Barack Obama Addresses Stanford University Over The Harmful Spread Of Misinformation Via Social Media

Former US President Barack Obama recently gave a speech at Stanford University, stating his belief regarding social media having “turbocharged” the spread of misinformation to dangerous levels.

For better or for worse, Barack Obama has always been an individual of somewhat balanced opinions and proportions. Before he delves into criticizing social media, Obama addresses the importance of the internet, and how the technology continues to amaze him. However, as he continued to address Stanford’s Cyber Policy Center, he made it clear that he believes social media to be incredibly potent and dangerous.

Image credit: Andrew Brodhead

There is definitely merit to his arguments, which I understand is a ridiculous statement coming from me; he’s been the President of the States in the pre-Trump era. Remember? Back when coherent and cohesive arguments were a politician’s bread and butter. Sure, politics have always been very tribalistic, with people banding under the umbrella of one set of opinions and refusing to make room for others. However, if your presidency is best compared to that of Nixon’s, we got problems buddy. At any rate, back to Obama. He cites multiple conspiracy theories, notably the birther set of allegations thrown against the man himself which claim Obama to be a naturalized US citizen. I can’t even imagine how it must feel for a massive group of individuals to time and time again call you a foreigner on the basis of name and skin tone. Always fun to know that Roseanne Barr took too many pills again, apparently.

Obama’s recommendations towards living in such an information laden world are built around further regulation of the internet. Of course, this is bound to raise some eyebrows. Regulation of any sort is bound to have positive and negative effects, with many of them bordering towards the latter. While Obama’s proposed regulations state that some amendments to the Communications Decency Act are warranted, he also acknowledges that heavily polarized opinions in Congress would ensure the idea sinking before it ever sets sail. While minimally invasive online regulation can be beneficial, it’s almost far too easy for such a system to be exploited; if not by the current party, then by the next one. And as the COVID pandemic has proven, such regulation can also prove to be rather ineffective. Republicans would have a fit over any form of regulation, and while I absolutely can’t begrudge them such opinions, I’d just like to remind everyone that the NRA was fine with gun regulation when black people were involved.

Obama’s closing thoughts on the subject are another matter indeed; he asks for more transparency from social media algorithms, thus allowing users to become better, more aware consumers of information. This is a sentiment that I fully share, especially since Frances Haugen exposed Meta’s algorithm to actively promote harmful and hateful content.

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