Obama Would Love It If You’d Stop Lying About Sh*t On The Internet

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Obama Would Love It If You’d Stop Lying About Sh*t On The Internet

Former President Barack Obama knows something about lies on the Internet and how they can grow and metastasize in the public sphere. His successor launched his political career with a racist campaign that questioned whether Obama was even born in America and eligible to serve as president. It was obvious nonsense that Obama initially tried to ignore, like those Weekly World News articles about Hillary Clinton’s secret lesbian alien romance, but social media (and your grandma’s email forwards) kept the conspiracy theories alive.

Obama spoke out against disinformation online in a keynote address at Stanford University in Silicon Valley, where this mess all started. He declared that “one of the biggest reasons for the weakening of democracy is the profound change that’s taken place in how we communicate and consume information.”

He presented a stark choice: “Do we allow our democracy to wither, or do we make it better?” That was the choice America faced in 2016 and the nation flunked. America barely passed in 2020 even with crib notes. Obama admitted that he might have screwed the pooch when he underestimated Russia’s catastrophic impact on the 2016 election.

OBAMA: What still nags at me is my failure to appreciate at the time just how susceptible we had become to lies and conspiracy theories.

Full speech below. Take the time to watch. We’ll hit the highlights.


www.youtube.com



Obama has looked out at the vast expanse of the Internet and seen only darkness: There’s "a constant feed of content, where useful, factual information and happy diversions flow alongside lies, conspiracy theories, junk science, quackery, racist tracts and misogynist screeds." He said social media giants "need to have some other North Star other than just making money and increasing market share.” Commie! Seriously, though, the problem is that rightwing disinformation artists and their social media enablers hide behind tattered robes of free speech. “Let the people speak!” they proclaim, even though the people are often morons.

OBAMA: People like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, and Steve Bannon for that matter, understand it’s not necessary for people to believe disinformation … You just have to flood a country’s public square with enough raw sewage.

In a free market, what can you do when consumers crave disinformation and outright hate speech like hopped-up addicts? Obama suggested it was time for Big Government to regulate parts of Big Tech and "reform" Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which, in part, protects social media companies from the same liabilities any other media outlet faces for its content. Without Section 230 protection, Twitter and Facebook would likely just run cat videos and recipes so they aren’t sued into oblivion. A typically stupid Donald Trump wants social media companies to lose this protection, but that wouldn’t restore him to platforms that have rejected him for his lies and inciting of violence.

OBAMA: Social media did not create racism or white supremacist groups. It didn't create the kind of ethno-nationalism that Putin is enraptured with. All these things existed long before the first tweet or Facebook Poke. 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.

Obama also endorsed the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act. Democratic Senators Chris Coons and Amy Klobuchar plus retiring GOP Senator Rob Portman introduced the bill, which would require social media companies share certain platform data and permit vetting from independent researchers.

Rightwingers reacted predictably to Obama’s remarks. There was much venting about the Russia “hoax” and Hunter Biden’s laptop. Conservative writer Jeryl Bier tweeted peevishly that Obama had once lied about how you could keep your crappy health care plan. That’s exactly the same as your kooky aunt sharing Facebook posts about how COVID-19 vaccines make women infertile and have killed more people than the actual disease.

My favorite response, because it was so pathetic, came from GOP Senate candidate JD Vance, who tweeted:

Barack Obama is articulate but has never made a memorable speech. The reason is that his views are utterly conventional. He’s unable of saying anything outside of the elite consensus. He’s a walking, talking Atlantic magazine subscription.


It's almost quaintly pre-Trump to acknowledge that Obama speaks better than the cast of “Amos ’n’ Andy” while claiming he’s nothing more than an empty elitist suit. This was a popular form of attack from the white Left. Of course, Vance is a Yale graduate who literally wrote for The Atlantic. This is probably not the best time to remind people about his 2016 feature “Opioid of the Masses” where he said "Donald Trump feels good, but he can’t fix America’s growing social and cultural crisis, and the eventual comedown will be harsh.”

Enough about that repulsive hypocrite, though: Go watch a serious president address a serious concern.

[CNN / The Guardian]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."

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