The President of the United States has recognized fake news spreading on social media as a major problem facing the country and the rest of the world.
“If we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems,” President Obama said during a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday.
He said we will have problems if “we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not, and particularly in an age of social media when so many people are getting their information in sound bites and off their phones.”
“Because in an age where there’s so much active misinformation and its packaged very well and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television,”Obama said. “If everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect.”
He continued: “I got all caught up in that one.”
A Facebook spokeswoman declined further comment and pointed TheWrap to Mark Zuckerberg’s statement from last week.
On Monday, hours after a top Hillary Clinton campaign staffer spoke out against Facebook, the Wall Street Journal reported that Mark Zuckerberg’s company would block fake news sites from using its advertising network to generate revenue. The decision came soon after Google did the same thing.
Many Clinton supporters lay some of the blame for her defeat on a Facebook algorithm that feeds false stories to low-information voters — the kind of people who could be tricked into believing baseless claims, for example, that President Obama was born in Kenya. When they click on one bit of false information, they’re led down a rabbit hole of more conservative conspiracy theories, until it seems like all anyone ever talks about are Bill Clinton’s supposed secret son and Benghazi.
The fact that Facebook posts aren’t vetted for accuracy, like those on mainstream news sites, newscasts or newspapers, means more exposure to the kinds of stories that might not make it into the mainstream news media. Many conservatives say that’s good, because it means previously ignored stories can’t be censored. But it also means they aren’t fact-checked by professional journalists, and could be flat-out hoaxes.
One meme going around this week, for example, says Donald Trump won the popular vote. He didn’t. On Sunday night, HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver slammed Facebook as a “cesspool of nonsense” and pointed to a fake story about the Pope endorsing Trump that was shared almost 1 million times.
On Saturday, Zuckerberg ducked the question of whether Facebook spreads misinformation by calling it a “pretty crazy concept.” But he later said the company must work harder to “flag hoaxes and fake news.”
Clinton campaign chief digital strategist Teddy Goff told Politico on Monday that while “everyone has the right to say what they want,” Facebook needs to stop publishing work from content providers with “a record of making stuff up.”