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Obama Addresses Disinformation in Public Media

Updated: Jun 26, 2022


May 14, 2022

By Alya Satchu

CHICAGO– On April 6, at a University of Chicago conference, former president Barack Obama joined journalists, politicians, and policymakers from around the world at the David Rubenstein forum to discuss the spread of disinformation and potential solutions. The three day conference was co-hosted by The Atlantic and UChicago’s Institute of Politics.

The former president discussed the evolution of media and technology, and how it has transformed public distribution of news. Obama emphasized that current social media, the decline in local journalism, and the acceptance of “anger-based journalism” (media works to maintain controversy), have worsened the state of democracy.

“The growth of social media and technology whose product design monetizes anger and resentment—all this undermines our democracy and, if combined with ethno-nationalism, misogyny or racism, can be fatal,” he said.

Obama admitted that he misjudged the extent to which democracies like America were susceptible to misinformation. Journalist Anne Applebaum echoed this concern, pointing to her research in Eastern Europe. She explained that, in the 1980s when the Soviet Union wanted to produce disinformation, a case took several years to build. Currently, that same process would take a mere 10 minutes. Applebaum described this as the “dark side of globalization.” She asserted that all nations are interconnected in the realm of information and news. Thus, the United States can circulate false information to a similar degree. Nations are able to connect through media and spread propaganda in new domains.

“As the 2016 election unfolded, I watched, my jaw dropping, as I saw Russian slogans that I knew had originated in Russian media, appearing in the U.S. election campaign,” Applebaum recalled.

Nonetheless, Obama remains hopeful for the future of public media and asserts that fighting disinformation can be as simple as encouraging the widespread consumption of honest reporting. Across certain media platforms, some new prevention measures are currently being discussed.

Head of Biden’s Disinformation Board Nina Jankowitz said that on Twitter, there are many people who are verified, but shouldn’t be because they are not “legit” or “trustworthy”. She proposed a new Twitter feature that allows verified users to “edit” posts on Twitter, by adding context to certain Tweets. She offered an example, “If [former] President [Donald] Trump were still on Twitter and tweeted a claim about voter fraud, someone could add context from one of the 60 lawsuits that went through the court or something that an election official said…so that people have a fuller picture rather than just an individual claim on a tweet.”

Deputy Director of Media Relations at Teens for Press Freedom, Ifeoma Okwuka added, “Everyone deserves access to credible information. From producers of media to consumers of media, we all have a role to play in protecting the integrity of the press. It starts with being critically aware of where our news comes from and the types of biases that might possibly inform what we consume.

“Making it a personal obligation to not only spot false news, but also help circulate the truth goes a long way. In preserving the credibility of our press, we help to strengthen the future of public media and our democracy.”


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