Our World in 2025 - Anchor Change with Katie Harbath

Created time
Jan 3, 2024 02:07 PM
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No, that’s not a typo in my headline. As I was taking down holiday decorations and driving home today, I kept ruminating on what I wanted to write for my 2024 look ahead piece that I haven’t already written a hundred times.
Instead, my mind kept drifting towards 2025. The post-its I still have on the wall at the shore from this summer ask questions about what the world looks like if Trump wins, if Biden wins, if neither is the nominee, who wins elsewhere around the world, what the Supreme Court does, etc.
Then, this evening, I was chatting with a friend about how hard it is to describe a typical 9-5 day because I don’t think I’ve had a typical day my entire career. News cycles are always changing, situations pop up, and sometimes I’m focused on the United States, and sometimes I’m focused internationally. Some days, I’m traveling or speaking to a group. Somedays I’m writing. I realized that, in the short term, I’m executing and/or being reactive to what is happening daily.
And that’s what 2024 is for me now. I’ve been planning, strategizing, and annoying you with my daily reminders of how many elections are happening for four years. Now it’s time to finish any last-minute planning but mostly execute and help as things happen.
If you want 2024 look-ahead stories, plenty of good ones are out there now. Foreign Policy has three great ones out:
  1. Elections to Watch in 2024
  1. 8 Simmering Threats You Shouldn’t Ignore in 2024
  1. 10 Conflicts to Watch in 2024
Puck’s look ahead has some good stuff too: An A.I. Explosion & D.E.I. Blowback.
And, if you are a new subscriber, you can find many of my prep pieces in my 2024 archives.
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To be strategic, I must look to 2025 and beyond. I think 2025 will bring two major developments:
  1. The U.S. Congress will finally pass tech legislation: Nothing is happening this year in Congress. Now, the States is another story. Matt Perault has a great interview this week with Politico Tech talking about it will be state legislatures driving the tech agenda this year. Washington Post predicts we’ll see a lot of child online safety bills. The New York Times is looking at AI, gender, and guns. We’ll see a lot more on artificial intelligence. But this, and the myriad of Supreme Court decisions due this year, will cause some chaos. Different states will require different things. I will not be shocked if the Court issues conflicting rulings, making everyone so confused about how anyone could comply. I think this will finally force Congress to do something.
  1. Tech diplomacy will explode center stage: I don’t dare make predictions about who is going to win all these elections around the world; however, what we do know is that while Congress hasn’t acted yet, we do have tech legislation that is being enforced for the first time in many countries around the globe. Keeping up with the likes of China and Russia will remain top of mind. This means that international Internet governance will only become more important. I predict that more and more countries will use tactics like banning apps, Internet shutdowns, and other tactics to achieve their international goals.
These two things then have me thinking about all sorts of things, such as:
  1. A Trump win and overall right-leaning world order - If Trump wins in November (if we even know by November), we’re all still in chaos by this time in 2025. It won’t be as big of a shock as 2016, but people will be panicking, and getting anyone to focus for a bit will be hard. Match this up with right-leaning candidates winning across the globe, and you could have some real fundamental shifts in diplomatic relations around the globe. I think we’ll be asking ourselves who might counter Trump on the international stage. Part of that will depend on who wins the U.K. election. Canada, Germany, and Japan will be too busy focusing on their own elections in 2025, leaving France and Italy out of the G7 as possibilities. And, well, I’m not getting my hopes up.
    1. A Republican win, not Trump - Admittedly, this is a long shot, but one of my rules for this election is that ANYTHING is possible. If a non-Trump Republican wins, it’s a different ball game, especially if it’s Nikki Haley. All those Republicans who haven’t been in government since the George W. Bush era will be coming back in. It’ll look a little more normal. This is my establishment Republican side coming out, but should this happen, I have some optimism on how the U.S. could really lead in competing with China. I wonder what role Rep. Mike Gallagher would get in a Haley administration?
