Sunday, January 27, 2013

Social Networks, Global Risks and Another Annual Davos Gathering

Last week, the World Economic Forum hosted its annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland, an event known for its mix of panel discussions, photo opportunities and rapid-fire meetings among some of the world’s wealthiest and/or politically connected individuals.  In addition,  research publications such as “Global Risks 2013” and “Global Agenda 2013” are released.
  • In the areas of global risk, concerns and potential impacts that were highlighted included: 1) widening income disparity, 2) an unstable global economy, 3) chronic fiscal imbalances, 4) rising greenhouse gas emissions,5) natural resource shortages, 6) mismanagement of population ageing, 7)  economically driven social unrest and 8) diffusion of weapons of mass destruction.
  • Social network dynamics were addressed as well, and it was noted that “The scale and speed of information creation and transfer in today’s hyperconnected world are… historically unparalleled. Facebook has reached more than 1 billion active users in less than a decade of existence, while Twitter has attracted over 500 million active users in seven years Sina-Weibo, China’s dominant micro-blogging platform, passed 400 million active accounts in summer 2012. Every minute, 48 hours’ worth of content is uploaded to YouTube." 
  • A positive example of social networking’s transformative effects was “studies of Twitter and Facebook activity in Egypt and Tunisia leave no doubt about the role social media played in facilitating the Arab Spring.” A potentially troubling example was “as Hurricane Sandy battered New York in October 2012, an anonymous Twitter user tweeted that the New York Stock Exchange trading floor was flooded by three feet of water. Other Twitter users quickly corrected the false rumor, though not before it was reported on CNN.”
  • Regarding global risks - while most of these concerns have been documented elsewhere, these reports suggests there is a broadening consensus regarding these concerns among many global players.  At the same time, with many Davos attendees classified as ultra-rich, the topics of income disparity and economically driven unrest highlight the irony of the gathering.
  • Regarding social networking dynamics – while the commercial players in this market may change over time, the momentum of globally shared information and misinformation will likely continue to accelerate.  As a result, we should keep in mind a phrase popularized by U.S. President Ronald Reagan - “Trust, but verify.”

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