James Fallows on the impact of Facebook on modern politics

By Bridget Fitzhenry

European editor of The Atlantic, James Fallows. Credit: Billmoyers.com

Facebook was “behaving in an irresponsible and value-free way” during the 2016 US presidential election, according to the European editor of The Atlantic magazine.

James Fallows said that Facebook should be more aware of its effects on western democracy after revelations that Russian companies bought political ads on Facebook to influence the election. He said that Facebook should think “more deliberately and carefully about their social and political impact”.

Addressing rumours that Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, may run for president, Fallows said that he should instead “channel that energy into his company”.

Fallows reported extensively on the 2016 presidential election and visited DCU on Friday to give a talk on Donald Trump, American democracy and the media.

Professor Kevin Rafter, Head of the School of Communications, welcomed Fallows to the university. Professor Steven Knowlton then introduced Fallows to the room of DCU staff and students, describing him as “one of the most insightful political analysts”.

“Non-Americans point out it’s unfair they don’t have a vote in the US elections, although Russia might, because the implications are so great” Fallows said.

“10,000 things all had to go coincidentally in the one direction” for Trump to win, according to Fallows.  

He said that Trump was elected president after the press assumed Hillary Clinton would win and judged her more harshly.  

“The media assumed she was going to win and held her to a higher standard.”

He added that Trump had been well-known as an entertainer in America after playing a boss on The Apprentice for years and people associated him with being in a place of power.

Fallows said that Trump was elected among disruptions such as immigration and factories closing. He added that “generations are constantly being disrupted” and such economic dislocation has occurred before in the United Sates.

The US president is “not afraid to enflame racial tensions” according to Fallows. Addressing Trump’s stance on limiting immigration, Fallows said that immigration in America is “not as disruptive as previous eras”.

Although Trump’s disdain for the media has been highly publicised, Fallows said that historically, other presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, have also attempted to censor the press. He described this animosity as an “ongoing tension because political leaders don’t like a free press”.

Fallows said that the spread of misinformation has become an issue with the rise of bloggers and alternative media outlets who say things that “just aren’t true”. He said “most Republicans believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya” because of fake news. Fallows said it is more important than ever for mainstream media to provide accurate news.

“The main thing the media can do is keep laying down the bricks of the best version of reality.”