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Chaos or Connection? The Global Media and Information Landscape in 2035

By the GGF 2035 Global Futures of Media and Information Working Group

During the scenario construction process, our working group embarked on a collective thought experiment to explore how the global media and information landscape might change over the next 15 years. In doing so, we considered the following questions: How will the media and information landscape appear in the year 2035? What, if any, regulations for social media platforms will be in place? And who will impose and enforce them? Who will control global data flows? How will the global state of media literacy and freedom of speech evolve? How will forces like nationalism and populism develop? What will the geopolitical balance between states look like, and how will it influence media actors and the distribution of and access to information?

As part of this thought process, we identified six so-called key uncertainties that we foresee shaping the future of media and information through 2035:

  1. Freedom of Speech;
  2. Social Media Platform Regulation;
  3. Digital and Media Literacy;
  4. Nationalism and Populism;
  5. Geopolitical Balance between States;
  6. Data Flows and Sovereignty.

These ideas were then condensed into two scenarios: a ‘pleasant’ and an ‘unpleasant’ one. In both scenarios, we opted for exploring future trajectories where overall freedom of speech is high, with people free to say anything and distribute their statements and content to wide audiences. We define freedom of speech as the ability of individuals to express an opinion without prior restraint. Both scenarios also explore a future in which neither states nor private-sector actors are responsible for regulating platforms (meaning that, in this world, such controls are not centrally planned and vertically imposed). We define social media platform regulations as a set of norms and laws, both externally and internally imposed, which determine and influence the rights and responsibilities of social media platforms and their users. This includes content-related regulation, algorithms, privacy, and international data flows.

Table 1: Key Uncertainties and Respective Projections for a Pleasant (Green) and Unpleasant (Red) Future of the Global Media and Information Landscape
Ggf media projections table 01

Scenario I (“Disaster Delivers Disconnection”) outlines a future in which media literacy and freedom of speech are high, so people can say whatever they want and have their content distributed widely. It is users who drive social media platform regulations, not states or private companies. Advances in technology and developments such as deepfakes are not mirrored by sufficient improvements in the average user's media literacy. Nationalism and populism are high, but the nation state itself is in decline. Power has shifted to other entities like big tech companies, cities and other alternative (often regional) institutions. There are no formal rules governing data flows and issues of data sovereignty, but widespread economic and infrastructural collapse and the continued rise of authoritarianism mean that data is not exchanged freely.

Scenario II (“The Enlightened Communities”) also explores a future in which media literacy and freedom of speech are high and regulations of social media platform regulations are user-driven. However, in this scenario, multilateral organizations enable international cooperation on issues related to media and access to information, while regional alliances also exist, based on shared values and interests. Nationalism and populism have been replaced by cosmopolitanism and multilateralism. A host of widely shared rules and investments in infrastructure enable a free and unhampered exchange of data on a global scale.

Scenario I: Disaster Delivers Disconnection

It is the year 2035, and the nation state is in decline around the world. In fact, some states have all but faded – the combined result of aging societies, economic stagnation, and political fragmentation. Incapable of reversing these trends and satisfying their citizens’ needs, most states have become less – rather than more – resilient regarding various disasters. In some cases, traditional states have already been de facto replaced by regional governments, including powerful cities, communities and private entities that have formed or “broken off” in response to these new realities. However, the nation state’s decline has not spelled the end of nationalism and populism. Conversely, in most parts of the world, nationalist and right-wing populist sentiments (including anti-elitism and religious extremism) have only surged over the past 15 years. Assembled around like-minded political narratives, polarization has only advanced, as has people’s desire to create their own communities devoid of “opposing” parties. International organizations have proven incapable of complementing the role of the nation state. Traditional media outlets have long forfeited a wide readership to free online news, forcing many publications to fold altogether. Some have merged with large corporations, resulting in a loss of editorial independence and, thus, readership.

To some degree, the power vacuum left by dysfunctional or paralyzed states has also been filled by large corporations, whose power has significantly increased over the past decades. Old geopolitical paradigms preoccupied with the power balance between states are no longer prevalent. By the mid-2030s, global power is distributed and disputed primarily between tech companies, cities and some supra-national or regional organizations.

By 2035, virtual reality and advanced deepfakes have become widely accessible and heavily employed by both media organizations and individuals. Credit: David McNew (via Getty Images)

By 2035, virtual reality and advanced deepfakes have become widely accessible and heavily employed by both media organizations and individuals. Credit: David McNew (via Getty Images)

Technological advancements have produced ever more sophisticated platforms and formats for the distribution and consumption of information. Virtual reality (VR) and advanced deepfakes have become widely accessible and heavily employed by both media organizations and individuals. However, digital and media literacy around the world has not improved quickly enough to match the rapid pace of technological change. Tech is always one step ahead, as capitalist competition to monetize information has only accelerated the exploitation of technology. Most individuals’ skills are woefully insufficient to navigate the global media and information landscape. This literacy gap, in combination with high freedom of speech levels (meaning people are generally able to say anything and distribute their content to a wide audience) and the decline of traditional institutions, has further fueled overall mistrust in information.

