Rethink Disruption: The emergence of the Fifth Estate and the progress it can drive for society

17 Jan 2024 · 4 min read
Philip Morris International’s new white paper explores the better future society can deliver if the Fifth Estate—powered by individual voices and digital technologies—is embraced as a force for good by governments, businesses, policymakers, and NGOs.
Group of people holding mobile phones

In a new white paper, Philip Morris International (PMI) investigates the rise of the Fifth Estate—the name given to nontraditional sources of influence that’s increasingly shaping people’s beliefs and behaviors—and its potential to deliver progress for society when harnessed for good.

Rethink Disruption: The Rise of the Fifth Estate” explores the opportunities this people-powered phenomenon presents for businesses, policymakers, governments, and nongovernmental organizations—and suggests how they might address its challenges.

Encompassing a vast and diverse range of independent commentators, social media users, content creators, and online communities, the Fifth Estate poses unprecedented challenges and opportunities for established institutions by empowering individuals and citizen-led movements to drive change.

By creating new spaces for public dialogue—bringing people together and mobilizing them around shared interests, values, and causes—it is challenging traditional forms of power, providing a platform for diverse, and often overlooked, perspectives.

“The Fifth Estate has become a significant societal force that can be leveraged for good or ill,” said Dr. Moira Gilchrist, PMI’s Chief Communications Officer. “On the one hand, the digital technologies that underpin it enable everyday people to stand up for what matters to them and help drive broad societal action.

“On the other, this new power center can favor emotion and ideology over facts, perpetuating polarization and misinformation. The question facing businesses, regulators, and society at large concerns how we can help steer this emerging force in a positive direction and address the valid concerns being expressed.”

Dr Moira Gilchrist,
Chief Communications Officer, Philip Morris International

Individuals shaping new narratives

The growing influence of the Fifth Estate highlights a new reality: The transformative power of individuals as agents of change.

In this fast-paced, ever-evolving and interconnected world, people have become not just consumers of information, but active creators—shaping narratives and contributing to the public discourse.

Platforms such as social media, online communities, and issue-based groups, as well as the overall democratization of information (for instance, via open-access websites such as Wikipedia), have empowered individuals to challenge entrenched norms, raise awareness of critical issues, and advocate for change.

As established power structures navigate this evolving landscape, our white paper explains why we must embrace and amplify diverse voices, practice transparency, and promote civilized debate.

This demands a commitment to facts, critical thinking, and collaborative efforts to deliver a better future, with people at the heart of any given issue.

Giving a voice to critical causes

With its focus often on advancing social and environmental causes and scrutinizing the performance and accountability of, the Fifth Estate can be a pivotal force in society’s push for better.

Where it successfully navigates pitfalls such as the spread of misinformation and ill-informed ideologies, the Fifth Estate has the power to drive more urgent conversations and calls to action in the public sphere, boost innovation and knowledge sharing, and cultivate a more informed and inclusive society.

To better understand how the public interacts with the Fifth Estate, PMI commissioned independent research firm Povaddo to conduct an international survey in December 2023.

Among its key findings, the survey found that two-thirds of respondents believe most people today get their news and information from individual and community-based online platforms, such as online communities, bloggers, social media, and podcasts.

Conversely, it revealed only 29 percent believe most people get their news and information from traditional sources such as television, radio, and newspapers.

Appealing for debates where people are at the center

At PMI, we recognize the critical importance of engaging with every part of society if we’re to achieve our ambition of delivering a smoke-free future.

We have transformed our entire business model to provide adult smokers who don’t quit with scientifically substantiated smoke-free innovations that are a much better alternative to continued smoking.

Using World Health Organization (WHO) data, estimates, and methods, along with other third-party research, the positive potential public health impact of the world’s smokers switching completely from cigarettes to less harmful, smoke-free products can be seen.

Our hypothetical model shows that if these products are assumed to be 80 percent less risky than cigarettes—and if adults who currently smoke were to switch to them completely—then over their lifetime there’s a potential for a 10-fold reduction in smoking-attributable deaths compared with historical tobacco control measures alone.

Yet, despite all the evidence suggesting the potential of tobacco harm reduction, policies of inaction—or even misinformation—continue in many places.

“For PMI, embracing the voices of individuals—most vitally, adult smokers—and encouraging a people-centric debate involving policymakers, public health authorities, and civil society is critical to achieving our ambition of a smoke-free future—a future in which cigarettes have been made obsolete,” said Dr. Gilchrist.

“The Fifth Estate can accelerate this future by prioritizing accuracy and science-based facts to empower those adults who would otherwise continue to smoke to change to better alternatives.”

Co-creating a better future

The complexities of the modern world demand that every corporation, institution of size, and individual help to solve them.

We’ve reached a fork in the road. Will we continue down the current path, relying on traditional centers of power to find and force solutions, or take a new route devising ways to support the enormous potential of this newest estate and accelerate progress for society?

For PMI, working with the Fifth Estate presents us with an opportunity to co-create a better future for adult smokers, for public health, and for generations to come.

Top image © Getty Images