Former US President Barack Obama has entered the heated discussion about regulation of big tech and social media. At a Stanford University conference he said “regulation has to be part of the answer” to fight online disinformation. He also commented on the Digital Services Act, now approved by the European Parliament and the Council.
“As the world’s leading democracy, we have to set a better example. We should be able to lead on these discussions internationally, not [be] in the rear. Right now, Europe is forging ahead with some of the most sweeping legislation in years to regulate the abuses that are seen in big tech companies ”, he is quoted in a summary published at the university´s website.
“Their approach may not be exactly right for the United States, but it points to the need for us to coordinate with other democracies. We need to find our voice in this global conversation. ”
Microsoft’s president Brad Smith recently also expressed support for that tech companies should not only reject all ideas about regulation. Tech regulation is coming whether the industry participates or not, so companies might as well participate in those conversations now. “It doesn’t matter whether you like it or hate it.”
Obama said that today, where everyone has access to individualized news feeds that are fed by algorithms: “You have the sheer proliferation of content, and the splintering of information and audiences. That’s made democracy more complicated. “
“For more and more of us, search and social media platforms aren’t just our window into the internet. They serve as our primary source of news and information. No one tells us that the window is blurred, subject to unseen distortions, and subtle manipulations. ”
Referring to how algorithms choose news stories based on user’s preferences – the so-called “confirmation bias” – Obama said:
“Inside our personal information bubbles, our assumptions, our blind spots, our prejudices aren’t challenged, they are reinforced and naturally, we’re more likely to react negatively to those consuming different facts and opinions – all of which deepens existing racial and religious and cultural divides. ”
But the problem is not just that our brains can’t keep up with the growing amount of information online: “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. ”
“Solving the disinformation problem won’t cure all that ails our democracies or tears at the fabric of our world, but it can help tamp down divisions and let us rebuild the trust and solidarity needed to make our democracy stronger,” Obama said.
“Without some standards, implications of this technology – for our elections, for our legal system, for our democracy, for rules of evidence, for our entire social order – are frightening and profound.”
“The internet is a tool. Social media is a tool. At the end of the day, tools don’t control us. We control them. And we can remake them. It’s up to each of us to decide what we value and then use the tools we’ve been given to advance those values, ”he said.
“We have to take it upon ourselves to become better consumers of news – looking at sources, thinking before we share, and teaching our kids to become critical thinkers who know how to evaluate sources and separate opinion from fact.”