Because most individuals cannot discern who to believe anymore, they often remain in their own information bubbles – both offline and online. These so-called echo chambers of the late 2010s and early 2020s have developed into completely sealed-off information environments. Hate speech and other extremist and divisive content is rampant online. In addition, some states are notorious for political censorship, which plays a key role in the silencing of certain views and opinions.

In 2035, there are no rules governing the global exchange of data. However, the continued rise of the remaining authoritarian nation states and widespread economic disparities have already hampered cross-border data flows. In addition, the world is still grappling with the aftermath of a large-scale hurricane in 2025, which caused massive infrastructure damage and effectively brought global data exchanges to a standstill.

Media timeline 1 updated 01

Picture of the Future: The Year 2035

By 2035, disruptive macro-level shifts – such as demographic changes in the most advanced economies, a global economic recession linked to the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and its dramatic effects on public debt, and political fragmentation linked to the collapse of many governments’ actual and symbolic authority – have severely weakened most nation states and other established institutions. Because they failed to coordinate an effective, global vaccination campaign during the novel coronavirus pandemic, international organizations suffer from public mistrust and a reputation for inefficiency, which has resulted in a general lack of clear, decisive policies and concerted regulations to address major global challenges. Inequality has become even more extreme, and the resulting uncertainty has led to festering frustration and mistrust, especially toward the media. As people have retreated further into their online and offline bubbles, shared public discourse has become all but impossible. Individuals cannot discern what to believe anymore, and nationalist and populist sentiments are at an all-time high. The wealthier have self-organized into small, gated communities, be they physical (for example, Cape Town after its secession from South Africa) or digital, with like-minded users sharing the same core values and political beliefs convening in online “enclaves” and isolating themselves from outside opinions.

Newly established social credit systems, which are based on individual digital scores, have filled some of the regulatory and governance gaps in spheres where the state is now mostly absent. These social credit systems were first piloted and implemented throughout the 2010s and 2020s by tech giants such as Alibaba and Facebook, which expanded their roles in users’ lives by providing an ever-increasing variety of social, financial, commercial, and informational services. Because these corporations own the infrastructure, technology and data required to monitor their users’ social activities and individual behaviors, they could swiftly and smoothly implement digital scoring systems. For many people, access to employment and a sustainable income now hinge on a “good” social score, which has further heightened inequality. As a form of self-regulation, individual digital scores also facilitate freedom of speech: there are no direct laws governing expression in the virtual realm. Instead, people are free to express themselves and share their content and information widely – so long as their activities fall within a certain range that guarantees a sufficient score. Each digital score provider has its own set of rules on freedom of speech, and users’ scores vary depending on whether they adhere to these rules or not.

Social credit systems have incentivized migration, as people move to improve their scores or escape the consequences of negative scores. Credit: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg (via Getty Images)

Social credit systems have incentivized migration, as people move to improve their scores or escape the consequences of negative scores. Credit: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg (via Getty Images)

“Traditional” media and forms of communication have become mostly irrelevant, but they still exist, as negative scores frequently result in platforms blocking individual social media accounts. The emergence of social credit systems has also incentivized migration related to scores: the number of so-called digital nomads – people living off the grid – is steadily growing, as people move between regions and communities to improve their scores or escape the consequences of negative scores. This kind of uprooted lifestyle has become increasingly popular. In contrast, communities and cities frequently reject climate migrants, political asylum-seekers and other expatriates due to poor digital scores.

Cyberattacks and major climate change-related disruptions of internet access have become a normal part of everyday life. New apps anticipating or guarding against such attacks launch regularly, and major cyberattack predictions accompany the daily weather forecast. Control of global data flows has become a key power factor: cyber conflicts are now mostly waged over access to this means of global influence.

Diary: A Day in 2035

7:00 – Waking Up with a Backup Alarm

The network went down overnight, and my alarm fell out of sync with the time. Luckily, we are now all used to maintaining a secure back-up network.

7:15 – Listening to the Cyberattack Forecast

When I opened my smart fridge to prepare breakfast, it announced another “monkey attack” in Singapore. This is already the third one this month. But I don’t know what is true and what’s fake anymore, so I just continue going about my day.

8:30 – Scanning the Digital Score for Office Entry

My company recently introduced a digital checkpoint for “employee safety” reasons. There are lots of questions, though, about the motives for this. My colleagues and I think it’s because of a Malaysian from Kuala Lumpur who is anti-China. Rumors are swirling on social media, which makes me think that the main purpose of the checkpoint is primarily to surveil rather than protect us.

9:00 – Strategic Meeting on Pew Project

A big strategy meeting today: we’re trying to figure out how to recruit study participants from a few communities around the world and to convince people to travel to Singapore for their treatment. The rub is that we can’t even get a few terabyte of liquid biopsy sequence data from them unless they deliver it to us on a drive.

13:00 – Lunch Delivery to the Office

I tried to order my lunch through a new food delivery service, but they rejected me because my Digital Score isn’t high enough for them to accept me as a customer. I had to ask my colleague to order food for me through his account.

14:00 – Meeting About Travel Logistics Continues

Our meeting continues. Getting people across the border requires their Digital Score, which means they must log the fact that they have cancer in the first place... which traps us in a big Catch-22.

16:30 – Preparing for a Cyberattack

When I peer out from the office window, I realize that the VR info board across the street forecasts a regional disruption of the network for tomorrow. Another cyberattack. I need to confirm within the team which back-up network to use when it strikes.

19:00 – Dinner with Friends at the Underwater Restaurant

I head to dinner with friends at an interesting new underwater restaurant. The water helps keep temperatures down, and available land mass has become so rare that these floating spots have become really trendy. My friends inform me of their plan to move to the new community in South Africa, where “digital apartheid” is becoming a buzzword. Apparently, this new community provides children with a better Digital Score, so that they may enjoy better job opportunities in the future.

History of the Future: How Did We Get Here?

In 2022, the COVID-19 pandemic is still not over – despite optimistic predictions that people in most countries would see a return to normal life by the end of 2021. Fed up with the inability of their governments and international organizations to effectively curb the virus’ spread, a group of wealthy citizens from different countries decide to take matters into their own hands: they relocate to an artificial island off the coast of Singapore, forming the world’s first independent digitally-gated community, which operates both online and offline. By 2023, in a bid for more real-world and political influence, user representatives from different social platforms around the world have begun to organize and form political parties. And they gain traction fast: in 2025, Fredrick Brennan, a well-known software developer and founder of the notorious message board website formerly known as 8chan, will win a US Senate seat in Texas.

In 2024, the executive board of the Washington Post takes what will come to be seen as a landmark decision for media organizations worldwide: all human journalists are fired, in a radical restructuring effort that effectively transforms the newspaper into the world’s first fully AI-generated major media outlet. Only core operations staff remains. One of the first articles published by the newly automated Post reports on the founding of the World VR Sports League, which is headquartered in Tokyo where the top VR game companies reside.

The year 2025 will be remembered as the most intense hurricane season in history. Massive storms break key undersea cables between North America and Asia, causing severe disruptions in global data flows. The unwillingness and inability of most states to address the escalating climate crisis, combined with lingering grievances over previous failures to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, further fuel separatist aspirations. Additional gated communities mushroom around the world as more and more nation states find their power and legitimacy challenged.

The year 2025 will be remembered as the most intense hurricane season in history. Massive storms break key undersea cables between North America and Asia, causing severe disruptions in global data flows. Credit: Zoltan Tasi (via Unsplash)

The year 2025 will be remembered as the most intense hurricane season in history. Massive storms break key undersea cables between North America and Asia, causing severe disruptions in global data flows. Credit: Zoltan Tasi (via Unsplash)

In early 2026, the Scottish independence vote succeeds, triggering a complete disintegration of the UK. Emboldened by the Scottish success, other European regions and communities ramp up their efforts to follow suit: the years after the vote see the rise of secession movements across the continent, including in Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, and Ukraine, amid escalating fears of a complete disintegration of the European Union. By 2030, most of the continent will have returned to a form of city-state control. By 2035, the European Union will have failed, while the United States will have become more divided than ever.

In 2028, most national postal services cease operations, while FedEx enters a phase of exponential growth.

The mid-2020s also see significant upheavals in the global tech industry. In early 2026, Google Net loses access to 10 percent of its global user base after Tencent and Line decide to move to encrypted networks. The same year, Twitter buys the last independent newspaper – the Gazzetta di Mantova in Italy – and specifies that all headlines must now fit into the length of a tweet. In 2027, Facebook becomes the second company after Alibaba to have its Digital Score approved for visa and security checks as well as other informational use at Heathrow Airport. This marks a watershed moment in the emergence of social credit systems around the world: after the “Heathrow decision,” public and private-sector actors rapidly adopt digital scores as a means of providing social, financial, commercial, and informational services for individuals in areas such as the labor market, travel, work, and other aspects of life in different regions and communities.

In early 2026, the Scottish independence vote succeeds, triggering a complete disintegration of the UK. Emboldened by the Scottish success, other European regions and communities ramp up their efforts to follow suit. Credit: Adam Wilson (via Unsplash)

In early 2026, the Scottish independence vote succeeds, triggering a complete disintegration of the UK. Emboldened by the Scottish success, other European regions and communities ramp up their efforts to follow suit. Credit: Adam Wilson (via Unsplash)

In 2029, the Korean pop group BTS is refused access to Netflix’s Digital Community due to drops in their personal digital scores. By early 2030, digital scores determine everything from individual access to services and employment opportunities to levels of control over data flows, as hackers attempt to both steal and protect data, resulting in a surge in non-state cyberattacks.

