Obama tackles misinformation after failing to ‘fully appreciate’ the problem while president

When former President Obama gave an hour-long speech on disinformation last week, it wasn’t just a one-time speech, sources around him say.

Those close to Obama said the speech was particularly important to him and explained why he spent so much time on the subject.

“These great speeches are rare. He hasn’t done a ton since post-presidency,” a source close to the former president said of the speech. “He’s really trying to move the needle on it.”

The source said he considered the subject to be democratic and that the speech was part of an ongoing conversation that the former president plans to continue in the coming months.

“He thinks it’s an issue that’s part of the threat to democracy, so it will come up every time he speaks,” the source said, pointing to various forums he’s been to this year, including one in April. in Chicago.

Disinformation researchers say that although Obama is not offering new solutions and is a bit behind the game, they hope his stature and influence can help spur change, at least on the left.

“I can’t think of another public official, even a former elected official, who has dealt with this issue as intimately and directly and at such a high level for longer than Barack Obama,” said Graham Brookie, senior manager of the Atlantic. Council. Digital Forensic Research Lab.

“I don’t think the issue of misinformation lacks attention or awareness. Sometimes it lacks action, and a South Chicago community organizer is probably as good a person as anyone to do something about it,” he added.

While Obama won’t deliver another major speech on the issue in the coming months or make it part of his ongoing Netflix documentary series, sources say he is expected to continue the discussion in roundtables, forums and town halls with its foundation.

Last year, behind the scenes, Obama convened meetings with academics, activists, media officials and former government officials to discuss misinformation, the source close to Obama said.

“He’s absolutely going to talk more about it,” the source said. “It’s something that’s going to involve multiple takes.”

Color of Change President Rashad Robinson said Obama first reached out to him about a year ago to discuss the issue. Robinson, like other activists, has suggested that Obama’s best tool in this fight is his voice.

“President Obama has the ability to inject hope into this conversation, hope that we can solve the problem and energy for more people to get involved. And I feel like “In many ways, the former president’s involvement gives us the opportunity to welcome more people into this conversation,” Robinson said.

At the roundtable in Chicago earlier this month, Obama telegraphed that he planned to bring disinformation to the fore during his post-presidency.

“What I think our focus will be over the next few months as we continue to talk about this is how can we create better information for people? How can we empower people to unravel the real fake?

During his Stanford speech last week, Obama called for a multi-pronged approach to mitigating misinformation online, calling for reforms led by both industry and government.

While welcoming Obama’s efforts, some experts have however criticized the former president for not having acted sooner on the issue.

“As a disinformation expert and a civil rights lawyer who thinks about the intersections, I am on the one hand very grateful that he has offered a very lucid and holistic set of solutions,” said Nora Benavidez, senior counsel at Presse free.

“That being said, it seems very late in the game to see former President Obama making these comments,” she said.

Obama himself said he regretted not having “fully appreciated” in the 2016 election “how susceptible we had become to lies and conspiracy theories.”

His speech lambasting tech companies marked a stark contrast to the relatively friendly relationship he enjoyed with Silicon Valley giants during his presidency, at a time when tech giants were accumulating power.

The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under the Trump and Biden administrations are now pursuing the tech giants in antitrust lawsuits, based on settlements that were solidified under Obama’s watch. The FTC’s case against Facebook seeks to undo the company’s acquisitions of WhatsApp and Instagram that were approved under the former president.

The odds of the FTC succeeding in breaking up Meta, the new name of Facebook’s parent company, are now “relatively low,” but the Obama administration may have had a chance at acquisition time to use its leverage to block or impose constraints on them, said Paul Barrett, assistant professor at New York University (NYU) School of Law.

“As he admitted to some extent, it’s a little painful to recognize how much more influential it could have been had he delivered it while still president. Better late than never. Absolutely I’m glad he gave the speech. But we’re far down the road with the issues he identified, and now it’s a really tough business to go back and roll back the bad trends that are happening. come with the benefits of social media,” Barrett said.

And although Obama is a unifying figure on the left, experts say he could fuel so-called culture war attacks on nonpartisan solutions.

“I think something that we’re aware of and concerned about is that the issues that we’re working on aren’t kind of pushed through the partisan filter that things seem to have in America,” Carys Afoko said. , director of advocacy at Mozilla.

Laura Edelson, a NYU researcher behind a tool to examine ads and misinformation on Facebook that the platform has essentially shut down, said she overall sees Obama having a “net” positive effect, although that it be seen as a left-wing partisan actor, raising a sense of urgency.

“We just have to do something. And that just doing something is so difficult in this climate,” she said.

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