Colin P. Clarke
Security, North America
This is a very real possibility.
In late April, a toy drone buzzed past the palace of the king of Saudi Arabia, leading Saudi security forces to shoot down it down. Online, a story spread quickly across the Internet that the Saudi royal palace was under siege and a full-fledged coup was in progress. Given the recent crackdown and imprisonment of wealthy and influential Saudis engineered by Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the news was believable—at least initially. But in the end, just like the commercial drone, the story of the coup plot was also shot down, proved to be false and just another piece of the ubiquitous disinformation flotsam populating the World Wide Web.
Throughout history, certain individuals have played an outsized role in geopolitics and world affairs. Today, super-empowered actors have access to technologies that magnify their ability to wreak havoc. This trend will likely be further exacerbated by subsequent technological developments, with the ability of individuals and small groups to cause widescale disruptions to society—through cyberattacks or the use of drones coupled with a dedicated misinformation campaign—growing even more acute in the future. Moreover, individuals and small groups can easily be used by nefarious state sponsors as proxy actors in ongoing conflicts.