The echo chamber of social media and the increasingly fractured way in which Americans consume news are dividing the country and threatening democracy, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio warned Monday.
“No country can survive if it’s split in two, three parts,” Rubio said during a speech before the Inter American Press Association at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. “Nowadays, we even debate the facts themselves.”
Florida’s senior Republican senator cautioned about the dangers of America’s splintered information systems while speaking about the influence of digital media in the Americas. He spoke both about what troubles Latin America — where Rubio is among the most influential voices in terms of U.S. policy — and about how some of those same issues are surfacing in the United States as people of different political persuasions hear drastically different stories about the events of the day.
“Today in ever-growing numbers people receive information through some platform such as a search engine or Facebook, and this divides the information you receive based on your preferences,” Rubio said. “We live in a world where people might be neighbors and live in two separate universes.”
Discussing how totalitarian regimes in Latin America have controlled information by cracking down on the press and information, Rubio said he worries that disinformation campaigns and fringe outlets are able to promulgate false theories in the U.S. and around the world. He warned of so-called “deep fakes” that manipulate media to make it appear as if people said or did things that never happened.
Control of the truth, he said, has allowed totalitarian regimes to grip power in Latin America. And he said the fracturing of facts is beginning to undermine the ability of the U.S. government to function.
“A true republic, a true democracy, requires us to reach understandings with individuals who don’t share our point of view,” he said.
He added: “We live in an age where understanding each other or coming to an understanding or an agreement with another person [with a different political view], that becomes a treason.”
Rubio, who gave his speech in Spanish, also said the rapid expansion of digital media has helped democratize information and bring awareness to the world on issues in Latin America. But he said the profit-driven mission of the U.S. press and penchant for covering the controversial is incentivizing politicians and candidates to say increasingly outrageous things and adopt extreme views.
Referencing his experiences during his own failed 2016 presidential campaign — during which he said he’s previously said he embarrassed himself by mocking the size of President Donald Trump’s hands — he said he saw how “respectful” discussions about policy generated little press coverage. Trump, on the other hand, has led the news almost every day since he came down an escalator in Trump Tower in June of 2015 to announce his presidency, he said.
“He’s dominated the news almost every day since then,” Rubio said, clarifying that he wasn’t criticizing Trump or the press. “That’s no accident.”
Miami Herald staff writer Michelle Marchante contributed to this report.