As the world enters the 2030s, misinformation and disinformation run rampant around the world – despite certain efforts to curtail the spread and impact of false and malicious information. The global Deepfake Content Index, which was created by the World AI Organization (WAO) in 2029 to measure and showcase the extent of deepfake content detected online in real time, is “deep-faked” on 1 April 2030, after a hack into WAO’s systems. Given their prevalence, and in an effort to minimize disruptions of global data flows, predictions regarding major cyberattacks are added to daily weather forecasts in 2032. That same year, FedEx begins delivering letters again.

In 2033, Cape Town secedes from South Africa, creating the ultimate gated community.

What Are the Main Factors Driving This Scenario?

1. Mistrust

Information overload, coupled with a lack of meaningful and reliable regulation, breeds mistrust of the media and information in general and fuels polarization. People feel increasingly alienated and only trust their own like-minded communities, which reinforces echo chambers.

2. Disconnect

Several factors, including a lack of regulation, an increase in the number of natural disasters, policies that serve to appease media corporations and Big Tech (instead of attempting to solve pressing issues), and general political polarization all contribute to the disintegration of large, diverse polities.

3. Decline of the Nation State

Macro-level trends like aging societies, economic stagnation and political fragmentation erode the legitimacy and power of the state, as people turn toward smaller units of social organization.

4. Digital Scores

The nation state’s retreat in key areas and growing disconnection create opportunities for private companies to fill the void and leverage their control of personal data. Private actors become more powerful.

What Are the Main Implications of This Scenario?

“Disaster Delivers Disconnection” is the result of a collective thought experiment that explored how an undesirable – or unpleasant – future of the global media and information landscape might unfold. In this scenario, the combination of mistrust in the media and information in general has resulted in a severe disconnect between people. This lack of trust has caused individuals to retreat from engaging in traditional aspects of governance and has created a gap that Big Tech and other powerful actors have begun to fill. To delineate this scenario’s potential implications, we formulated six questions that we consider crucial. Focusing on these today should help relevant stakeholders in their efforts to mitigate or prevent the negative developments envisioned in the scenario. In addition, we identified key actors that could take meaningful action to that end.

1. How do we maintain healthy, respectful and trustworthy communication between different communities?

Key actors: citizens; platform companies; media companies // Potential steps and actions: introduce and/or promote cultural and media literacy in education; ensure more respectful and inclusive representation of different groups in the media; systematically examine the line and trade-offs between freedom of speech and offensive content.

2. How do we hold Big Tech and influential media companies accountable?

Key actors: international organizations; national governments; tech companies; media companies // Potential steps and actions: create inclusive organizations and bodies tasked with designing and regulating new data laws; open up debates around the changing roles of tech and media companies.

3. Is it possible to establish and maintain a global and/or regional standards for regulations by ensuring equal representation of all relevant groups?

Key actors: international organizations; national governments; tech companies // Potential steps and actions: analyze issues of polarization and prioritize efforts to find solutions; disentangle questions of morality and emotional responses to content and information from those related to representation in the media (including by examining so-called cancel culture and media politics of offense); where a middle ground is reached, encourage open discussion to center solutions for current issues as well as future policymaking less on emotional responses to media, and more on equality and representation that serves more groups.

4. How can individuals gain greater control over their personal data and its use by different actors?

Key actors: national governments; tech companies // Potential steps and actions: pass legislation on Big Tech’s clear and open use of personal data; permit people to design exactly how their data is used and for which purposes; allow people to earn money from companies using their personal information; create models that provide people with ongoing access to information and allow for participation in data flows without personal information being stored and used; promote media literacy.

5. How can digital/information/media literacy become more accessible as a part of future education efforts?

Key actors: international organizations; national governments; NPOs/NGOs // Potential steps and actions: invest money in bridging the existing digital gap in global education; prioritize interdisciplinary education that focuses on fusing aspects of culture, history, law, and psychology in the tech space; create syllabi that encourage a more mindful approach to the use of various media.

Scenario II: The Enlightened Communities

It is the year 2035, and people are free both to say anything they want and to have it distributed to a wide audience. Social media platforms are regulated by users through consensus, rather than by individual states or private-sector actors vertically imposing control. Welcome to the Libertarian Ideal!

At an infrastructural level, extensive regulations and investments in relevant frameworks have created an international environment that enables — rather than hampers — the free exchange of data.

Media literacy is high worldwide. Key skills (like fact checking) and new tech-based tools (like those assisting individuals in verifying sources and information) are effectively integrated into domestic education systems and curricula, and are thus widely accessible to everyone. As a result, people’s expectations of media and content producers – regarding, for instance, the depth of research, variety of sources, accountability, and overall transparency – are also high. Concurrently, as post-capitalistic values and user-oriented communities continue to gain traction, fewer incentives exist for creating and distributing false or malicious information.

Mutual empathy and a widely shared belief in the once-controversial notion of “political correctness” have enabled the emergence of effective communal approaches to problem-solving. Nationalism and populism have waned and are at an all-time low, and they have been replaced with cosmopolitanism and multilateralism as the dominant paradigms. International organizations maintain a strong standing and enable international cooperation on key issues related to media, content production and information access. Partnerships and regional alliances still exist, but these vary between different powers and involve shared interests and values. Systemic ideological and political differences no longer preoccupy international relations.

