Consider an astounding fact. Within three years, the number of devices connected to IP networks will be nearly three times as high as the global population, according to CISCO.
In a hyperconnected world, where news can be captured and communicated as quickly as it is created, that can spell trouble. It’s easy to see how a digital wildfire — the viral spread of information, misinformation or disinformation via the Internet and social media — can wreak havoc on any organisation, government, or system, in the blink of an eye.
The interwoven technological fabric known as the World Wide Web is a flammable substance, indeed. And while not all incidences of fast-spreading, unfiltered information are necessarily negative — we’ve seen recent examples of the widespread use of technology to spread messages of reform and effect positive social change — digital wildfires, whether accidental or deliberate, are often disruptive.
They’re also becoming more frequent, and more consequential. Beyond the immediate economic and geopolitical damage, digital wildfires can have a longstanding, corrosive effect on basic trust. The World Economic Forum (WEF), which highlighted the phenomenon in its Global Risks 2013 report, is now calling for new thinking to prevent “digital disintegration” — a large-scale loss of trust in the Internet.
Inasmuch as we define resilience as the ability to adapt to changing conditions, withstand shocks and bounce back to equilibrium, it’s clear that resilient organisations have a vital interest in creating strategies for dealing with these hard-to-control wildfires. This is especially true when you consider that we operate in a technological environment that is far from an orderly, globally regulated system.
Which is why this article, by PwC’s John Regas and Beth Cartier, is so timely. While it may seem almost an impossible challenge to put the genie of disinformation back in the bottle, there are, in fact, several concrete steps organisations, and market actors collectively, can take before, during and after a widespread panic, to prevent, extinguish — or at least, contain — the damage of a digital wildfire.
There is no doubt that technology, by making information instantly accessible across cultures, geographies and jurisdictions, has both increased the good of global connection and amplified the risks of fast-spreading false information and malicious rumours.
John and Beth’s fascinating piece lays down the background, the latest global developments, and the best practices you can follow in building digital firewalls. So that the next time somebody yells “Fire!” in a crowded Web, your organisation doesn’t have to be the one getting trampled.
I encourage you to read this important article, and to share your own thoughts and experiences in the Comments section.