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Obama in Stanford speech: Disinformation ‘has endangered the health of global democracy’

Compares Trump adviser Steve Bannon to Vladimir Putin

The 44th president of the United States sounded a little Orwellian in an April 21 Stanford University speech on “disinformation.”

In the keynote address of the “Challenges to Democracy in the Digital Information Realm” symposium, Barack Obama warned “the fundamental design of many social media platforms has endangered the health of global democracy,” The Stanford Daily reports.

But Obama said “the transformative power of technology” could adapt to handle the worst excesses. The Obama Foundation (conveniently) was one of the co-hosts of the symposium.

Obama claimed “innovation and regulation are not mutually exclusive,” and warned against drastic moves such as repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. “The truth is that a good regulatory environment usually ends up soaring innovation,” he said.

The former chief exec also launched into attacks on his political opponents, saying “People like [Russia’s Vladimir] Putin and Steve Bannon for that matter understand it’s not necessary for people to believe disinformation in order to weaken democratic institutions.

“You just have to flood a country’s public square with enough raw sewage, you just have to raise enough questions, spread enough dirt, plant enough conspiracy theorizing that citizens no longer know what to believe.”

MORE: Report: Teachers union wanted social media companies to censor critical race theory critics

From the story:

Jose Luis Sabau ’22, an honors student at the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, wrote that Obama’s speech signified that politicians do care about the Internet’s potential for harm and “are willing to work for a better solution.”

“The Internet, which we all hoped would be a tool for good, has been co-opted by authoritarian leaders to solidify their control over society,” Sabau wrote.

Obama emphasized that social media is not all bad, allowing people to mobilize on issues like climate change and racial justice. For social media’s democratic potential to be realized, changes on both the “supply” and “demand” sides must be made. Tech companies, who he said represent the supply side, need to be more transparent about how they operate with government regulators. A first step would be disclosing the algorithms that they use to promote content.

Ominously, Marietje Schaake of Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (also the international policy director at the Cyber Policy Center) warned on Twitter Thursday evening that “change is in the air” and that “technology accountability is coming to America.” She cited tweets by Obama and (remarkably) Hillary Clinton to make her case.

Obama gave a similar keynote address at the University of Chicago earlier this month. In proving how transparently political Obama’s (and others’) motives are in these endeavors, several U. Chicago students totally flummoxed some of the featured journalists in attendance, such as CNN’s Brian Stelter and The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum. When pressed on the disinformation that now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was a rapist, Jussie Smollett’s claims of a racist attack and Donald Trump being a pawn of Russia, Stelter replied those were “popular right-wing narratives” about his network.

When asked about Hunter Biden’s laptop, which the mainstream finally has conceded is a real issue, Applebaum said it was “not relevant” and that she didn’t “find it to be interesting.”

Read the Daily article.

MORE: Toxic technology: How social media is making us dumb, angry — and addicted

IMAGE: Evan El-Amin/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 18 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.