Former President Barack Obama sounds the alarm about disinformation and its danger to democracy and feels the US social media giants could do more to curb it.
Obama took the stage Thursday (Apr.21) at Stanford University to deliver a keynote addressing the alarming amount of disinformation that plagues social media mediums. The former President once unlocked the great potential of tools like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to help him get elected not once but twice.
Since the rise of the banned one, Donald Trump, social media has become a cesspool where lies spread faster than truth, especially in MAGA land. Those individuals can’t distinguish between outright lying and claiming their voices are “being silenced,” calling it an infringement on their First Amendment right.
Obama didn’t put the entire blame on the people who spread disinformation. He focused on the tech giants for choices made that have exacerbated the issue. “Not all problems we are seeing now are an inevitable byproduct of this new technology,” he said. “They’re also the result of very specific choices made by the companies that have come to dominate the internet, generally, and social media platforms in particular — decisions that intentionally or not have made democracies more vulnerable.”
In the same breath, he did mention sexism, racism, ethnonationalism, and other social divisions we’re not born on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. They were amplified by those same platforms giving millions of people a voice. “Our blind spots, our prejudices aren’t challenged, they’re reinforced,” Obama said.
There is plenty of truth to that statement. Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen exposed the company now hilariously called Meta with documents stating that divisive content gets better engagement from users on social media platforms.
Obama also called out traditional news media (looking at you, Fox News, and Newsmax) who do not hesitate to share disinformation while noting social media have expedited the decline of traditional news sources like newspapers. Obama believes owners of social media platforms should be more transparent about algorithms and how they work, a notion both Democrats and Republicans agree on. A very rare occurrence.
Democrats have been very vocal about the spread of misinformation and have called out Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube for not doing enough to curb it. While on the Republican side, they have been crying about social media sites removing content that goes against their terms of service.
The former President does agree that to form a strong, healthy society, the exchange of conflicting ideas is necessary. “No democratic government can or should do what China, for example, is doing: simply telling people what they can and cannot say or publish while trying to control what others say about their country abroad,” Obama said.
Obama further added that social media companies should do their part to slow the spread of misinformation instead of just focusing on profit. “You’ll still make money,” he said, “but you’ll feel better,” he noted.
Our forever President said not one lie.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty