Scepticism gave campaign hacks a boost, says Obama

WASHINGTON • United States President Barack Obama, following the intelligence report describing Russian hacking of the 2016 presidential election campaign, said he was surprised by the extent to which false information had been able to influence the nation's democratic processes.

The President, going into his final weeks in the Oval Office, spoke in an interview airing on Sunday on ABC's This Week With George Stephanopoulos. The interview was conducted last Friday.

"I underestimated the degree to which, in this new information age, it is possible for misinformation, for cyber hacking and so forth, to have an impact on our open societies, our open systems," Mr Obama said.

He said the ability of foreign countries to impact the US political debate partly reflected the scepticism many people have towards mainstream news. "In that kind of environment, where there's so much scepticism about information that's coming in, we're going to have to spend a lot more time thinking about how we protect our democratic process."

The type of interference that US intelligence agencies linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin has been going on for some time, and could happen again during elections in Europe this year, Mr Obama said.

"What is true is that the Russians intended to meddle, and they meddled," he said.

"And it could be another country in the future."

In a broad-ranging interview, Mr Obama described his recent conversations with President-elect Donald Trump, whom he termed "very engaging and gregarious".

The President said he had warned Mr Trump about the dangers posed by unfiltered use of social media after his inauguration on Jan 20.

Mr Trump has roiled individual share prices with Twitter messages about the activities of certain companies. In other recent tweets, he has hinted he would like to change decades of policy on nuclear weapons.

Said Mr Obama: "The day that he is the president of the United States, there are world capitals and financial markets and people all around the world who take really seriously what he says, and, in a way, that's just not true before you're actually sworn in as president."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2017, with the headline 'Scepticism gave campaign hacks a boost, says Obama'. Print Edition | Subscribe