During a press conference in Germany on Thursday, President Barack Obama spoke about a topic which many Americans have been calling attention to since the election: the proliferation of fake news stories on Facebook. A recent BuzzFeed report found fake news was more popular on Facebook than real news in the weeks before the election. In response to the public outcry, Facebook has made some changes to curb the spread of fake news sources, but not before President Obama got a word in.
At the press conference the president remarked on “an age where there’s so much active misinformation and it’s packaged very well, and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television.”
The president speaking on this issue is no small thing. It means that he considers it to be a matter of national importance, one that must be addressed in some way going forward. In the instance, Obama appeared to be making a plea to the national consciousness of Americans, warning them about the dangers of fiction that masquerades as fact. Obama didn’t go so far, as others have, to say that those fake news stories tilted the election in Donald Trump’s favor. But he was clearly bothered by the consumption of false information.
Many Americans agree with him, with some offering their own opinions on the discussion.
The president himself has a long history with social media. In the past, he has spoken in favor of its potential. In both 2008 and 2012, the Obama campaign displayed a degree of competence with social media that far outclassed his opponents. Looking into the future, the Obama administration is the first to release a plan for how it will preserve its digital history. The administration has even expressed openness to things like Twitter bots that could be used to preserve the voice and online personality of the 44th president into the future.
For all it has benefited him, Obama is the inaugural president to have to guide the country through the murky waters of social media and the constant stream of content it generates. His administration, as evidenced by their social media transition plan, is of the belief that it can be a positive force in society, one that can further bridge he gap between politics and people. But, it’s clear from Obama’s remarks in Germany, there are also risks and dangers inherent to the proliferation of social media. There are ways in which it can be manipulated or abused. Obama has cautioned against just that, even as he looks forward to what comes next.
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