Facebook and other operators in the “early internet scene” had an “explicit goal” in getting former President Barack Obama elected during his campaigns for the White House, according to Semafor co-founder and former Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith.
Smith said he was “surprised” to learn the extent to which major operators in the tech and media sector had supported Obama while conducting research for this new book “Traffic” – which is described as “the origin story of the age of disinformation.”
“For the Huffington Post, that was part of the point,” Smith told MSNBC’s Alex Wagner on Tuesday. “And everyone just took for granted in that world that these were college kids, young people, newly on the internet — they were Democrats.”
“Barack Obama visited Facebook,” Smith added. “It sort of went without saying that Facebook was a Democratic institution.”
In 2011, Obama traveled to Facebook’s headquarters and appeared on stage for a town hall event alongside company boss Mark Zuckerberg. The event was also lived-streamed on Facebook’s website.
The Post has reached out to Facebook parent Meta for comment on Smith’s remarks.
Smith argued the leftward lean of early internet culture eventually shifted – with prominent conservatives and right-wing figures co-opting viral content to fuel “new culture wars” and their political goals.
“I think everybody thought, well, the high point of this whole world, this whole new digital world, is the election of Barack Obama,” Smith said. “In fact, to look back, the high point, the crowning achievement of this new social media world is the election of Donald Trump.”
Smith added that Facebook proved to be an epicenter of the shift, prompting some panic at the company.
“Facebook, in particular, was this great tool for spreading this new, real angry energy,” he said. “Facebook, I think, started to get freaked out by it and adjusted to it and started tweaking its dials to say, ‘Wait, we don’t want people sharing fake stories about Hillary Clinton body doubles. We want like more meaningful stories which people engage with.’”
“And then what that would be was like a Donald Trump meme and you replying ‘kill yourself’ in the comments and then that being shared to everybody because the algorithm has decided that you are deeply engaged,” Smith added.
Mediaite earlier covered Smith’s remarks.
In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, Facebook and Twitter faced criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle – with Democrats lambasting the platforms for allowing the spread of misinformation and Republicans accusing them of suppressing conservative viewpoints.
Prior to co-founding Semafor last year, Smith had served as Buzzfeed’s editor-in-chief from 2011 to 2020. He was also a media columnist at the New York Times from 2020 until 2022.
The Open Magazine of India by Artmotion Network (https://magazine.armotion.com/)