The Claim and Our Verdict
- The claim: A Facebook video claims to show that former U.S. President Barack Obama admitted that the U.S. had used spam to manipulate public opinion in other countries.
- In the Facebook video, Obama’s reference to the disinformation and conspiracy theories spread by Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign during the 2016 U.S. presidential election has been deleted, and falsified Chinese subtitles have been added to it. The main content of the original video is Obama criticizing Russia for spreading disinformation in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, rather than saying how the U.S. has influenced public opinion in other countries.
- Our verdict: This video makes false claim of Obama’s speech that the U.S. has used spam to manipulate public opinion in other countries.
A Facebook video published June 6, 2022 claims to show Obama admitting that the U.S. has used spam to manipulate public opinion in other countries. The post, written in traditional Chinese, translates as: “Obama suddenly admits that you just have to use spam to disturb a country’s public opinion field, raise enough questions, plant enough conspiracy theories so that people lose trust in their leaders…then, we will win.”
The Chinese-language captions superimposed at the top of the video translates as: “Speech video at Stanford University in 2022—Obama discloses how the U.S. manipulates public opinion in other countries: ‘You just have to use spam to disturb a country’s public opinion field, raise enough questions, spread enough rumors, plant enough conspiracy theories that citizens of these countries don’t know what to believe. Once they lose trust in their leaders, in mainstream media, in political institutions, in each other and in the existence of truth, then, we will win.’”
As of the publication of this report, the video had been viewed 3,460 times, and the post had received 32 comments and 131 likes or reactions. Similar posts have been circulating on social media.
A reverse image search found a YouTube video published by CNBC. The Facebook video was extracted from the CNBC video, from 31:38 to 32:16.
The description of the CNBC video reads, “Former President Barack Obama delivers a keynote address at Stanford University about disinformation and challenges to democracy in the digital realm.” A press release on Obama’s speech was also published April 21, 2022 on the official website of Stanford University.
The full text of Obama’s speech was uploaded April 22, 2022, on Medium, titled “Disinformation Is a Threat to Our Democracy.” The excerpt of his speech related to the Facebook video is as follows,
“And of course, autocrats like Putin have used these platforms as a strategic weapon against democratic countries that they consider a threat.
“People like Putin and Steve Bannon, for that matter, understand it’s not necessary for people to believe this information in order to weaken democratic institutions. You just have to flood a country’s public square with enough raw sewage. You just have to raise enough questions, spread enough dirt, plant enough conspiracy theorizing that citizens no longer know what to believe.
“Once they lose trust in their leaders, in mainstream media, in political institutions, in each other, in the possibility of truth, the game’s won. And as Putin discovered leading up to the 2016 election, our own social media platforms are well designed to support such a mission, such a project.
“Russians could study and manipulate patterns in the engagement ranking system on a Facebook or YouTube. And as a result, Russian’s state sponsor trolls could almost guarantee that whatever disinformation they put out there would reach millions of Americans. And that the more inflammatory the story, the quicker it spread.”
According to the full text of the speech, the Facebook video is an edited version of the original video. The part of Obama’s criticism of Russia’s dissemination of disinformation and conspiracy theories during the 2016 U.S. presidential election has been deleted. Falsified Chinese-language subtitles have been added to distort the meaning of the speech.
This video makes false claim of Obama’s speech that the U.S. has used spam to manipulate public opinion in other countries.
- Facebook, post, June 6, 2022.
- Facebook, post, June 7, 2022.
- YouTube, “Former President Obama speaks on disinformation’s threat to democracy — 4/21/22,” April 22, 2022.
- Stanford University, “Regulation has to be part of the answer’ to combating online disinformation, Barack Obama said at Stanford event,” April 21, 2022.
- Medium, “Disinformation Is a Threat to Our Democracy,” April 22, 2022.
- Reuters, “Trump fires adviser Bannon,” Aug. 19, 2017.