  1. Biden or any Democrat win - This is basically more of the same that we have now. How much will a Democratic administration stand up to other world leaders such as Modi? Can they continue to command the world stage and lead on these issues, or will we fall behind?
    1. U.S. philanthropy focus will shift Since 2016 we’ve seen an explosion in money towards fighting mis and disinformation, election integrity, etc. Some of that is starting to go toward artificial intelligence, but already, I am hearing rumblings that foundations are rethinking their strategic priorities. With a Trump loss, I would not be shocked if many orgs feel that the threat has been neutralized and move on to the next shiny object. They would be wrong to think that getting rid of Trump means the problems are gone, but I could see the shift happening.
  1. Democracy building efforts will be more important than ever - No doubt, this year will be a test for democracy. My prediction is that while it will be tested, I don’t think it will break. That said, I think no matter what, it will still need a lot of repair. A lot of healing will need to happen here at home, and I worry that many more candidates and parties will try to claim elections were rigged should they lose. If I’m at the National Endowment for Democracy, IRI, NDI, IFES, USAID, and other places, I’m thinking now about what proposals I want to ask for so that these groups can hit the ground running in 2025.
  1. Meta will get plenty of scrutiny, but TikTok will be the big tech target - Old habits die hard, so I suspect we’ll continue to see plenty of stories about what they, X, and Google are doing to protect elections. However, I think it’ll be what happened on TikTok that we’re all talking about. The DFR Lab just announced the biggest information operation uncovered on the platform targeting the former Ukrainian defense minister. We won’t be able to stop talking about the role of influencers. That said, platforms are already pulling back on politics on their platforms, and this mega year of them will have them trying to run away even more. (Though I still think that is pointless, as politics will always be in places where people are.)
    1. Substack - While most apps run from politics, Substack in 2023 dove in head first, declaring they wanted 2024 to be known as the Substack election. Right before Christmas, they got their first taste of backlash based on their response to pro-Nazi material on the platform. I originally wondered if the holiday timing might help them get a reprieve, but Casey Newton has said he’ll leave the platform if they don’t change. Losing someone as big as him could have some real momentum. My gut is Substack might take down a list of accounts journalists have found to slow the bleeding, but the bigger question is, do they have the money to be more nuanced in their content moderation over the long haul, and how long will they be able to stick to their current thinking? I think they’ll be singing a slightly different tune in a year.
    2. Threads vs X - Add this to the old habits die-hard bucket. I think we’ll continue to see a lot of activity on Threads, but a lot of politics is still happening on X, so I suspect people will continue to post there. Democrats are still spending a lot of money there, so don’t count them out just yet. I would not bet on them hitting their $100 million political ad goal, though.
    3. Telegram - Does any country get them to come out of their hole and be held accountable?
  1. Artificial intelligence will show promise, make headlines, but slow in wide-spread adoption - I won’t be surprised if some pundits at the end of 2024 make some bold declaration about how AI failed to live up to the hype. That would be a mistake. I’ll never forget at the end of 2010 when I looked at our online stats for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Mobile use had skyrocketed in the last few months of the election. The iPhone had come out three years earlier but was only starting to be widely adopted. It was changing people’s habits. These things take time, and I think that will be the same for AI. Frankly, we need to start thinking about this not just for the 2026 midterms, but how we prepare for its use in 2028 and 2029 when the next huge wave of elections happens globally.
I still say it’s nearly impossible to predict where we will be this time next year. But that doesn’t mean we can’t start gaming out some options and preparing for them now while executing and reacting to what we need to do this year. It drove me absolutely nuts that I couldn’t get people to focus on the 2024 elections until this Fall. Preparing for these things takes time, so now that everyone is finally on the 2024 page, I will be thinking more about the future.
Please support the curation and analysis I’m doing with this newsletter. As a paid subscriber, you make it possible for me to bring you in-depth analyses of the most pressing issues in tech and politics.