Our capacity to make sense of events crashed in 2020. New research shows how we coped, embraced a DIY ethos to find perspective.

On March 26, 2020, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) halted trading shares of Zoom Technologies. Volume in “ZOOM” transactions skyrocketed as did its valuation, increasing nearly seven-fold — from around $3 a share to more than $20 — in a month. The SEC’s statement said the company had no meaningful operations and had not reported financial results in five years. Somehow shares of a defunct company shot through the roof.

On the surface, this made no sense. Zoom’s growth was so extreme its market cap would eclipse the top six airlines combined. …


Beauty algorithms that mash fantasy with reality are a pervasive — and damaging — form of misinformation

In 1999 there was RateMyFace. The site allowed users to rate the attractiveness of photos submitted by others. In 2000, the idea took off with Hot or Not, which inspired social media sites like YouTube. Most famously, Mark Zuckerberg launched his spinoff and Facebook precursor, Facemash, for Harvard students in 2003. In 2007, BecauseImHot made the concept more toxic by deleting anyone with a rating below seven from the site. This all happened before algorithms infiltrated all aspects of our lives.

Appearance judgment is among those most engaging features on the most engaging apps. Instagram Explore pages determined which faces…


Imagine Zooming with a coworker and discussing confidential information, only to discover the person on the other end of the call is actually a bad actor using deepfake tech to impersonate your colleague.

A brighter hypothetical — imagine you need to quickly turn around content, so you generate high-quality photos or videos free of any privacy or copyright concerns at the click of a button.

One more. Imagine your boss calls you about transferring funds, but it’s really a scammer using deepfake tech to flawlessly imitate their voice.

In the case of all three examples, there’s a startup for that…


Integrating diverse expertise is necessary for business leaders to understand the risks, prepare for them.

This is the first essay in a series to help business leaders assess and improve their understanding of information disorders — with disinformation as just the tip of the iceberg. No longer relegated to political campaigns and fringe ideologies, new risks will emerge from a complex information supply chain.

***

In 1997, New Line Cinema released ‘Wag the Dog,’ an award-winning satire about building alternative media realities for political gain. The film’s plot revolves around manufacturing a foreign crisis to divert public attention from a presidential sex scandal. …


WallStreetBets isn’t a mob, hack, or saga. It’s an indicator of renewal and reinvention.

“In well-established democracies like the United States, democratic governance will continue its inexorable decline and will eventually fail.” This warning didn’t come from a populist-inspired Reddit message board. It’s a prediction from one of America’s leading social scientists, Shawn Rosenberg.

Rosenberg, who earned degrees at Yale, Oxford, and Harvard, predicted in 2019 that Western-style democracies would continue to shrink, and those remaining will become shells of themselves. Taking democracy’s place? Populist governments offering voters simple answers to complicated questions.

This forecast suggests others must figure out how to help the public take on more complex tasks, extending beyond politics to…


Human nature fuels mass movements, not the facts

In 1951, Princeton’s All-American tailback, Dick Kazmeier, landed on the cover of Time Magazine. The issue coincided with a football game between the undefeated Tigers and Dartmouth. From the opening kick-off to the final play, it was a rough, dirty game. Several players left due to injury, including Kazmier with a broken nose and mild concussion.

Observers from both sides said they had never seen such a disgusting exhibition of so-called “sport.” Both teams were guilty, yet the blame was a matter of intense debate. Fans from each side saw the same game through a different lens.

Two professors, Hadley…


With a majority of daily life spent online, upping Media IQ isn't just helpful— it’s essential.

Clay Shirky, one of the new media establishment’s preeminent seers, predicted long ago that the Internet would transform the way we see and experience the world. Unlike previous media upheavals, the Internet would overtake TV as the dominant medium and become our primary activity outside of sleeping and working.

While directionally correct, Shirky had it wrong. It’s now the primary way we spend our time — by a large margin. We spend more time online than working (by 130 percent) and sleeping (by more than 90 percent). …


Three #COVID19 crises are playing out in real time: Public health, economic and information. The information crisis, which impacts health and economic well-being, is least understood.

Case in point: Yesterday a NBC/WSJ poll said Americans believe the worst is yet to come. Yet, digging deeper into the numbers 56% say the virus will change their lives in only a small way or not at all. This figure tells a story of messages gone unheard, urgencies dismissed and masses unprepared for what’s to come.

Partisanship divides our collective perspective into distinct camps, even during a pandemic. The NBC/WSJ poll said 68%…


When the Internet gives feedback to brands, the hammer can be harsh.

A well-known example — when Peloton split the Internet with a benign holiday ad. Critics called it “unsettling,” “sexist” and “dystopian.” Others saw it as “normal,” “great PR’’ and viewed the outrage as creepier than the ad itself.

The raging conversation online led to massive international news with everyone from Oprah to Harper’s Bazaar to The New York Times weighing in. Given the gravity of issues making headlines, it’s surprising that a single ad for a niche product caused such a reaction.

While all this was happening I…


(Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

“Lions and tigers were kings of the jungle, then they wound up in cages. I believe the same will happen to us.”

This comment from Internet pioneer Josh Harris opens the documentary We Live in Public, a film about about loss of privacy in the digital age.

The film’s centerpiece is a surveillance-as-art-project shot in the late 90s, featuring more than 100 people living underground for a month in New York City. The bunker was equipped with food, drink and a fleet of webcams that captured a first-of-its-kind, live stream experiment. …

Chris Perry

Chief Innovation Officer, Weber Shandwick

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