President Barack Obama gave his thoughts on how social media has changed the tenor of political debates in a new profile in The New Yorker’s November 28 issue.
In the wake of Trump’s upset win last Tuesday, many have critcized Facebook for allowing fake news stories to propagate on the social network unchecked.
At the end of the US presidential election, the top malicious fake news stories actually outperformed legitimate news stories shared by some of the most popular media companies, BuzzFeed reported on Thursday.
Obama paid mention to the fake news controversy by noting that social media and new media sources have created an ecosystem where “everything is true and nothing is true.”
According to the president, it has created an issue where Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on an established set of facts to have a policy debate, and instead endlessly argue the facts themselves.
By example, Obama mentioned climate change:
“An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal — that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”
That marked a decisive change from previous political eras, he maintained. “Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behaviour, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us,” he said. “And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That’s how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you’d argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don’t have that.”
Read the full New Yorker profile here.
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