Facebook received a poke by none other than President Barack Obama during a press conference recently. He took his time to assail the spread of fake news online, especially how it spreads on the social network.
“If everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect,” he said.
Obama slams fake news for weakening democracy
Obama made his remarks during a press conference in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Obama said if one cannot discriminate between propaganda and serious arguments, then they have problems. He noted that fake news has the power to damage or even destroy democracy. The remarks by President Obama come at a time when the tech giant has been subject to scornful criticism for letting hoaxes and fake stories spread to millions of users at a critical time.
Obama seems to have been thinking about Facebook’s fake news problem for quite some time. A profile in The New Yorker about his final days as president said that he talked “obsessively” about a BuzzFeed report on how Macedonian teens were spamming the social networking site with fake Donald Trump news for profit and entertainment, according to The Verge.
Obama told New Yorker editor David Remnick that “everything is true and nothing is true.”
Facebook not named, but it was obvious
Obama did not actually mention Facebook by name, but the social network lies at the center of the fake news controversy for two reasons. According to the Knight Foundation and Pew Research Center, about 45% of the U.S. population gets their news from the social network. Additionally, this week, BuzzFeed researchers discovered that during the run-up to the presidential election this month, the top-performing fake stories performed better on Facebook than accurate stories shared by conventional media platforms.
Paul Horner, one of the biggest publishers of fake news, even took credit for the victory of Trump. He said his sites were picked up by Trump supporters all the time. He added that he thinks Trump is in the White House because of him.
Facebook, for its part, has banned sites which post fake news from using its advertising network to turn a profit. CEO Mark Zuckerberg called the idea of the social network playing a role in influencing the result of the U.S. election “crazy.” However, he did say that the tech giant would do more to fight the spread of fake news and would resist becoming an “arbiter of truth.”