In an interview with The Atlantic ahead of his memoir, ‘A Promised Land,’ being published on Tuesday, Obama charged social media companies with turbocharging the rise in misinformation that has led to greater division in the country.
The former president that disinformation is the ‘single biggest threat’ to democracy.
And he said President Donald Trump was a result of it.
‘I think it is the single biggest threat to our democracy. 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,’ he told the news magazine.
Barack Obama warned tech firms they cannot keep their blanket protections that protect them from lawsuits and called for greater regulation of companies like Facebook and Twitter
Social media companies like Twitter and Facebook use section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to protect themselves from lawsuits regarding content on their platforms
Obama said companies like Facebook and Twitter were not ‘entirely responsible’ but they did enhance what was already out there.
‘I don’t hold the tech companies entirely responsible, because this predates social media. It was already there. But social media has turbocharged it,’ he said.
Republicans are pushing for greater regulations for Big Tech, charging the companies with unfairly silencing conservatives, and also want to remove their blanket Section 230 protection from being sued.
Democrats have been so far slower to go down the legislative route – pushing the companies to self-regulate misinformation, problematic content and harassment on their platforms but stopping short of suggesting radical regulatory changes.
Obama’s words, however could be a sign Democrats are getting ready to act, although they offer no clarity on how Democrats might act.
Other Democrats have hinted at similar frustrations with social media.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, at her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill Friday, said she is ‘not a fan’ of Facebook given the political disinformation on the site.
The former president specifically called for a change in the way tech companies are regulated, referring to section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields the websites from liability for content created by their users.
Obama said the companies were more like media companies than utility companies, a comparison Big Tech has pushed.
‘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,’ he said in his interview with The Atlantic.
‘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,’ he 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.
‘If you can perpetrate crazy lies and conspiracy theories just with texts, imagine what you can do when you can make it look like you or me saying anything on video. We’re pretty close to that now,’ he added.
The Communications Decency Act, which sets the laws governing the internet, was written in 1996 when companies like Google and Facebook didn’t exist. Tech companies are fighting to keep the blanket protections provided by the law as there is a rising call to increase regulation of them.
‘If we do not have the capacity to distinguish what’s true from what’s false, then by definition the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work. And by definition our democracy doesn’t work. We are entering into an epistemological crisis,’ Obama said in his interview.
He said regulation was the only option.
‘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,’ he noted.
Section 230 is credited with allowing the modern internet to exist.
And the debate over regulation of the internet has come to ahead since Russians tried to use disinformation campaigns on social media to influence the 2016 election.
Twitter and Facebook, in particular, are heavily dependent on Section 230 to build their businesses and boost their profits. Both companies have increased their internal regulations of user content this election year in the face of the growing threat of federal regulation.
Obama can’t take White House job because ‘Michelle would leave me’
Barack Obama said he would never take a job in Joe Biden’s White House because ‘Michelle would leave me.’
The 44th President of the United States joked that his marriage would be on the rocks in an interview to CBS on Sunday ahead of the release of his latest memoir.
Asked about helping his old VP, Obama said: ‘He doesn’t need my advice, and I will help him in any ways that I can. Now, I’m not planning to suddenly work on the White House staff or something.’
Susan Rice and Michelle Flournoy are among some of the veteran Obama staffers who are considering stepping into the Biden camp.
But Obama joked: ‘There are some things I would not be doing because Michelle would leave me. She’d be like, what? You’re doing what?’
Indeed, in an excerpt from his new book, A Promised Land, Obama admitted that his time in the White House left wife Michelle feeling ‘tense and lonely.’
Obama believes much of this can be attributed to a constant looking ahead to ‘calamity’ – no matter one’s past triumphs, the political wheel continued to turn and ‘so, consciously or not, a part of her stayed on alert.’
‘It makes me wonder now, with the benefit of hindsight, whether Michelle’s was the more honest response to all the changes we were going through; whether in my seeming calm as crises piled up, my insistence that everything would work out in the end, I was really just protecting myself – and contributing to her loneliness.’ Obama writes.
Obama, meanwhile, is on a publicity campaign ahead of the launch of his memoir, the first of two parts reflecting on his life and presidency. The first part details his early public life to the raid that killed Obama bin Laden. He is working on part two but no publication date has been announced.
As part of his media tour, Obama told ’60 Minutes,’ in an interview that aired Sunday night, that President Trump’s refusal to concede the presidential election is making the United States look weak to adversaries.
He urged his successor to accept his defeat to Joe Biden and move on for the country’s sake.
Asked what advice he would give to Trump, Obama said: ‘If you want at this late stage in the game to be remembered as somebody who put country first, it’s time for you to do the same thing.’
‘A president is a public servant. They are temporary occupants of the office, by design,’ he continued.
‘When your time is up then it is your job to put the country first and think beyond your own ego, and your own interests, and your own disappointments.’
Obama said he thinks Trump should have conceded within two days after the election, when it became clear that ‘Biden will have won handily’.
‘There is no scenario in which any of those states would turn the other way, and certainly not enough to reverse the outcome of the election,’ he said, referring to states like Pennsylvania and Georgia where full counts were slow to come in.
Obama said he fears that the chaotic White House transition will have implications far beyond the US, affecting relations with Russia and China.
‘I think our adversaries have seen us weakened, not just as a consequence of this election, but over the last several years,’ he said.
‘We have these cleavages in the body politic that they’re convinced they can exploit.’
CBS’s Scott Pelley then brought up Obama’s new book, ‘The Promised Land,’ in which he wrote: ‘Our democracy seems to be teetering on the brink of a crisis.’
