Manufacturing evidence to support or discredit collective action has never been so easy. Casting doubt on legitimate movements, enhancing the reach of divisive factions, manufacturing false collective action: Governments’ appetite for these methods is increasing, and the arsenal of digital tools and techniques facilitating them is rapidly expanding. With increasingly sophisticated deepfakes on the horizon and an always-expanding set of new formats to consume and share materials, disproving dangerous claims before they reach critical mass is going to be an extraordinarily challenging game of cat and mouse. Events in Syria unfortunately offer a lens into such techniques, with manufactured evidence routinely being used to discredit humanitarian actors on the ground, as well as to obscure facts and war crimes surrounding the conflict.

In the very near future, a digital take on old-school double-agent tactics will be used to further erode trust in collective action. We can expect to see a new wave of “false flag operations” where the opposition plants bots and trolls within true grassroots movements in order to publicly denounce those movements as “fake.” This will further muddy the waters and discredit collective action.

Governments already have all the technology and incentives they need to keep eroding trust in online movements, to fabricate fake uprisings, and to silence and intimidate their opponents. We should worry as much about ensuring we continue to believe in true collective action as we worry about fake news.

This story is part of What Happens Next, our complete guide to understanding the future. Read more predictions about the Future of Fact.

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