Ever since former President Obama left the White House, he has been hinting at the idea that the internet and social media have been helping create “the single biggest threat” to the United States’ democracy. While Obama himself credits his win back in the day to harnessing social media, his comments of late have become even more focused around how both the internet and social media are becoming problematic for the US and should be regulated.
In a recent interview with Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama said that the internet, social media platforms, and networks such as Fox News, have been creating a distorted reality.
But with social media, however, the story is completely different. During his tenure, Obama appointed several Silicon Valley veterans to the White House, and even White House veterans went on to serve prominent roles in Silicon Valley.
What’s more, it is also worth noting that Obama, in the interview, hadn’t really accused Facebook in particular. He is simply speaking about the bigger picture, which includes both mainstream and online media networks together.
“I don’t hold the tech companies entirely responsible, because this predates social media. It was already there. But social media has turbocharged it,” said Obama.
He also spoke about how social media platforms are getting to make “editorial choices whether they’ve buried them in algorithms or not.”
After Donald Trump got elected president, Obama, despite maintaining a low profile, often kept expressing critical opinions about social media. Here’s what he said in an MIT event back in 2018: “I do think the large platforms — Google and Facebook being the most obvious, Twitter and others as well, are part of that ecosystem — have to have a conversation about their business model that recognizes they are a public good as well as a commercial enterprise.
“We have to have a serious conversation about, what are the business models, the algorithms, the mechanisms, whereby we can create more of a common conversation. And that can not just be a commercial driven conversation,” Obama said.
This time, in the latest interview, Obama expressed that there needs to be a “combination of government regulations and corporate practices” to deal with social media platforms.
“If you can perpetrate crazy lies and conspiracy theories just with texts, imagine what you can do when you can make it look like you or me saying anything on video. We’re pretty close to that now,” said the former President. “If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition our democracy doesn’t work. We are entering into an epistemological crisis.”
Considering the current political landscape of the US, it is uncertain whether Obama’s take on what’s to be done can even be executed due to the First Amendment.
Although Joe Biden seems like he may want to tighten the leash around Big Tech in terms proposing more censorship, his VP candidate Kamala Harris is a longtime Silicon Valley supporter, though she too has criticized tech companies for not censoring enough.