Obama: The internet is “the single biggest threat to our democracy”

“you have a situation in which large swaths of the country genuinely believe that the Democratic Party is a front for a pedophile ring…I was talking to a volunteer who was going door-to-door in Philadelphia in low-income African American communities, and was getting questions about QAnon conspiracy theories.”

“If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition our democracy doesn’t work.”

How “truth decay” is harming America’s coronavirus recovery

“Truth decay encompasses four trends, each of which is relevant to what we’re experiencing now.
The first is increasing disagreement about facts and data. An example in this context would be the disagreement about the safety of vaccines and whether people will take them once they’re made and distributed.

The second trend is the increased blurring of the line between fact and opinion. This is caused a lot by commentary in cable news or social media, places where facts and opinion are mixed together and make it really hard to determine what’s real and what’s someone’s opinion or analysis.

The third trend is the increasing volume of opinion compared to fact. You’re just seeing a lot more opinion out there. If you’re looking for facts, you have to work pretty hard to dig through all that commentary before you can actually find the raw facts you might be looking for.

Finally, declining trust in key institutions that provide information. We’re experiencing this now with the government and the media.

Put together, people are not sure what’s true what’s not, and they don’t even really know where to turn to find factual information they’re looking for.”

“Dr. Anthony Fauci, for example, seems to be the guy providing the media and the public with the necessary facts about the coronavirus right now. But because the president undercuts him and disagrees with a lot of what he says, he’s become somewhat of a polarizing figure. If you’re a Trump fan, you might not be a Fauci fan, and vice versa.

At such a crucial time, how is the expertise of someone like Fauci or other public health experts not innately trusted?”

“people like to confirm their own beliefs. They don’t necessarily want to hear information that disagrees with their views, and it leads people to reject information from experts that doesn’t fit their narrative.”

“I’m skeptical this moment will lead to only facts coming from the top and an extra effort from the bottom to seek facts. Tens of thousands of Americans have died, millions have fallen ill, and yet there doesn’t seem to be a change. The US isn’t rising to the moment.”

“this is a national failure because it prevents us from making progress on the big issues that our country needs to confront if we want to continue being a prosperous nation and maintain the position we have in the world.”

“Flood the zone with shit”: How misinformation overwhelmed our democracy

“No amount of evidence, on virtually any topic, is likely to move public opinion one way or the other. We can attribute some of this to rank partisanship — some people simply refuse to acknowledge inconvenient facts about their own side.

But there’s another, equally vexing problem. We live in a media ecosystem that overwhelms people with information. Some of that information is accurate, some of it is bogus, and much of it is intentionally misleading. The result is a polity that has increasingly given up on finding out the truth. As Sabrina Tavernise and Aidan Gardiner put it in a New York Times piece, “people are numb and disoriented, struggling to discern what is real in a sea of slant, fake, and fact.””

“it’s the consequence of a deliberate strategy. It was distilled almost perfectly by Steve Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News and chief strategist for Donald Trump. “The Democrats don’t matter,” Bannon reportedly said in 2018. “The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.””

“What we’re facing is a new form of propaganda that wasn’t really possible until the digital age. And it works not by creating a consensus around any particular narrative but by muddying the waters so that consensus isn’t achievable.”

“creating widespread cynicism about the truth and the institutions charged with unearthing it erodes the very foundation of liberal democracy.”

“The role of “gatekeeping” institutions has also changed significantly. Before the internet and social media, most people got their news from a handful of newspapers and TV networks. These institutions functioned like referees, calling out lies, fact-checking claims, and so on. And they had the ability to control the flow of information and set the terms of the conversation.

Today, gatekeepers still matter in terms of setting a baseline for political knowledge, but there’s much more competition for clicks and audiences, and that alters the incentives for what’s declared newsworthy in the first place. At the same time, traditional media outlets remain committed to a set of norms that are ill adapted to the modern environment. The preference for objectivity in political coverage, in particular, is a problem.

As Joshua Green, who wrote a biography of Bannon, explained, Bannon’s lesson from the Clinton impeachment in the 1990s was that to shape the narrative, a story had to move beyond the right-wing echo chamber and into the mainstream media. That’s exactly what happened with the now-debunked Uranium One story that dogged Clinton from the beginning of her campaign — a story Bannon fed to the Times, knowing that the supposedly liberal paper would run with it because that’s what mainstream media news organizations do.

In this case, Bannon flooded the zone with a ridiculous story not necessarily to persuade the public that it was true (although surely plenty of people bought into it) but to create a cloud of corruption around Clinton. And the mainstream press, merely by reporting a story the way it always has, helped create that cloud.”

“This all intersects with political polarization in troubling ways. One consequence of pervasive confusion about what’s happening is that people feel more comfortable siding with their political tribe. If everything’s up for grabs, and it’s hard to sift through the competing narratives to find the truth, then there’s nothing left but culture war politics. There’s “us” and “them,” and the possibility of persuasion is off the table.”

“It’s worth noting that this polarization is asymmetric. The left overwhelmingly receives its news from organizations like the New York Times, the Washington Post, or cable news networks like MSNBC or CNN. Some of the reporting is surely biased, and probably biased in favor of liberals, but it’s still (mostly) anchored to basic journalistic ethics.

As a recent book by three Harvard researchers explains, this just isn’t true of the right. American conservative media functions like a closed system, with Fox News at the center. Right-wing outlets are less tethered to conventional journalistic ethics and exist mostly to propagate the bullshit they produce.”

“this has created an atmosphere that has helped Trump. The Trump administration has been remarkably successful at muddying the waters on Ukraine and impeachment, and Republicans in Congress have helped by parroting the administration’s talking points.”