Obama Rails Against Fake News
President Obama has stated that fake news sites and articles have diluted the political process, due to the ease confirmation bias can have when influencing political actions.
The Hill reports:
President Obama on Thursday denounced the the spread of fake news online, suggesting it’s helped undermine the U.S. political process.
“If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not … if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems,” Obama said during a news conference in Germany.
The president’s comments amplify reports that viral fake news influenced the 2016 presidential election, adding to pressure on social media sites like Facebook to address the criticism that they didn’t do enough to address the issue.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pushed back on criticism last week, calling it a “pretty crazy idea” to suggest that fake news affected the outcome of the election.
But a BuzzFeed study published Wednesday showed that top-performing fake election stories generated more engagement on Facebook than leading stories from more than a dozen major news sites during the final three months of the campaign.
Obama argued that phenomenon can have an affect on voter attitudes toward candidates, particularly “in an age where there is so much active misinformation, and it’s packaged very well, and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or turn on your television.”
“If everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect,” Obama said. “We won’t know what to fight for.”
Some Democrats have argued the fake news phenomenon had a greater negative impact on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, Obama’s preferred candidate, than on Donald Trump.
A separate BuzzFeed analysis from October showed 38 percent of posts from three leading right-wing Facebook pages contained fake news, compared to 19 percent on three major left-wing pages.
“My sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time,” Paul Horner, a prominent purveyor of fake news on Facebook, told The Washington Post. “I think Trump is in the White House because of me.”
The irony for Obama is that social media helped launch his national political career.
His campaign teams in 2008 and 2012 were lauded for using sites like Facebook and Twitter to engage with supporters and raise money. Obama’s White House has used social media tools to skirt the “filter” of the news media and communicate directly with the public.
But the president seems to be leaving office with a dimmer view of the platforms he’s relied upon.
“Part of what’s changed in politics is social media and how people are receiving information,” he said. “It’s easier to make negative attacks and simplistic slogans than it is to communicate complex policies. But we’ll figure it out.”
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr.