Obama Says Social Media Firms "Make Editorial Selections, Whether or not Or Not To Bury Them In Algorithms"


Former US President Barack Obama is holding a pre-election rally in Orlando, Florida on October 27, 2020 to campaign on behalf of Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Eva Edelheit | Reuters

Former US President Barack Obama said the extent to which social media companies claim they are "more like a phone company than the Atlantic" is not "tenable," he told the publication in a Monday Interview.

"You make editorial decisions, whether you have buried them in algorithms or not," said the former president in an interview. "The first change doesn't require private companies to provide a platform for a point of view, which is there. Ultimately, we have to find a combination of government regulations and corporate practices that take this into account because it's going to get worse. If you just use crazy lies and conspiracy theories With texts, imagine what you can do if you make it look like you or I are saying something on video. We're pretty close now. "

Obama's statement that social media platforms should be viewed as publishers rather than public utilities would have a significant impact on business regulation.

Companies like Facebook often insist that they convey information and prefer not to be unduly involved in content decisions. This method is made possible by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects tech platforms from being held liable for the contributions of their users – a far greater protection than that of publishers.

However, in recent years the platforms have come under pressure to take a more active role in moderating the news on their services. This practice is protected by Section 230, which allows companies to moderate information about their services in good faith. This way, companies like Facebook and Twitter can quickly remove posts promoting terrorism or self-harm without worrying that a misstep could get them into legal trouble.

President-elect Joe Biden sharply criticized Section 230 and Facebook itself in an interview with the editorial staff of the New York Times published earlier this year.

"Section 230 should be revoked, should be revoked immediately, number one. For Zuckerberg and other platforms," ​​Biden said at the time, referring to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who was in a more extreme position than many of the Democrats and Republicans who did This is currently striving to optimize the protection of the laws.

A Facebook spokesman declined to comment on Obama's recent comments on social media. However, Facebook and other tech companies have repeatedly pointed out the value of section 230, which allows them to moderate content in a way that makes their platforms more secure. They also often argue that the law is a necessity for small startups that they claim would otherwise have been bogged down with petty lawsuits.

Proponents of technology regulation reform see the Obama administration as a time of under-regulation and sector coziness that may have exacerbated the market concentration they see in the industry today. That makes Obama's willingness to speak about the role tech platforms play in democracy even more evident.

The former president made it clear in his Atlantic interview that he “doesn't completely blame tech companies for misinformation,” which makes it harder to get Americans on the same page and to hear facts during the pandemic. He said the topic was "older than social media. It was already there. But social media charged it."

He told NPR that consumers also have to take responsibility when thinking critically about what they see on the Internet.

When "you look at those information silos on Facebook and other social media and the rabbit holes people follow, denying facts, believing in fierce conspiracy theories like QAnon that are gaining real appeal, it is each of us responsibility to think carefully about not being so gullible and just accepting whatever pops up on our phones, "he said in an interview posted on Monday.

Still, he pointed to social media to discuss the reasons for the political divide in 2020.

"But now, partly because of social media and the nature of the echo chamber, many of the people who voted for Donald Trump don't believe that COVID was actually ill-treated contrary to the facts that you or I might now claim are these are not." t the facts that they accept, "he told NPR." And I think until we have a common base of facts to discuss the direction of the country, we will continue to have some of these problems. "

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Katherine Clark