secure internet as the private walled gardens created by Big Tech are. The vision of cyberspace existing beyond Westphalian borders is officially dead.
The ubiquity of ‘care’. From scarcity centered, new digital markets to the slow work of community building, ‘care’ will be everywhere. Now, more than ever, we all want care, to be cared for, or self-care. New and old platforms will appeal to that desire. It’s no coincidence that Meta’s recent event centered the joy of being “present with the people we care about”. Remember, discernment is a gift. What does caring do? Who asks us to care? Does ‘care’ cultivate life-affirming, underlying conditions that recognize the ecosystem we live in, or does it end at the boundary of the user?
Across Asia-Pacific, from India to Thailand and Indonesia to Australia, we have witnessed the tightening of internet freedom through new laws and policies, a trend that will continue in 2022. We are seeing attempts to strip away intermediary liability, force service providers and platforms to appoint local contact persons, impose over-broad data access requirements, and go after online anonymity and encryption. This is often framed in the language of national security or digital sovereignty. Through 2022, we should look out for opportunities to form new coalitions to confront the promulgation of such restrictive measures and the narratives that give rise to them.
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For more ideas and predictions, be sure to subscribe:
- Reboot (techno-optimism)
- New Public (digital public spaces)
- The Information Ecologist (information ecosystems)
- Everything in Moderation (content moderation)
- Tech Policy Press (technology and democracy)
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.