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Picture of the Future: The Year 2035

In 2035, the Digital Human Rights Charter – which, for the first time, formulates a fundamental human right to internet access – has just been adopted. Meanwhile, the global number of connected users has reached 7.5 billion, with most being distributed across the more than 20 million online communities that exist worldwide. The private big tech monopolies of the past have been upended as the world shifts to community-based social media and messaging apps that are now the most popular globally. Mozilla Network recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of its landmark decision to permit user participation in key decision-making processes related to the platform’s design and functionality. Accumulated taxes paid by former tech giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google to the Digital International Organization reach 3 trillion USD and primarily fund digital media literacy and training programs worldwide.

Because of the resulting spike in media literacy, people active online can generally determine the quality and credibility of different sources and possess the necessary knowledge and skills to identify misinformation and disinformation. Fact-checking institutions have become obsolete. “New Silicon Valleys” have sprung up in Laos, Nigeria and Paraguay. Start-ups from developing countries spearhead innovation, technological development and efforts to promote “data ownership” (i.e., the control of global data flows as well as individuals’ ownership of their personal data). In an effort to define and establish global and community rules for data sharing, international organizations and social communities have compiled and adopted the Data for People framework. When profiled by RE-WIRED at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a now-retired Laurence Lessig tells reporters that, “the techno-utopian promises of the 1990s have finally been fulfilled.”

History of the Future: How Did We Get Here?

Catalyzed by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the early 2020s are marked by a surge in online learning platforms in general and specific interdisciplinary online programs in particular. These combine natural and computer sciences with social studies and the humanities. The pandemic and the resulting socio-economic crises further clarified that STEM alone cannot solve the world’s greatest challenges. By 2024, these programs have become both more common and more accessible to people in different locations and from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Funding for them is primarily ensured through revenues generated from a global IT tax (see below), designating the start of a global upward trajectory in digital literacy. Countries around the world overhaul their education systems to better serve and address the needs of a connected global society. Elementary and high school curricula in much of the world are updated to include new media skills. The economic and social fall-out of the novel coronavirus pandemic also marks a political tipping point: citizens in the most heavily hit regions and countries blame right-wing populist governments’ botched responses to the crisis for the ensuing economic and health disasters. This marks the beginning of the end of the global populist tide that shaped the first decade of the millennium.

The 2020s are marked by a surge in online learning platforms in general and specific interdisciplinary online programs in particular. Credit: insta_photos (via Shutterstock)

The 2020s are marked by a surge in online learning platforms in general and specific interdisciplinary online programs in particular. Credit: insta_photos (via Shutterstock)

Around the year 2023, most regions of the world, including the European Union, the United States and members of RCEP (the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership), decide to introduce a “Global Information Technology Tax” (ITax) on social media companies, with annual revenues ranging above 50 million USD per year. At the same time, the worldwide expansion of media and digital literacy education access means that users begin scrutinizing and rejecting current, algorithm-driven content delivery and ad-based profit models. The resulting surge in user demand for new recommendation and personalization algorithms that are based on public input and consensus triggers a mushrooming of initiatives to develop these alternatives. New business models, including micro-payment approaches and newsletter subscriptions, gain popularity and successfully establish themselves as common news consumption platforms.

By 2025, such new models both ensure easier access to information and serve to increase the overall quality of reporting and information. By 2024, most social media users have migrated to user-controlled platforms as part of an overall generational change: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter have lost in popularity and are replaced by newer social media platforms like Woof, a service that combines audio, video and text. Employing block chain-based tokenization technology, these new social media platforms are de-centralized by design and permit greater data ownership as well as user input into design decisions. As a result, many of these new platforms also offer more alternatives to circumvent the censorship imposed by authoritarian regimes via large, centralized social media platforms.

Taxes paid to the Digital International Organization (DIO) by tech giants like Google surpass 3 trillion USD. The DOI adopts a regulatory framework for social media-related data flows and portability. Credit: Peter Foley/Bloomberg (via Getty Images)

Taxes paid to the Digital International Organization (DIO) by tech giants like Google surpass 3 trillion USD. The DOI adopts a regulatory framework for social media-related data flows and portability. Credit: Peter Foley/Bloomberg (via Getty Images)

In 2026, the EU, the US, India, Indonesia, Latin American countries, New Zealand, and Australia establish the Digital International Organization (DIO), which is tasked with and responsible for collecting the Global ITax. Shortly after the DIO’s founding, 90 percent of UN members have already joined, and the organization adopts a multilateral regulatory framework for international, social media-related data flows and portability (i.e., the ability of users to exert greater control over their information and migrate it across social media platforms).

