Obama calls for big tech to be regulated

Obama calls for big tech to be regulated

Barack Obama called for greater regulatory oversight of social media companies, warning Big Tech will have ‘frightening’ implications on democracy without oversight.

In a speech at Stanford University on the dangers of disinformation, Obama railed against threats to democracy, including Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine and disinfomration on the internet.

eople are dying because of misinformation,’ he said.

And he said it was social media companies that contributed to it by dividing the public, spreading misinformation, and eroding trust in leaders.

He said one of the biggest threats to democracy is the ‘profound change that’s taken place and how we communicate and consume information.’

‘Social media platforms aren’t just our window into the internet. They serve as our primary source of news and information. No one tells us that the window is blurred, subject to unseen distortions and subtle manipulations,’ he noted.

Obama warned that there needs to be oversight of social media companies and that they need to be held accountable for information being published on their platforms. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have argued they are not responsible for content.

‘If we do nothing, I am convinced that the trends we are seeing will get worse,’ the former president said, alluding to new technologies that make disinformation see more credible.

‘Without some standards, the implications of this technology for our elections, for our legal system, for our democracy, for rules of evidence, for our entire social order, are frightening and profound,’ he said.

Tech platforms need to accept that they play a unique role in how we as a people and people around the world are consuming information, and that their decisions have an impact on every aspect of society. With that power comes accountability and in democracies, like ours, at least, the need for some democratic oversight,’ he said.

In his hour long speech, given in the heart of Silicon Valley, he slammed Putin and Steve Bannon, the former Donald Trump adviser, as two people who manipulate social media for their own means, saying they spread ‘raw sewage’ in public to under democracy.

‘Autocrats like Putin have used these platforms as a strategic weapon against democratic countries that they consider a threat,’ he said. ‘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. Is that to raise enough questions spread enough dirt? Plant enough conspiracy theorizing that citizens no longer know what to believe?’

Obama, in recent months, has returned to a more public facing role after quietly retiring to a post-presidential life. In particular, he has become a champion of democracy and pushed for voting rights to be protected.

Disinformation was a major issues in the past two presidential campaigns.

Obama said it didn’t surprise him, when he was president in 2016, to learn that Putin was trying to manipulate that year’s presidential election or that he was using social media to do it.

But he did express regret at underestimating the threat.

‘What does still nag me though was my failure to fully appreciate at the time just how susceptible we had become to lies and conspiracy theories – despite having spent years being a target of disinformation myself,’ he said.

‘Putin didn’t do that. He didn’t have to. We did it to ourselves.’

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