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What to expect the next 18 months
A look at how technology and politics will drastically change the world and where we might be in 2025
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A quick housekeeping note before we get started. I’m heading to Yellowstone next week with my family, so there won’t be a Wednesday newsletter, but I’ll still put out the calendar and What I’m Reading.
Last week, I shared my Q2 trends report looking back on all that had happened between April and most of July. Today, I want to share another document I’ve been working on - a look forward to the next 18 months.
You might remember me sharing this picture a few weeks ago, where I started mapping out all the aspects I was thinking about regarding technology and politics through 2024. There were so many things I had a hard time figuring out how to put it into a coherent document.
We know that the next 18 months and beyond will bring much change to the world – much of that driven by technological advances. A massive number of elections, an increasingly polarized environment, newer platforms, and economic challenges will make navigating those changes more challenging. But change also allows organizations to pivot and get ahead of the curve to prepare for the new normal coming at us.
Here is my look at the current state of play of where we are now and some thoughts looking ahead. I also share additional topics I want to dive deeper into.
Current State of Play
This is a volatile time, and much will change over the next 18 months. Here’s a look at where things stand:
Legacy tech companies (Meta, Microsoft, Google/YouTube): This time period reminds me of the first half of 2017. Platforms and the rest of the world were still reeling from the electoral shocks of 2016 – especially Brexit and Trump – and trying to figure out how they would pivot. Today, these platforms are adjusting to the layoffs from the last eight months, the rapid rise and attention to artificial intelligence, and new regulatory pressures. Many have rolled back the policies enacted around COVID and the 2020 elections. Some are just looking ahead to 2024, though many haven’t yet.
X (Formerly Twitter): It’s hard to put Twitter/X in the same category anymore as the legacy tech companies, given the large-scale changes they’ve gone under since Elon Musk took over in late October. Musk is unpredictable in his decision-making, often contradicting his previous words. Twitter continues to have some impact – especially on journalists and political insiders – but it’s unclear what this will look like in the long term. The new CEO, Linda Yaccarino, has just started, though it’s unclear how much decision-making power she’ll have.
Newer tech platforms (Substack, NextDoor, Bluesky, Discord, Twitch): People are no longer just using legacy platforms to communicate with friends and get their news and information. The world has become much more decentralized, with numerous newer platforms with different models gaining traction. Substack is mostly about newsletters but recently launched its own Twitter-like feature called notes. NextDoor provides hyperlocal information. Bluesky, Mastodon, Post.News, T2, and numerous other apps are trying to be Twitter replacements. Discord found itself in the news when classified documents were shared on their platform, and Twitch is becoming an increasingly popular video-sharing site. Moreover, you also have the rise of platforms specifically catering to the right, such as the video site Rumble - which is a partner for the first GOP primary debate in August. Finally, platforms like Threads launched only in July 2023 and, in under a week, had 100 million sign-ups.
These platforms are facing some challenges on content moderation, data privacy, political ads, and other issues for the first time. They are less resourced and often less familiar with the global landscape. Many of the people working at them, though, have come from legacy companies and might be familiar with how partnering with IRI can be helpful to them.
U.S. Politics: Republicans – led by Representative Jim Jordan – have narrowed in on how companies, government, civil society, and academia have partnered in recent years to fight mis and disinformation online. Viewing much of this as censorship and buoyed by the release of the Twitter files, they have embarked on a deep and lengthy investigation. While other issues may take precedence occasionally, we can expect a microscope on this work – especially in the US.
Supreme Court: This year, the Supreme Court has started to weigh in on technology issues by ruling in favor of the platforms and their Section 230 protection in the cases of Gonzalez v Google and Twitter v Taamneh.
Federal Courts: A Louisiana judge ordered the Federal government from engaging with social media companies about protected speech. The Fifth Circuit has stayed that order until arguments can be held.
Geo-politics: Across the rest of the world, countries are taking a variety of steps in regard to information integrity online, including:
Banning Apps: In the last eight months, there’s been a lot of conversation about the threat of Chinese apps such as TikTok, and many governments have banned its use on official devices. Some places, such as Montana, have banned it for everyone, but questions on how that will be enforced and if it is constitutional remain.
