Obama Calls for More Oversight of Social Media in Speech at Stanford

PALO ALTO, California – Former President Barack Obama on Thursday called for more regulatory oversight of the country’s social media giants, saying his power to curate the information people use has “turbocharged” political polarization and threatened pillars of democracy around the world. .

Emphasizing the discussion on how to address the spread of disinformation, he said companies need to make their proprietary algorithms subject to the same kind of regulatory oversight that ensures the safety of cars, food and other consumer products.

“Tech companies need to be more transparent about how they operate,” he said. “Silicon Valley has long had an incubator for the tech sector,” Obama said in a speech at Stanford University. “A lot of conversations around inaccurate information are focused on what people post. The biggest issue is what content this platform promotes. “

The former president backed proposals to improve the main legal shield for Internet companies: Article 230 of the Communication Dissent Act, which protects social media platforms from liability for content posted by their users. Proponents of change believe it will force companies to do more to curb illegal or dangerous behavior – ranging from drug sales to misinformation with similarly harmful consequences.

Mr. Obama, while praising the transformative benefits of the Internet, urged companies to put social responsibility ahead of the relentless pursuit of profit.

“These companies need a North Star other than just making money and raising profit stocks,” he said.

Mr. Obama spoke at a conference hosted by Stanford’s Cyber ​​Policy Center, dedicated to the challenges posed by the digital world to democracy in the United States and beyond. He cited his own effective use of social media as a candidate, but Russian President Vladimir V. Putin also expressed frustration with how he used social media to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

“Even though I aim to misrepresent myself, my failure to fully appreciate how we have become sensitive to the principles of lies and conspiracy still haunts me,” he said, referring to, among other things, the false discussion about his US birth. Said. Certificate “Putin didn’t do that. He didn’t have to. We did it ourselves.”

Attendees included leading scholars, former government officials, and representatives of several tech companies – including Alphabet – which owns Google and YouTube – and TikTok. In separate discussions, panel members largely agreed on the problem of disinformation and the toxicity and bias that fuel it, but there was little consensus on which specific solutions would work best or be politically possible.

“We’re not going to fix this problem overnight or include it,” said Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and Stanford’s Freeman Spogley Institute for International Studies. He is also the author of the recent “Il Winds: Saving Democracy from Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition and American Compulsion”.

On the side, Mr. Obama also met with a small group of Obama Foundation students and young scholars. At one point, he asked Alice Joshi, the founder of a group called Gen-Z for Change, how TikTok is more than just a dance video.

“It will be your generation that will bring this out,” said Mr. Obama told them.

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