One of the greatest challenges facing democratic societies in the 21st century is the loss of faith in public institutions.
The internet has been a marvelous invention in lots of ways, but it has also unleashed a tsunami of misinformation and destabilized political systems across the globe. Martin Gurri, a former media analyst at the CIA and the author of the 2014 book The Revolt of the Public, was way ahead of the curve on this problem.
Gurri spent years surveying the global information landscape. Around the turn of the century, he noticed a trend: As the internet gave rise to an explosion of information, there was a concurrent spike in political instability. The reason, he surmised, was that governments lost their monopoly on information and with it their ability to control the public conversation.
One of the many consequences of this is what Gurri calls a “crisis of authority.” As people were exposed to more information, their trust in major institutions — like the government or newspapers — began to collapse.
Gurri’s book became something of a cult favorite among Silicon Valley types when it was released and its insights have only become more salient since. Indeed, I’ve been thinking more and more about his thesis in the aftermath of the 2020 election and the assault on the US Capitol on January 6. There are lots of reasons why the insurrection happened, but one of them is the reality that millions of Americans believed — really believed — that the presidential election was stolen, despite a complete lack of evidence. A Politico poll conducted shortly after the election found that 70 percent of Republicans thought the election was fraudulent.
That’s what a “crisis of authority” looks like in
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