Former US president Barack Obama reportedly warned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to take the threat of fake news on the platform seriously in a meeting weeks after the election last year. Obama reportedly pulled Zuckerberg aside at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru on 19 November, warning the tech executive that the issue would only get worse in the next election if left unchecked, The Washington Post reported Sunday (24 September).
Although Zuckerberg acknowledged the issue, he reportedly told Obama that such messages were not as widespread on the site and that there was no easy fix for it, people briefed on the conversation told The Post.
Prior to Election Day, Obama voiced serious concerns over Facebook's fake news problem saying it was creating a "cloud of nonsense" and leading many people to believe "outright lies" and "crazy stuff."
"The way campaigns have unfolded, we just start accepting crazy stuff as normal and people if they just repeat attacks enough and outright lies over and over again," Obama said at the time. "As long as it's on Facebook, and people can see it, as long as it's on social media, people start believing it, and it creates this dust cloud of nonsense."
Shortly after President Donald Trump's victory over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, many argued that the dissemination of fake news, misinformation and hoaxes on Facebook may have influenced the election. Initially, Zuckerberg dismissed the notion as a "pretty crazy idea."
Facebook has come under intense scrutiny recently after it revealed that it sold about $100,000 (£74,470) worth of Facebook's politically divisive ads to inauthentic accounts and pages likely linked to Russia during the election. The social media giant agreed last week to hand over the thousands of ads to Congress and vowed to protect "election integrity" through numerous measures going forward.
Facebook's ad practices also came under fire after it was reported it allowed marketers to target ads towards users interested in topics such as "Jew hater" or "How to burn Jews". The company has taken down the offensive categories and said it would tighten its ad policies and controls.
In January, US intelligence agencies concluded that Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered a complex "influence campaign" involving cyberattacks, misinformation campaigns and more to denigrate Hillary Clinton and help Trump win the race. The Kremlin has dismissed the allegations and denied any involvement in the DNC hack.
Multiple congressional committees, including Special Counsel Robert Mueller, are currently investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and alleged collusion between Trump's campaign and the Kremlin. Trump has referred to the ongoing Russia probe as a "witch hunt" and a "hoax".
"I care deeply about the democratic process and protecting its integrity," Zuckerberg said in a Facebook Live video last week. "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."
"Now, I wish I could tell you we're going to be able to stop all interference, but that wouldn't be realistic," he continued. "There will always be bad people in the world, and we can't prevent all governments from all interference. But we can make it harder. We can make it a lot harder. And that's what we're going to do."