Madeleine Albright says fake news 'damaging to democracy'

MANILA, Philippines – Former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright criticized fake news as "damaging to democracy," as the US-based National Democratic Institute (NDI), which she chairs, awarded Rappler and two other groups for fighting lies online.  

Fake news, she said, is "damaging to democracy."

"I'm very troubled by it because obviously it is influencing people in ways that are counterproductive and, even worse, damaging in so many ways," Albright said in a Facebook Live interview with Rappler's Maria Ressa on Thursday evening, November 2 (Manila time).

"I do think it's terrible when people don't know what the truth is, that they are being bombarded with a variety of information and made-up things, and that those who are really good at this kind of thing – the Russians, for instance – are able to manipulate information, put it into the airwaves and a variety of ways, and persuade people that lies are true, and that is what is so damaging to democracy," she said.

Albright was answering a question about prospects in the face of fake news and "mass manipulation" on social media platforms. 

Albright made her comments as NDI recognized Rappler and two other groups – StopFake.org in Ukraine and the Oxford Internet Institute's Project on Computational Propaganda – for fighting fake news. These 3 organizations received the NDI's highest honor, the W. Averell Harriman Democracy Award. 

Technology 'a double-edged sword'

In her interview with Rappler, Albright also said there is a link between populism and authoritarianism.

"I think that the people are feeling as though they are not being heard, that they are divided, that they have different views, and I think what has happened is that there are people in many, many countries who are taking advantage of it in terms of leadership, and feeling that the popular discontent gives them a right to then become strong slash authoritarian leaders," she said.

She pointed out that technology "has been absolutely instrumental in all of these." She said technology "in so many ways is a double-edged sword."

On one hand, she explained that technology "has connected us in the most incredible ways."

"The downside of it is that it has disconnected, disaggregated voices, so that people feel either alone or totally the victims, and they don't know they're victims, of kind of an echo chamber in terms of facts and information, and don't know what the truth is," Albright said.

She recalled that some tech companies have said "they created Frankenstein."

"In so many ways, it is obviously terrific and obviously something that is damaging," America's first female top diplomat added. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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