He acknowledges that he would not have been elected without social networks, but he now calls for their regulation: former US President Barack Obama gave a speech on Thursday April 21 in which he accused the major platforms of having largely amplified “Humanity’s Worst Instincts”.
“One of the major causes of the weakening of democracies is the profound change in our ways of communicating and informing ourselves”, he told students at Stanford, the university in the heart of Silicon Valley, California.
→ READ. Social networks: towards better European regulation
The Democratic leader admitted that he would not have “may not have been elected” without sites like MySpace or Facebook, and referred to the beneficial work of raising awareness and mobilization carried out by activists around the world, via the networks. But above all, he detailed the reverse of the success of Facebook or YouTube, whose model (large-scale targeted advertising) is based on the attention economy. “Unfortunately, it’s the inflammatory, polarizing content that grabs attention and drives engagement” users, he noted.
Phenomenon of misinformation
The former head of state (from 2009 to 2017) also expanded on the phenomenon of misinformation. He blamed himself for not having done enough “how receptive we had become to lies and conspiracy theories” before the election of Donald Trump, who succeeded him.
Barack Obama therefore called for a reform of the laws that govern social networks, so that they are more responsible and more transparent. The problem at the heart of misinformation, he insisted, is less “what people post” that “the content that these platforms promote”.
He sees in it the proof that they are not “neutral” and that algorithms should be subject to safety checks by a regulatory authority, just like cars, food and other consumer products. He then detailed a series of values that he believes should guide content moderation, such as strengthening democracy and respecting differences. “The tools don’t control us. We can control them.” he concluded.