U.S. President Barack Obama warned Americans misleading information circulating on social media could pose a serious threat to democracy, as controversy over Facebook’s alleged fake news problem continues to build.
During a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday, Obama briefly veered off topic to address the ongoing controversy, saying that if people can’t distinguish serious arguments from propaganda then “we have problems.”
Obama, who was visiting Berlin on his last official visit to the country as president, warned that if people are misled it will be harder for officials to know what to protect.
“We won’t know what to fight for,” he said. “And we can lose so much of what we’ve gained in terms of the kind of democratic freedoms and market-based economies and prosperity that we’ve come to take for granted.”
In the days following the U.S. election, several media outlets published opinion pieces accusing Facebook of influencing voters by allowing fake news websites and blogs masquerading as legitimate sources to be featured next to articles from legitimate news sources. Several pundits and media companies were concerned the information may have swayed voters towards President-elect Donald Trump.
While Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been vocal in opposing the reports, claiming less than one per cent of the content shared to Facebook is considered “fake news,” a Buzzfeed article published earlier this week quoted several Facebook employees who claimed fake news “ran wild” on the social network in the months leading up to the election.
“If we are not serious about facts, and what’s true and what’s not, and particularly in an age of social media where so many people are getting their information in sound bites and snippets off their phones, if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems,” Obama said Thursday.