By 2030, digital media and literacy skills are an integral component of the overwhelming majority of elementary and high school curricula worldwide. In 2030, taxes collected from the largest private social media platforms are used to initiate and fund a concerted global effort to develop a public communication infrastructure (relating to both hardware and connectivity) named “The Global Village.” This also includes the creation of international online university exchange systems that provide people around the world with access to virtual learning offers, in parallel to national and local, on-site education funded through the Global ITax. The resulting spike in media literacy, combined with better international connectivity due to greater state investments into tangible infrastructure and the success of new user-governed platforms and algorithms, finally reverses the global trend toward greater polarization in public opinion that has plagued the past two decades. Infused with diverse and rigorously verified sources, individual news feeds become more nuanced and balanced. Echo chambers break down and filter bubbles evaporate.

In 2030, 180 states have signed the Digital Human Rights Charter. In doing so, they acknowledge and agree — for the first time ever — that access to information is a human right. At the same time, computing costs have continued to decline, as technology advances and the costs of hardware production decrease. By 2034, they have dropped so significantly that most people can now access a connected device, and all adults have consistent internet access.

By 2034, the cost of hardware production has dropped so significantly that most people can access a connected device, and all adults have consistent internet access. Credit: Gorodenkoff (via Shutterstock)

By 2034, the cost of hardware production has dropped so significantly that most people can access a connected device, and all adults have consistent internet access. Credit: Gorodenkoff (via Shutterstock)

In China, the Xi Jinping administration enters the final days of its 22-year rule, as Xi becomes too old to lead. As the Chinese economy has reached a high degree of development and innovation, coupled with demands from the middle and upper classes, the new political regime confidently grants greater freedom to its citizens. Xi’s successor becomes known as the “the Chinese Gorbatchev.” By now, the country has fully transitioned to developed economy status. The trend of democratization spills over to other countries in the region, marking the beginning of the “new end of History.” Infrastructure and information controls still remain, but they become less strictly enforced, as voices who openly advocate and lobby for a more liberal approach gain support among citizens.

What Are the Main Factors Driving This Scenario?

1. Growing Frustration with and Lack of Trust in Big Tech

Around the world, a host of media and information-related crises, particularly around important elections, has deeply eroded users’ trust in the big social media companies. Combined with inevitable demographic and generational shifts, this leads to a growth in demand for user-driven platforms.

2. New Business Models and Technologies

New business models for value sharing between readers and content producers propel people in new ways to reject and move away from the ad-driven profit structures that we see today. Further advancements in technology, such as block chain and federated learning, allow for the emergence of decentralized and community-driven platforms. Decreasing computing costs drive global access to information and facilitate the emergence of open-source and community-owned communication platforms.

3. Emergence of New International Organizations Governing Information and Data Flows

Post-pandemic, a newly found trust in global governance leads to the creation of new international organizations which states endow with the necessary mandates to effectively govern information and data flows.

4. Information Wars

Large-scale digital information conflicts drive individuals to question existing platforms and models, and to seek out alternative ways for communicating and accessing information.

What Are the Main Implications of This Scenario?

“The Enlightened Communities” is the result of a collective thought experiment that explored how a desirable – or pleasant – future of the global media and information landscape might unfold. To draw out this scenario’s potential implications, we formulated eight questions that we consider crucial. Focusing on these today should help relevant stakeholders in their efforts to facilitate the positive developments envisioned in this scenario. In addition, we identified key actors and outlined concrete steps they could take so as to promote these outcomes.

1. What is the scope of digital literacy?

Answering this question will be an ongoing process. It will (and should) be assessed regularly in the form of a dialogue between education experts and public actors (who fund education infrastructures) in local, national and global settings. // Key actors: communities of political actors; education experts // What could be done: develop curricula through cooperation or by organizations like unions instead of corporations.

2. How can we activate/attract funding for digital literacy programs?

Key actors: governments; tech companies // What can be done: focus on developing digital literacy programs worldwide; secure funding through state governments and via taxes paid by big tech companies.

3. How do we create a balance between limiting hate speech and permitting free speech?

There is a need for a framework that enables cross-border exchange and mutual understanding based on respectful discourse. The growing popularity of mindfulness can facilitate this. // Key actors: multiple societal actors (instead of governments and platforms).

4. What could stimulate users to migrate from social media platforms owned by corporations to a decentralized model?

A generational change among social media users as well as increased state censorship and monitoring could motivate users to discover alternative platforms and communication channels. // Key actors: educational institutions // What can be done: identify ways to increase levels of digital literacy.

5. How can we create “attractive” multi-alliance structures that motivate states with different political systems to participate in multilateral frameworks?

Key actors: citizens; international organizations // What can be done: use citizens’ voices to pressure governments into cooperation; international organizations should play a key role in preventing a small number of states from dominating; economic incentives for more Asian and African regional alliances could help to balance Western biases.

6. How can we overcome lobbying by large private businesses/tech platforms to find agreement among diverse global actors around platform regulation and taxation?

Key Actors: NGOs; governments // What can be done: pass and commit to new and more transparent anti-lobbying regulations; NGOs should lead efforts to formulate and advocate for such regulations.

