Former US President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks at the 2021 climate summit in Glasgow on November 08, 2021. NBC News reports Obama will return to the White House on Tuesday for the first time since he left office to promote the Affordable Care Act in an event alongside President Joe Biden.
Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Former President Barack Obama said on Thursday that the spread of disinformation online is harming American democracy, and the tech industry needs regulation and legislation to address the problem.
“The very design of these platforms seems to be tilting us in the wrong direction,” Obama said at a Stanford Cyber Policy Center event.
The comments come as Congress considers a slew of reforms to rein in the power of the tech industry, including competition laws, privacy protections and changes to the legal shield known as Section 230, which allows for content moderation but also protects platforms from liability for users’ posts.
It’s a debate that’s been raging in Washington for the last couple years. Obama’s position is notable because his administration is now regarded by many reform advocates as having been amicable to the tech industry. Google reportedly had a close relationship with the Obama White House, for example, meeting hundreds of times with staffers, according to a review of meeting records published by the Tech Transparency Project.
“I might never have been elected president if it hadn’t been for websites like — and I’m dating myself — MySpace, Meetup and Facebook, that allowed an army of young volunteers to organize raise money, spread our message,” Obama said. “That’s what elected me.”
But the relationship between Washington and Silicon Valley was less tense at the time. Things changed dramatically in 2016, following the election of Donald Trump as president and the revelation of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Obama said he’s “not convinced that wholesale repeal of Section 230 is the answer.” President Joe Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, advocated for such a policy during his campaign for the White House, though most Democrats have taken less extreme positions.
Obama is taking a measured approach. He said Congress should consider reforms to the law and that platforms should “be required to have a higher standard of care when it comes to advertising on their site.”
“If properly structured, regulation can promote competition and keep incumbents from freezing out new innovators,” Obama said.
Many conservative lawmakers have accused social media companies of censoring on the basis of ideology, though the platforms have denied this and said they simply enforce their community guidelines. Obama indicated that free speech arguments have severe limitations.
“I’m pretty close to …….