Barack Obama said social media is 'turbocharging some of humanity's worst impulses' and called for reform to Section 230

Advertisement
Barack Obama said social media is 'turbocharging some of humanity's worst impulses' and called for reform to Section 230
Barack Obama.Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
  • Barack Obama said the internet and social media have led to a "weakening" of democracy.
  • He called for reform to Section 230, which protects tech firms from liability for content on their platforms.
Advertisement

Barack Obama believes social-media companies need greater government oversight to limit the threat their platforms pose to democracy.

In a speech about disinformation at Stanford University on Thursday, the former president said the modern internet landscape was "one of the biggest reasons for democracy's weakening" and was "turbocharging some of humanity's worst impulses."

"Not all these effects are intentional or even avoidable, they're simply the consequence of billions of humans suddenly plugged into an instant 24/7 global information stream," Obama said.

Complimentary Tech Event
Discover the future of SaaS in India
The 6-part video series will capture the vision of Indian SaaS leaders and highlight the potential for the sector in the decades to come.Watch on Demand
Our Speakers
Girish Mathrubootham
Brian E. Taptich

"But not all problems we're seeing now are an inevitable by-product of this new technology. They're also the result of very specific choices made by the companies that have come to dominate the internet generally and social media platforms in particular," he added.

Obama said social-media companies that optimized for speed, personalization, and engagement had led to deeper divides and polarization in society.

Advertisement

"I am convinced the trends that we're seeing will get worse," Obama said, adding that he believes increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence will make disinformation harder to spot.

He suggested reforming Section 230, a US law that broadly protects tech companies from liability for things users post on their platforms, and guards their right to moderate content as they see fit.

"It is clear that tech companies have changed dramatically over the last 20 years and we need to consider reforms to Section 230 to account for those changes," he said.

Joe Biden has previously said Section 230 should be revoked. In his speech Obama said he wasn't convinced "wholesale repeal of Section 230 is the answer."

Obama suggested in his speech that social-media companies should allow regulators to scrutinize the algorithms they use to promote content.

Advertisement

He said: "In a democracy we can rightly expect companies to subject the design of their products and services to some level of scrutiny. At minimum they should have to share that information with researchers and regulators who are charged with keeping the rest of us safe."

Obama drew an analogy with the meat-packing industry. "If a meat packing company has a proprietary technique to keep, say, our hot dogs fresh and clean, they don't have to reveal to the world what that technique is," he said. "They do have to tell the meat inspector."

He added: "In the same way tech companies should be able to protect their intellectual property while also following certain safety standards that we as a country — not just them — have agreed are necessary for the greater good."

{{}}