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Obama says social media 'turbocharged' threat of misinformation

Obama says social media 'turbocharged' threat of misinformation
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Former President Obama took aim at the threat of online misinformation in a recent interview, but he stopped short of casting blame entirely on the heads of tech companies for the rising threats. 

Obama’s administration had a much friendlier relationship with Silicon Valley than President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit MORE’s. But the former president pointed to a shifting online landscape, telling The Atlantic in an interview published Monday that misinformation “is the single biggest threat to our democracy.”

“I don’t hold the tech companies entirely responsible, because this predates social media. It was already there. But social media has turbocharged it,” Obama said. 

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He did voice support for some form of increased regulation and further accountability for tech companies, though he did not detail what that reform should look like. 

“The degree to which these companies are insisting that they are more like a phone company than they are like The Atlantic, I do not think is tenable. They are making editorial choices, whether they’ve buried them in algorithms or not. The First Amendment doesn’t require private companies to provide a platform for any view that is out there,” Obama said. 

“At the end of the day, we’re going to have to find a combination of government regulations and corporate practices that address this, because it’s going to get worse,” he added. 

Obama’s comments more broadly addressed the political media landscape, which he said has had a “pretty drastic change” since his 2008 election. 

“I think Donald Trump is a creature of this, but he did not create it. He may be an accelerant of it, but it preceded him and will outlast him,” Obama said. 

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“Part of the common narrative was a function of the three major networks and a handful of papers that were disproportionately influential,” he added. “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. You’re not going to eliminate the internet; you’re not going to eliminate the thousand stations on the air with niche viewerships designed for every political preference. Without this it becomes very difficult for us to tackle big things.”

Tech giants have faced increased scrutiny from both sides of the aisle in recent years.

Republicans have made allegations that tech companies have an anti-conservative bias and accused companies of censorship, while Democrats' criticism has largely targeted companies for not doing enough to tackle misinformation or the spread of hate speech online. 

Trump issued an executive order in May targeting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants a legal liability shield for companies against third-party content posted on their platforms. 

Democratic President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit Protect our world: How the Biden administration can save lives and economies worldwide MORE earlier this year said Section 230 should be revoked “immediately,” though he has argued against the law for vastly different reasons than Trump. Biden, like other Democrats, has argued tech companies have not done enough to fight misinformation on their platforms.