As someone who studies the impact of misinformation on society, I often wish the young entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley who enabled communication at speed had been forced to run a 9/11 scenario with their technologies before they deployed them commercially.
One of the most iconic images from that day shows a large clustering of New Yorkers staring upward. The power of the photograph is that we know the horror they’re witnessing. It is easy to imagine that, today, almost everyone in that scene would be holding a smartphone. Some would be filming their observations and posting them to Twitter and Facebook. Powered by social media, rumors and misinformation would be rampant. Hate-filled posts aimed at the Muslim community would proliferate, the speculation and outrage boosted by algorithms responding to unprecedented levels of shares, comments and likes. Foreign agents of disinformation would amplify the division, driving wedges between communities and sowing chaos. Meanwhile those stranded on the tops of the towers would be livestreaming their final moments.