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The decoupling global economy is breeding misinformation, driving the world further apart

July 15, 2022, 4:30 PM UTC
Eric Curwin (left) is the CTO at Pyrra Technologies, which makes software to detect disinformation and other threats on the web. He shared insights at Fortune Brainstorm Tech 2022.
Michael Faas—Fortune

The decoupling of the world economy into two distinct blocs—the first aligned with the U.S. and the second aligned with China and Russia—is fueling the global misinformation crisis in more ways than one. Conflict between the two spheres is breeding misinformation, a weapon of modern-day warfare, and the fault line means any solution to address the global misinformation epidemic may only go so far.

“The world is at a great risk of dividing into economic spheres,” Marcus Brauchli, managing partner at North Base Media, said at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo. “Most companies in the world are going to tend to choose to be part of the U.S. bloc, but it’s going to change the way businesses work,” Brauchli said, explaining how from there, division may become more entrenched: “I do worry that if you don’t feel like your economy is affected by what’s happening the other guy’s economy, you’re maybe more willing to risk conflict with the other guy.” And misinformation only stands to fuel such conflict even further.

The proportion of Americans who are wary of the threat misinformation poses illustrates the urgency: A recent poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 61% of Americans say the spread of misinformation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a major problem—and only 7% say it’s not a problem at all.

Brauchli says today’s misinformation crisis, in which everyday people on the internet can bend reality to their will, demands that tech players devise new solutions, rather than rely on existing platforms to police the information that users share, said Eric Curwin, chief technology officer at Pyrra Technologies.

But any new solutions will also be subject to existing geopolitical tensions.

The “U.S. bloc has a lot more company-driven R&D,” Brauchli said. Those companies should be driven by economic opportunity—to serve as many markets as possible—but today’s regulatory environment reflects the fragmented globe, and bodies like the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) limit companies’ reach.

Alda Leu Dennis, a general partner at Initialized Capital, said her firm no longer does fundraising trips to China, and its portfolio companies cannot raise money from Chinese venture capital firms, given that the regulations are so strict and, at best, it’s extremely time-consuming for a deal to be completed.

“It’s really been a dramatic shift over the last decade from a conversation about collaboration and opportunity,” Dennis said, “to a conversation about competition.”

Technologists are clear-eyed that there’s no universal solution to what Curwin calls the “crisis of truth.” Instead, they are trying to make use of tools that can chip away at misinformation.

Vince Sollitto, head of global public affairs at Yelp, argues that crowdsourcing is one way to fact-check. He applied a relatively mundane analogy to illustrate the power of truth in numbers online: “If you see 20 reviews that say the bread is stale, the bread is stale,” he said. In his view, “it’s not that there’s any one specific source of truth—it’s really more about having enough data.”

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