Fake news is an epidemic on social media. Even President Barack Obama is concerned about the effect this reckless spread of misinformation is going to have on our nation, and, as he revealed in a lengthy interview with The New Yorker, the effect it will have on our planet. Obama blamed fake news — and social media more broadly — for being a major reason why the country can’t come together to combat global climate change.
Obama spoke at length to The New Yorker’s editor David Remnick at length in the wake of Donald Trump’s stunning upset in the 2016 presidential election. Throughout the piece, Obama grapples with the implications of a Trump presidency and what it means for his own legacy. He also discussed his concerns about what fake news is doing to political discourse. Obama and his political director, David Simas, were “talking obsessively” about a recent BuzzFeed article that revealed that many sites propagating fake news were actually created by Macedonian teens.
For Obama, fake news just propagates a somewhat recent development in America where the left and right aren’t dealing with the same facts. This divide is especially bad when trying to come together to solve a problem like climate change. Obama explained his take to Remnick:
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.
Fake news — or extremely questionable news, at the very least — makes consensus impossible, Obama said.
“Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, 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.
President-elect Trump, meanwhile, has said that he believes climate change is a hoax created by the Chinese.Photos via Getty Images / Pool, Getty Images / Alex Wong