Obama talks about disinformation and calls for social media censorship
Former President Barack Obama was the keynote speaker at a one-day symposium, titled "Challenges to Democracy," co-hosted by the Stanford Cyber Policy Center and the Obama Foundation, on the Stanford campus on April 21.
Obama spoke at length on topics such as the First Amendment, social media, censorship, technology, and the news media.
Not all problems we are seeing now are an inevitable byproduct of this new technology. They're also the result of very specific choices made by the companies that have come to dominate the internet, generally, and social media platforms in particular — decisions that intentionally or not have made democracies more vulnerable.
Obama claimed that societal divisions, from sexism and racism to ethno-nationalism, were amplified on social media, adding that "our blind spots, our prejudices aren't challenged; they're reinforced."
Obama said many forms of disinformation originate on traditional media platforms, and social networks have helped accelerate the decline of newspapers and traditional news sources.
Obama also said the overwhelming information surplus made it difficult to discern the truth because "our brains aren't accustomed to taking in this much information this fast, and a lot of us are experiencing overload."
Obama claimed that "People like Putin and Steve Bannon understand it's not necessary for people to believe this information in order to weaken democratic institutions. You just have to flood a country's public square with enough raw sewage. You just have to raise enough questions, spread enough dirt, plant enough conspiracy theorizing, that citizens no longer know what to believe."
Obama said that in time, "we lose our capacity to distinguish between fact, opinion, and wholesale fiction. Or maybe we just stop caring,"
Obama said, "Freedom of speech is at the heart of every democratic society" and branded himself as "pretty close to a First Amendment absolutist" but added that the First Amendment does not apply to social media companies.
"The First Amendment is a check on the power of the state. It doesn't apply to private companies like Facebook and Twitter," Obama said, calling for content moderation and censorship on social media.
"While content moderation can limit the distribution of clearly dangerous content, it doesn't go far enough," said Obama.
Since Obama mentioned disinformation, it is worth looking back at the records of disinformation in the U.S. in recent times.
From the day President Trump was elected in 2016 'til the 2020 presidential election, the Democrats in Washington and their propaganda wing that claims to be the news media have spearheaded myriad disinformation campaigns.
Their most audacious concoction was the Trump-Russia collusion hoax that was amplified by rogue Democrat operatives in Washington and the media. The disinformation campaign caused the appointment of a special counsel, resulting in over two years of uncertainty. It probably swayed the 2018 midterms, which handed the Democrats the House and led to two gratuitous impeachments of President Trump.
In addition to the Russia collusion narrative, they peddled numerous other fabrications about President Trump. On odd days, he was bigoted, senile, and clueless; on even days, he was a racist evil genius.
During the 2020 elections, Big Media and Big Tech colluded to censor the most important news story of that time about Hunter Biden's laptop. The New York Post had reported that there were text messages, emails, and financial documents on Hunter's laptop that proved that then–vice president Biden had abused his power to enrich himself and his family. The laptop also contained photos of an inebriated Hunter in a compromised position with a prostitute and using racist language.
Despite ample evidence, pundits on MSNBC, NBC, The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, CNN, Politico The HuffPost, and The New York Times worked in unison to discredit the story even calling it Russian disinformation. This was repeated by Biden during the presidential debates.
The rigging of the 2020 elections wasn't only at the ballot, but also in the way the playing field was tilted emphatically in favor of Democrats.
For four years, voters were relentlessly fed misinformation about Trump while negative stories about Biden were suppressed. It is a testament to his record and popularity that despite all this, Trump managed to secure 74 million votes in 2020.
The 2020 presidential election was a vile assault on democracy.
Democrats, including many Obama acolytes, were responsible for the disinformation campaigns and fabrication that led to the rigging of an election.
There have been several other instances of the news media and Big Tech suppressing information that goes against the Democrat agenda. Merely questioning the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine can get users de-platformed from social media. Matters have deteriorated to such an extent that even satire is not being spared.
Yet today, Obama is claiming to stand against disinformation.
This has been a standard old Obama ploy. When he presided over a catastrophe such as Obamacare during his White House days, instead of accepting the blame, he would address the situation like a neutral commentator, almost as if he were a bystander. At times he would present a critique of the situation, implying that his ideas were brilliant but the implementation by his subordinates was flawed. If nothing else worked, he blamed the Republicans or his predecessor, President George W. Bush. This was his attempt to feign honesty and objectivity for which his myriad cheerleaders in the media would then slobber and fawn over him endlessly.
Obama seemed to be repeating his maneuver at Stanford.
Apart from the muddled, puzzling, and contradictory messaging and the obvious hypocrisy, the question is why pontificate now?
The Democrats know that they are going to receive an emphatic drubbing during the midterms in November.
As they did in 2016, do they intend to reject the electoral results and blame it all on social media disinformation? The fact that Obama called out both Putin and Bannon by name is ample proof of where this is leading.
The question is, how far will they go? Will they demand the appointment of another special counsel? Will they just refuse to vacate their space until the probe is complete? Will they hire activists to crowd Washington and harass GOP lawmakers? Will activists heckle GOP lawmakers in the corridors of the Capitol Building? Will it all be done to "save Democracy"?
There is never any telling what the Democrats will say or do upon electoral defeats, except that it's bound to be something unprecedented, brazen, and outrageous.
Back in 2016, the GOP controlled the Senate, the House, and the White House, yet they couldn't stop the Democrats from running their disinformation campaign and even compelled Republicans to repeat the false premise that the Russians interfered in the elections.
It is essential that the GOP have a strategy to counter Democrat disinformation. Hopefully, the GOP will stand its ground and not be affected by the noise in Washington and in the news media. They need to learn to ridicule and dismiss any false Democrat premises, else democracy will really be in danger.
The GOP must remember that the Democrats worry about democracy only when they lose elections.
Photo credit: YouTube screen grab (cropped).