Obama Emphasized Misinformation on Social Media
The former president warns about the threat misinformation poses to democracy and calls on tech companies to provide solutions.
Former President Barack Obama said Thursday that the spread of misinformation on social media is a threat to democracy and urged regulation of technology companies.
“The design of these platforms seems to be pulling us in the wrong direction,” Obama said at a Stanford Cyber Policy Center event, adding that social media “triggers some of humanity’s worst impulses.”
Obama noted the real-world impact of the spread of misinformation, including misinformation about COVID-19 and its vaccines.
“It is an incredible achievement that scientists have developed safe and effective vaccines in record time,” Obama said in his speech that lasted for hours. “Yet, even though we know the vaccine has essentially been clinically tested on billions of people around the world, nearly one in five Americans are willing to put themselves and their families at risk rather than get vaccinated.
People Are Dying Because of Misinformation
Obama’s comments come as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle focus on legislation to curb the power and influence of Big Tech, allegedly targeting companies accused of curbing competition from smaller players, using personal data for profit, controlling what is shared and harming consumers.
Calling disinformation “a threat to democracy,” Obama also highlighted baseless conspiracy theories about election fraud and misleading videos about Russia’s war with Ukraine that fueled the deadly Capitol Hill riot on January 6.
People like Putin, and Steve Bannon for that matter, understand that it is not necessary for people to believe this information to undermine democratic institutions. Just fill a country’s square with enough raw sewage. “Obama must ask enough questions, spread enough dirt, and generate enough conspiracy theories that citizens no longer know what to believe,” he said.
Obama called on tech companies to be more transparent about how their algorithms work to distribute content to users.
“These companies are still very cautious about exactly how their standards work or how their ranking systems affect what goes viral and what doesn’t,” he said.
Obama also voiced his support for reforming Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects platforms like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube from lawsuits over content their users post. Both Democrats and Republicans say they want to make changes, but they are divided along party lines on how to do it. But he said the tech industry needs to take some responsibility in enacting change.