7. How can we break down barriers to information?

One way to ensure increasingly equitable access to information is to reduce the overall costs of internet access and computing. // Key actors: international organizations // What can be done: international organizations should establish regulations to stipulate that ISPs provide low-cost internet access for rural, remote and/or poor communities.

8. Can information access be considered a public good? What would that look like?

Key actors: political parties; civil society // What can be done: political parties and civil society should jointly conceptualize this idea and lobby for it via their respective political platforms before governments and international organizations can take up and address the concept.

About the Methodology

Working Process, GGF 2030 Washington, DC session, Photo by Matthias Erfurt

When it comes to issues of global governance, what do we need to think about today in order to avoid surprises, mitigate risks, and make use of opportunities? In search of answers, the GGF 2035 fellows spent a year exploring three topics and jointly developing new and better ways of thinking about a future that they themselves will help shape.

To help them in this ambitious endeavor, the GGF method provided an intellectually challenging framework that enabled structured communication and rigorous thinking. The fellows used a tailor-made ‘scenario approach’ to construct plausible future trajectories for each of the three GGF 2035 topics and arrived at a better understanding of the challenges they have identified. Along the way, they challenged their own biases and perspectives, and combined their newly won insights with their individual convictions about the shape and role of global governance.

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About the Fellows

Marie Baléo – France, Head of Studies and Publications at La Fabrique de la Cité

Marie Baléo is the head of studies and publications at La Fabrique de la Cité, a Paris-based think tank covering urban innovations that was founded by the VINCI Group. She oversees the editorial process for the think tank’s publications and has conducted several research projects on current urban issues, most recently on large infrastructure projects and democracy. Prior to joining La Fabrique de la Cité in 2016, Marie worked as a strategy and management consultant and was the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Nótt Magazine, an online publication running longform commentary on international affairs, politics, society, and security. She currently serves as a contributing writer and editor for the European geopolitics review Le Grand Continent and as an editor for the American literary anthology Panorama Journal. In addition to her professional work, Marie is a writer of poetry, fiction and nonfiction. Her writing has appeared in over 30 literary journals in North America and the United Kingdom, and she was nominated for a Best of the Net Award on four occasions. Marie grew up in Norway and Lebanon and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Sciences Po in Paris, bachelor’s degree in international & area studies from Washington University in St. Louis, and a master’s degree in business law from Sciences Po.

André Duchiade – Brazil, Journalist at O Globo

André Duchiade is a journalist at O Globo in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he mainly covers Brazilian foreign policy, Latin America and international affairs. Most recently, André reported on the uprisings in Chile and the elections in Argentina. Previous to O Globo, André worked for Jornal do Braziland for the magazine of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation. His work has appeared in the Intercept, the Scientific American, the Guardian, and Agência Pública de Jornalismo Investigativo, among others. He has been a fellow at the Earth Journalism Network and at the European Academy in Berlin. He holds a master’s degree from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

Nurma Fitrianingrum – Indonesia, Good Governance Project Officer at Tifa Foundation

Nurma Fitrianingrum is a good governance project officer at Tifa Foundation. Previously, she worked as a researcher and policy analyst in the Department of Public Policy and Management at the Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. There, she started the podcast series “Policy Talk” as a new approach to discuss the latest public policy issues to wider audiences outside of academia. Previously, Nurma worked as a researcher at the Institute for Research, where she focused on village development and women empowerment issue in various regions across Indonesia. She holds a master’s degree in public policy with a specialization in media and communications from Central European University, where she worked as a student researcher at the Center for Media Data and Society.

​Andrew Gruen – USA, Manager of Strategic Initiatives at Facebook

Andrew Gruen is a manager of strategic initiatives for Facebook's Election Research Commission project and an affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, where he is working on how to make private data available for public benefit. As a part of the Election Research Commission team at Facebook, Andrew focuses on providing data to independent academic researchers to study the impact of social media on democracy and elections in a way that preserves the privacy of individual users.Previously, Andrew was a visiting research fellow at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He also served as chief communications officer for Seven Bridges, a firm that develops tools to analyze genomic sequencing data at population scale. He led the company’s participation in the White House’s Cancer Moonshot program, with a particular focus on creating more accurate and less invasive genomics-based cancer diagnostics. As a Luce Scholar, Andrew worked in South Korea for the world’s largest citizen journalism organization, OhmyNews. Andrew has also worked with many research universities and media companies, including the Media Management Center at Northwestern University, Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, the BBC, Hearst Television, CNET, and The Texas Tribune. He holds both a PhD and a master's of philosophy degree in sociology from the University of Cambridge, where he was a Gates Cambridge scholar, and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Medill School at Northwestern University. Andrew is a senior advisor to Digitalis Commons and an active alumnus of the Gates Cambridge and Henry Luce Foundation fellowships.

​Mamiko Hermann – Japan, Independent Public Relations Consultant

Mamiko Hermann (Tominaga) is an independent public relations consultant in Berlin. She advises Japanese clients on overseas PR campaigns and international clients on outreach to Japan. Previously, she worked with public sector clients such as the Prime Minister’s Office of Japan and other government ministries as a senior consultant with leading Japanese PR company Dentsu Public Relations Inc. in Tokyo. Prior to that, she served as a public officer at Tokyo Metropolitan Government, where she led on city diplomacy and tourism policies for 8 years, including three years in the Cabinet Office of the Governor of Tokyo. Having grown up in Africa, Europe and Japan, she aspires to be a cross-cultural bridge-builder empowering various cultures to more closely collaborate on shared policy challenges. Mamiko holds a master’s degree in public policy from Chuo University, a bachelor’s degree from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and has been certified as a public relations planner by the Public Relations Society of Japan.

Dev Lewis – India, Program Lead at Digital Asia Hub

Dev Lewis is a fellow and program lead at Digital Asia Hub and a Yenching scholar at Peking University in Beijing. His research interests lie at the intersection of technology, politics, and policy, and he is presently conducting research on the social credit system in China. Dev is the author of the China India Networked newsletter and writes for a number of publications as well as speaking at regional forums. He previously worked at Gateway House, where he led the Mumbai-based think tank’s digital media channels, and at Infosys, where he worked in marketing for the Greater China region. Dev holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations degree from Roger Williams University in the US and language certificates from East China Normal University and Zhengzhou University in China.

​Sarah Richmond – South Africa, Lecturer at Sapporo International University

Sarah Richmond is a lecturer at Sapporo International University in Hokkaido, Japan, where she designs and implements media-centered curricula that fosters intercultural communication and critical thinking in students from all over Asia. Previously, she lectured at Hokkaido Bunkyo University in Japan, where she taught international relations while simultaneously pursuing research on media bias and critical media literacy. During her 12 years working in Japanese education system, she has made presentations and lead workshops at various national conferences, including at the Association for Teaching English Through Media (ATEM), on the power a media-literate classroom has in combatting issues like implicit bias and stereotyping She holds an honours degree in international relations with a research focus on the role of the media in the Rwandan genocide, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in critical diversity studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

Natalie Schnelle – Germany, Senior Strategic Consultant at SAP

Natalie Schnelle is a senior strategic consultant at SAP, Europe’s largest software company, where she manages SAP’s engagements in public-private settings, such as the Plattform Industrie 4.0, with the goal of spurring the digital transformation of the German industry. In addition, Natalie is an expert on SAP’s big data product portfolio, helping organizations to become more data-driven. Prior to her transition to the tech sector, Natalie was as a political and economic specialist at the US Consulate in Hamburg, where she advised US diplomats on the implementation of foreign policy goals. Other previous positions include her roles as a trainee speechwriter in the Cabinet of the President of the European Parliament and as a political risk analyst at Maplecroft. She started her career as a foreign policy intern at the Clinton Foundation. Natalie holds a master’s degree in global governance and diplomacy from the University of Oxford and a bachelor’s degree in integrated social sciences from Jacobs University Bremen.

Sophia Qian Xu – China, Director, BuzzDecoder

Sophia Qian Xu is a director at the social media consulting firm BuzzDecoder in Hong Kong, where she consults for leading global newsrooms, digital platforms, universities, NGOs, and media conferences through trainings to introduce tools, services and concepts in tackling mis/disinformation online. Formerly, she worked as a journalist and editor at the social intelligence agency Storyful, where she grew to become an expert in content management and verification in both Chinese and English social media. She has published thought leadership articles in Global Investigative Journalism Network and First Draft News, and worked on documentaries for the Journalism and Media Studies Center at Hong Kong University and Phoenix Television Hong Kong. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Hong Kong.

Senior Fellow

Bingchun Meng – Associate Professor and Deputy Head, Department for Media and Communications, London School of Economics

Bingchun Meng is an Associate Professor and Deputy Head of Department in the Department for Media and Communications at London School of Economics and Political Science. She is also directing the LSE-Fudan Dual Degree MSc Programme in Global Media and Communications. Her research interests include gender and the media, political economy of media industries, communication governance, and comparative media studies. She has published widely on these topic areas on leading international journals. Her book The Politics of Chinese Media: Consensus and Contestation was published by Palgrave in early 2018. She has a BA in Chinese Language and Literature and an MA in Comparative Literature from Nanjing University, China. She obtained her PhD in Mass Communication from the Pennsylvania State University, USA. Before joining the LSE, she was a post-doc fellow at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, where she also taught classes on Chinese media and digital industries.


This report was co-authored with Katharina Nachbar and Sonya Sugrobova of GPPi.

The Global Governance Futures (GGF) program is made possible by a broad array of dedicated supporters. The program was initiated by GPPi, along with the Robert Bosch Stiftung. The program consortium is composed of academic institutions, foundations and think tanks from across the nine participating countries. The core responsibility for the design and implementation of the program lies with the GGF program team at GPPi. In addition, GGF relies on the advice and guidance of the GGF steering committee, made up of senior policymakers and academics. The program is generously supported by the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

The Global Governance Futures program (GGF 2035) off-sets participants’ carbon emissions related to carrying out and attending the program.