Obama calls for regulation of Big Tech to combat fake news and disinformation on social media
While many on the Left are accusing big tech companies of censorship and de-platforming, Former President Barack Obama is criticizing big tech companies for not doing enough to combat fake news and disinformation on social media platforms.
At a Stanford Cyber Policy Center event on Thursday, Obama said that the spread of disinformation online is harming American democracy, and the tech industry needs regulation and legislation to address the problem. Obama said:
“The very design of these platforms seems to be tilting us in the wrong direction. I might never have been elected president if it hadn’t been for websites like — and I’m dating myself — MySpace, Meetup and Facebook, that allowed an army of young volunteers to organize raise money, spread our message.” That’s what elected me,” Obama added.
Obama’s comments come as the U.S. lawmakers planned to introduce a Section 230 bill that would make it easier for users to sue social media platforms.
In June 2020, we wrote a piece about Section 230 law after the U.S. Justice Department unveiled a plan to remove the Section 230 immunity that protects big tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube from being sued over content posted on their platforms.
For many years, Big Tech companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube, have enjoyed the freedom and legal protection for content posted on their platforms. The protection comes from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 protects, which states that:
“No interactive computer services shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
However, Obama said he’s “not convinced that the repeal of Section 230 is the answer.” Instead, Obama wanted Congress to take a measured approach. He stated that Congress should consider reforms to the law and that social media platforms should “be required to have a higher standard of care when it comes to advertising on their site.”
“If properly structured, regulation can promote competition and keep incumbents from freezing out new innovators,” Obama added.
Over the past five years, conservative lawmakers and many on the right have accused Big Tech companies of silencing dissent and censoring them on the basis of ideology. For example, Former President Donald Trump was permanently banned from Facebook and Twitter. However, social media platforms said denied censoring free speech or banning conservatives because of their opposing views and ideology. Instead, they said they simply enforce their community guidelines.
In response, Obama said that free speech arguments have severe limitations. He added:
“I’m pretty close to a First Amendment absolutist,” Obama said. “The First Amendment is a check on the power of the state. It doesn’t apply to private companies like Facebook or Twitter, any more than it applies to editorial decisions made by the New York Times or Fox News. Never has. Social media companies already make choices about what is or is not allowed on their platforms and how that content appears. Both explicitly through content moderation and implicitly through algorithms. The problem is we often don’t know what principles govern those decisions.”
Meanwhile, in 2020, a new bill was introduced in Congress that will make it easier for targets of harassment to sue social media platforms that host abusive or harmful content. Led by U.S Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., and backed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, the “SAFE TECH Act (also known as Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism, and Consumer Harms Act),” would amend the liability shield that protects tech platforms from liability for their users’ posts.
If passed into law, the bill would bring greater legal exposure to a range of platforms including social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube as well as e-commerce sites like Amazon and Etsy.