Obama warned Zuckerberg about fake-news epidemic

25 Sep 2017

Former US president Barack Obama discussed fake news with Mark Zuckerberg in Peru last year. Image: Evan El Amin/Shutterstock

Obama’s warning came days after Zuckerberg dismissed claims that fake news influenced 2016’s US presidential election.

It has been reported that former US president Barack Obama pulled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg aside at a meeting of world leaders – which took place in Lima, Peru, last year – to discuss the issue of fake news.

The Washington Post reported that the Obama administration had been distressed as it figured out a way to respond to the social media interference – particularly from Russia – that seemed to be having a discernible affect on US voters.

Zuckerberg acknowledged the fake-news issue but he said there was no easy remedy to this problem, as the stories in question were not widespread enough.

‘A systematic failure of responsibility’

The conversation took place on 19 November last year, just a few days after the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the US.

According to The Washington Post, Obama did not respond to a request for comment, while Facebook said it has come forward “at every opportunity” to disclose links to propaganda news items.

Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies social media’s impact on society, said that events at Facebook showed a “systematic failure of responsibility”.

She continued: “It’s rooted in their overconfidence that they know best, their naivety about how the world works, their extensive effort to avoid oversight and their business model of having very few employees so that no one is minding the store.”

Fake-news data handed over to the authorities

This report comes after Facebook turned over data on 3,000 Russian-bought ads to US authorities, with Zuckerberg stating that the company would be implementing some serious strategies to create transparency around political advertising regulations on the mammoth social network.

He said: “Facebook’s mission is all about giving people a voice and bringing people closer together. Those are deeply democratic values, and we’re proud of them. I don’t want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy. That’s not what we stand for.”

Investigators looking into the use of Facebook as a platform to spread propaganda described what they had discovered so far as “the tip of the iceberg”.

Updated, 4.52pm, 25 September 2017: This article was updated to amend a typo, which led to the incorrect pronoun use for Zeynep Tufekci.

Former US president Barack Obama discussed fake news with Mark Zuckerberg in Peru last year. Image: Evan El Amin/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects