Responsible for the “weakening of democracies” | Obama calls for social media regulation

(San Francisco) He knows he would not have been elected without social networks, but today he calls for their regulation: former US President Barack Obama gave a speech on Thursday in which he accused the major platforms of having greatly amplified “the worst instincts of humanity”.

Posted yesterday at 9:24 p.m.

“One of the major causes of the weakening of democracies is the profound change in the way we communicate and inform ourselves,” he told students at Stanford, the university in the heart of Silicon Valley, in California.

The Democratic leader acknowledged that he “may not have been elected” without sites like MySpace or Facebook, and spoke of the beneficial work of awareness-raising and mobilization carried out by activists around the world, via the networks .

But he especially detailed the reverse of the success of Facebook or YouTube, whose business model – large-scale targeted advertising – is based on the attention economy. “Unfortunately, it is inflammatory, polarizing content that grabs attention and encourages engagement” from users, he noted.

The former head of state (2009-2017) also dwelt on the phenomenon of disinformation, and blamed himself for not having sufficiently realized “how receptive we had become to lies and theories of conspiracy” before the election of Donald Trump, who succeeded him.

“Putin didn’t do that. He didn’t need. We did it to ourselves,” he added, referring to voter manipulation campaigns orchestrated from Russia.

“We just saw a sitting president deny clear election results and help incite a violent insurgency against the nation’s capital,” he said, referring to Donald Trump, who did not acknowledge victory. of Joe Biden at the end of 2020, and encouraged his supporters before the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, which left several dead.

“This must be our alarm bell to react”.

Barack Obama therefore called for a reform of the laws that govern social networks, so that they are more accountable and more transparent, explaining that the problem at the heart of disinformation was less “what people publish” than “the content that these platforms promote”.

The proof according to him that they are not “neutral” and that the algorithms should be subject to security checks by a regulatory authority, in the same way as 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.

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