SXSW Interactive Survey Signals Optimism in Tech Industry Ability to Impact Societal Issues

Interactive Community Sees Traditional Policy Efforts at Standstill, Takes Responsibility for Shaping How We Address Key Safety and Security Concerns

Mar 09, 2016, 10:30 ET from SXSW Interactive

AUSTIN, Texas, March 9, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- South by Southwest® (SXSW®) Interactive today released the findings of its first-ever survey on Tech Trends and Societal Issues. Distributed to the SXSW Interactive community in conjunction with Edelman, the study sought to better understand this unique group's attitude about industry and government roles in addressing key social issues that intersect technology use and development. Topics addressed include data security and privacy, gun control and safety, online hate speech and emerging technologies.

Overall, the community is optimistic about the positive impact technology companies can make, with 61 percent indicating more faith in technology-based solutions than policy measures to combat societal problems. Responses within each topic area revealed a consistent theme of expectation of industry to promote safety and security above other groups, including the government. This faith and expectation in technology to shape a positive future represents a democratization of responsibility; a vision that industry and the communities that support it are better positioned to impact some key issues than a singular, centralized regulatory system.  

"SXSW has always been about providing the community with a platform to engage in provocative, honest discussions, and we are looking forward to the discussion this survey will drive during this year's festival and beyond," said Hugh Forrest, Director, SXSW Interactive. "I'm excited to see what our most influential attendees will have to say about this at the festival this week."

Broad Implications – A Democratization of Responsibility

The expectation for the industry to take on responsibility for driving solutions showcases the SXSW Interactive community's confidence in itself – and a de-emphasis on government roles and responsibilities – to address pressing societal issues. This sentiment of a shared responsibility for the industry to take steps to drive change positively demonstrates a desire for values-based leadership. It also creates the opportunity for the industry to shape its relationship with government and influence policies that create positive impact on future societal and technology developments. 

"This study highlights the ongoing and increasing questions surrounding the relationship between the tech sector and government," said Maria Amundson, global chair, technology, Edelman, the communications marketing agency that assisted SXSW Interactive with the study. "As we approach the U.S. presidential election, data like this, combined with recent events, should be viewed as a forcing function by both sides to actively engage in dialogue not about the 'ifs' but the 'whats, hows and whys' that will enable solutions."

This data mirrors other studies, like Edelman's Trust Barometer, which show increasing influence on trust coming from peer-to-peer interactions and an emphasis on companies to demonstrate positive societal impact and shared values.

Data – Protection vs. Regulation

Not surprisingly, this group of very tech savvy, internet-dependent respondents sent a strong message that openness should prevail when it comes to online access. Eighty-seven percent believe the internet should be accessible to all and free from regulation. Further, a majority (69 percent) believe customers' private and encrypted data must be protected and never shared with the government. This overwhelming resistance to regulation, coupled with the underlying expectation of security found in subsequent topics explored, suggests an implied difference between "protection" and "regulation" within the interactive community.

Guns – Safety is a Shared Opportunity

When asked about gun safety, most (66 percent) believe the tech industry has a role to play, while only a third of those surveyed feel gun safety responsibility lies solely with the government. An overwhelming majority (90 percent) feel technology solutions can make us safer through better, more effective licensing, background screening and tracking. A similar majority (84 percent) believe that actual firearm technology updates can help. While respondents see an opportunity for tech solutions to improve safety, they stop far short of believing the tech industry can significantly influence federal gun laws. (Only 16 percent feel that Facebook's recent ban of sales will affect the enactment of stronger federal gun control laws.)

Online Hate Speech Mitigation is a Greater Responsibility for Social Media Companies

The SXSW Interactive community feels social media companies are more responsible than other entities for identifying and addressing hate speech permeating online channels. In terms of monitoring for and recognizing hate speech online, 76 percent believe the responsibility falls on social media companies – towering above the 10 percent who look to the Federal Government for this. Similarly, when it comes to combatting online hate speech, more than half look to social media companies vs. less than one-fifth who would rely on the Federal Government. This continued expectation of industry leadership suggests a shared responsibility to make social media a safe and inclusive space.

Emerging Technologies

Not all categories revealed as strong a resistance to regulation or government intervention, however. When asked about emerging technologies, 91 percent of the community is excited about the promise of robotics and AI to lead a new wave of ingenuity and wealth creation. And yet nearly half (46 percent) would vote for a candidate that supports regulatory oversight of AI. A far less familiar technology – Blockchain – solicited a similar openness to regulation. Only 35 percent of the community has heard of the backbone behind digital cryptocurrency like bitcoin, and yet the majority (67 percent) believe it will make illegal purchases online easier – suggesting a negative reputational impact from previous illicit enterprises using the technology and possibly a fear of the unfamiliar.

Want More?

Full survey data and additional assets can be found below. Conversations with notable tech industry and policy influencers are expected to occur throughout SXSW Interactive – taking place in Austin March 11-15 – and additional context from these discussions will be released in coming weeks.

Accompanying Assets

A full infographic and additional materials can be found on the SXSW website here.

About SXSW Interactive

The 23rd annual SXSW Interactive Festival returns to Austin from Friday, March 11 through Tuesday, March 15. An incubator of cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity, the 2016 event features five days of compelling presentations and panels from the brightest minds in emerging technology, scores of exciting networking events hosted by industry leaders and an unbeatable lineup of special programs showcasing the best new websites, video games and startup ideas the community has to offer. From hands-on training to big-picture analysis of the future, SXSW Interactive has become the place to discover the technology of tomorrow today.

Join us in March 2016 for the sessions, the networking, the special events, the 18th Annual SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards, SXSW Accelerator®, the SXSW Gaming Expo, the SXSW Trade Show, the SX Health & MedTech Expo, SX Create, The Job Market, cross-industry conversations with attendees from SXSW Film and SXSW Music, and, most of all, the unforgettable inspirational experiences that only SXSW can deliver.

SXSW Interactive 2016 is sponsored by Esurance, Mazda, Monster Energy, Capital One, Bud Light, Deloitte Digital, McDonald's, Ten-X, United Airlines, Samsung and The Austin Chronicle.

About Edelman

Edelman is a leading global communications marketing firm that partners with many of the world's largest and emerging businesses and organizations, helping them evolve, promote and protect their brands and reputations. Edelman was named one of Advertising Age's "Agency to Watch" in 2014; one of Forbes' "14 Most Influential Agencies of 2014"; and The Holmes Report's "2013 Global Agency of the Year." Edelman was awarded the Grand Prix Cannes Lion for PR in 2014 and was among Glassdoor's "Best Places to Work" for the third time in 2014. Edelman owns specialty firms Edelman Intelligence (research) and United Entertainment Group (entertainment, sports, experiential), a joint venture with United Talent Agency.

About the Survey

Leading up to the annual festival and amid the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Edelman and SXSW partnered to conduct an online survey of SXSW Interactive members regarding the relationship between technology trends and industry and the broader political landscape. The online survey of current and past SXSW Interactive registrants was conducted between February 18-23, 2016, and resulted in n=891 responses.


SOURCE SXSW Interactive