Explaining what he meant by that line, Obama criticized Trump further, saying: ‘We have gone through a presidency that disregarded a whole host of basic institutional norms, expectations we had for a president that had been observed by Republicans and Democrats previously.
‘Maybe most importantly, and most disconcertingly, what we’ve seen is what some people call truth decay, something that’s been accelerated by outgoing President Trump, the sense that not only do we not have to tell the truth, but the truth doesn’t even matter.’
Pelley used that as a segue to ask for Obama’s take on Trump’s unfounded allegations about voter fraud and Democrats ‘stealing’ the election.
‘They appear to be motivated, in part, because the president doesn’t like to lose and never admits loss,’ Obama said.
He then hit out at members of the Republican Party who have stood by Trump and helped advance his conspiracy theories instead of facilitating a productive transition.
‘I’m more troubled by the fact that other Republican officials who clearly know better are going along with this, are humoring him in this fashion,’ he said.
‘It is one more step in delegitimizing not just the incoming Biden administration, but democracy generally. And that’s a dangerous path.’
He continued: ‘We would never accept that out of our own kids behaving that way if they lost, right? I mean, if my daughters, in any kinda competition, pouted and then accused the other side of cheating when they lost, when there was no evidence of it, we’d scold ’em.
‘I think that there has been this sense over the last several years that literally anything goes and is justified in order to get power.’
Obama said Trump’s unfounded allegations about voter fraud ‘appear to be motivated, in part, because the president doesn’t like to lose and never admits loss’
Obama said his former VP Biden will be tasked with rebuilding America’s trust in the truth
‘A Promised Land’ is out on November 17
He then appeared to compare Trump to a dictator, saying: ‘There are strong men and dictators around the world who think that: ‘I can do anything to stay in power. I can kill people. I can throw them in jail. I can run phony elections. I can suppress journalists.’
‘But that’s not who we’re supposed to be. And one of the signals I think that Joe Biden needs to send to the world is that: ‘No, those values that we preached, and we believed in, and subscribed in – we still believe.”
Obama said he isn’t sure what will happen when inauguration day arrives in January but said he is hopeful that Trump will follow tradition and welcome Biden just as he was welcomed by Obama in 2017.
In the past several months Trump has publicly refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
Prior to the election, he merely said it wasn’t an issue because he was sure he would win. And in the days since Biden was declared the winner by the media on November 7, Trump has continued to insist that the election is not over.
SECTION 230: THE LAW AT CENTER OF BIG TECH SHOWDOWN
Twenty-six words tucked into a 1996 law overhauling telecommunications have allowed companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to grow into the giants they are today.
Under the U.S. law, internet companies are generally exempt from liability for the material users post on their networks. Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act – itself part of a broader telecom law – provides a legal ‘safe harbor’ for internet companies.
But Republicans increasingly argue that Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms have abused that protection and should lose their immunity – or at least have to earn it by satisfying requirements set by the government.
Section 230 probably can’t be easily dismantled. But if it was, the internet as we know it might cease to exist.
Just what is Section 230?
If a news site falsely calls you a swindler, you can sue the publisher for libel. But if someone posts that on Facebook, you can’t sue the company – just the person who posted it.
That’s thanks to Section 230, which states that ‘no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.’
That legal phrase shields companies that can host trillions of messages from being sued into oblivion by anyone who feels wronged by something someone else has posted – whether their complaint is legitimate or not.
Section 230 also allows social platforms to moderate their services by removing posts that, for instance, are obscene or violate the services’ own standards, so long as they are acting in ‘good faith.’
Where did Section 230 come from?
The measure’s history dates back to the 1950s, when bookstore owners were being held liable for selling books containing ‘obscenity,’ which is not protected by the First Amendment. One case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, which held that it created a ‘chilling effect’ to hold someone liable for someone else´s content.
That meant plaintiffs had to prove that bookstore owners knew they were selling obscene books, said Jeff Kosseff, the author of ‘The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet,’ a book about Section 230.
Fast-forward a few decades to when the commercial internet was taking off with services like CompuServe and Prodigy. Both offered online forums, but CompuServe chose not to moderate its, while Prodigy, seeking a family-friendly image, did.
CompuServe was sued over that, and the case was dismissed. Prodigy, however, got in trouble. The judge in their case ruled that ‘they exercised editorial control – so you’re more like a newspaper than a newsstand,’ Kosseff said.
That didn’t sit well with politicians, who worried that outcome would discourage newly forming internet companies from moderating at all. And Section 230 was born.
‘Today it protects both from liability for user posts as well as liability for any clams for moderating content,’ Kosseff said.
What happens if Section 230 is limited or goes away?
‘I don´t think any of the social media companies would exist in their current forms without Section 230,’ Kosseff said. ‘They have based their business models on being large platforms for user content.’
There are two possible outcomes. Platforms might get more cautious, as Craigslist did following the 2018 passage of a sex-trafficking law that carved out an exception to Section 230 for material that ‘promotes or facilitates prostitution.’ Craigslist quickly removed its ‘personals’ section altogether, which wasn’t intended to facilitate sex work. But the company didn´t want to take any chances.
This outcome could actually hurt none other than the president himself, who routinely attacks private figures, entertains conspiracy theories and accuses others of crimes.
‘If platforms were not immune under the law, then they would not risk the legal liability that could come with hosting Donald Trump´s lies, defamation, and threats,’ said Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Another possibility: Facebook, Twitter and other platforms could abandon moderation altogether and let the lower common denominator prevail.
Such unmonitored services could easily end up dominated by trolls, like 8chan, which is infamous for graphic and extremist content, said Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman. Undoing Section 230 would be an ‘an existential threat to the internet,’ he said.
Website of source