Regulation: Europe has begun implementing the Digital Services Act and Digital Marketing Act. The Online Services Act is likely to pass in the United Kingdom this summer. Brazil is also working on its own fake news law. Other countries such as Turkey, India, and Indonesia already have problematic legislation that many worry could be used to silence minority voices. Platforms are blocking news sites in Canada pending regulation, forcing platforms to pay news organizations for their content. On top of all this, many of these places are now looking at how to regulate artificial intelligence.
In addition to regulating these services inside their own countries, increasingly countries and regions are having to negotiate how to handle these issues across borders – such as the U.S. and Europe are working on in regards to data transfers.
Campaigning: The digital tools political parties and campaigns use continue evolving. In the United States, there’s been a shift from social media platforms to streaming services. AI is already being used to generate ads and other fake images. Consultants are excited about using AI to generate speeches and other content at a fraction of the time and cost. Platforms are varied in their approach to political ads - with some banning them altogether. Podcasting - and being on podcasts - is increasingly becoming a part of a candidate’s media strategy.
Civil Society: Civil society partners remain frustrated at the reduction in support staff at the legacy platforms due to layoffs - especially while concerns remain about issues on content moderation, foreign interference, etc. They are in the dark about what support they might have going into the 2024 elections while also trying to get up to speed on how new technologies, such as AI, will affect their work.
Academia: Academic institutions focusing on election issues are facing numerous threats, including being bombarded with FOIA requests and Congressional ones like the Jordan inquiries. Many worry this will have a chilling effect on this work.
Media: The media continues to struggle with how to handle candidates like Donald Trump. CNN hosted a town hall with him that was widely criticized. Meanwhile, layoffs continue to happen across the industry and local media continues to dwindle.
Expect two shifts regarding tech companies in the next 18 to 24 months.
The first is happening now. The next few months until the Fall will likely be quiet. People are on vacation, the companies are still figuring out their new structures post layoffs, and they haven’t started doing any 2024 planning yet.
Once Fall arrives, things will pick up again. Over the course of 2024, the companies will pivot quite a bit as the various elections happen and we’ll see more activity.
The second will come after the 2024 U.S. election in November. This will be another natural period of recalibration depending on the winners of the elections, what topics are top of mind for people, and where the needs have shifted. How things are recalibrated will depend greatly on who wins the U.S. election.
Some topics, such as artificial intelligence and cross-border negotiations on data and good tech regulation, will remain. However, I expect a shift from programs that have a content-specific focus for fighting mis and disinformation - meaning focusing on what posts actually say - to who the actors are posting it and their behavior. I also expect the conversation to continue around transparency and oversight. 2025 will be a time when the U.S. finally passes tech regulation (I think they’ll be forced to due to disparate state laws and Supreme Court rulings). Tech issues will be a key geo-political issue as countries continue negotiating how platforms can operate across borders.
We can also expect some new, dominant tech players to have emerged in addition to the legacy platforms of Meta, Google, and Microsoft.
I can only guarantee that life in 2025 will look very different than it does today. I don't know what that will look like, as so many factors will play off each other differently as we work toward and through 2024. As I write this, former President Donald Trump has been indicted for the third time. He is also well ahead of his Republican rivals in recent polls and tied with Biden. Many of those trials will happen in the middle of the election.
Over the coming weeks and months, I hope to explore more of these factors, including:
Key themes and why they matter for the next 18 months including AI, transparency, internet shutdowns, changing media landscape, tech as an issue on the campaign trail, impact of the Jordan inquiry, and suits like Musk's against civil society, which elections might be ignored but shouldn't be, etc
Various pieces of state legislation to watch.
The US court cases to watch.
Important stakeholders across media think tanks, academia, companies, and other influencers
The opportunities and risks for the next 18 months across these stakeholders
What these stakeholders are talking about and working on
Digital campaigning trends
Where tech platforms will need help when it comes to elections/politics. Basically, questions they should be asking themselves.
An analysis of how platforms' approaches have changed over the years regarding politics and what we might expect.
Future of jobs in trust and safety/tech and democracy
What life post-2024 might look like including:
What if Trump wins?
What if a Republican, not Trump, wins?
What if a Dem wins?
Red team what 2025 looks like and the risks we are facing
What does the new global order look like?
The 2025 Congress?
2025 state legislatures?
Elections in 2025-2029
The emergence of tech diplomacy and what does that mean?
The future of media
What did I miss? What are you watching over the next 18 months? Let me know!
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