In a World of Weaponized Information, Professional Journalism Can Be the Lifeline

In the post-truth era, the media has acquired a new role, one that can upend political systems, believes Steve Clemons, Washington editor at large for The Atlantic. However, professional journalism can help us adapt and build resilience in a world where technology has changed the terrain. 

“Technology has changed the power of certain voices and allowed them to create spikes and to trigger passions at a moment,” Clemons told on the sidelines of the 18th Doha Forum, where the Valdai Club held a special session. “They can hijack a political system, or hijack a political movement, they can create mistruth.” 

“What I am worried about is weaponized media, weaponized social media that is not only false, but it is designed to create dramatically bad circumstances,” he said. “And I think we need to find cases of this, focus a spotlight on them, educate ourselves about those kinds of things and develop a kind of skepticism in our society about those moments, so they we are not carried away to do something idiotic in response.” 

Internet does not seem to work as a natural corrective with people tending to seek out that information that only confirms what they already believe, Clemons said. “I do not know how we are going to fix that, but I believe optimistically, eventually we will. I don’t think journalism is dead.” 

Asked whether media coverage is able to disrupt high-level contacts, like between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, Clemons said that he would rather not overestimate their role. 

“I tend to believe that leadership meet no matter what: even if they do not like one another, they should be engaging one another,” he said. “The question and the complexity with our president is that Donald Trump wants to turn everyone into a pal, into a ‘buddy’. That is a terrible thing, and the media should be loud, when in fact there are issues of concern.”

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.