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Obama says tech companies must help contain dangerous misinformation online

By Ashley Williams

April 22 (UPI) -- Former President Barack Obama is sounding an alarm over concern about misinformation being spread online and said U.S. tech companies have a responsibility to rein it in.

Speaking at Stanford University on Thursday, the 44th president warned of the dangers of digital disinformation and called on technology companies to do more to protect the public at large from vast waves of phony and potentially dangerous information.

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Obama urged digital gatekeepers to offer more transparency in how they promote content and lobbied for stricter regulation.

"Social media did not create racism or white supremacist groups; it didn't create the kind of ethnonationalism that Putin is enraptured with," Obama said, according to CNN.

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"All these things existed long before the first tweet or Facebook poke."

The spread of untrue information across the Internet is nothing new, but Obama and others have pointed to some of the more serious consequences in recent years -- such as the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines and the QAnon conspiracy movement.

In his remarks, Obama said unrestrained misinformation online is a threat to democracy in the United States and overseas.

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"Each of us -- whether we work at a tech company or consume social media; whether we're a parent, a legislator, or an advertiser on one of these platforms -- has to pick a side," he wrote in a Facebook post.

"Do we allow our democracy to wither? Or do we choose to make it better? That's the choice we face, and it is a choice worth embracing."

Since leaving office in 2017, Obama has made fighting disinformation a partial focus of his post-White House years. It's a topic that he also addressed during an event at a conference organized by the University of Chicago and The Atlantic earlier this month.

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"These companies need to have some other North star other than just making money and increasing market share," he said on Thursday. "Fix the problem that in part they helped create, but also to stand for something bigger."

Obama emphasized the importance of transparency among digital companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Meta.

"These companies are still way too guarded about how exactly their standards operate, or how their engagement ranking systems influence what goes viral and what doesn't," he said.

"Solving the disinformation problem won't cure all that ails our democracies or tears at the fabric of our world. But it can help rebuild the trust and solidarity needed to make democracy stronger," he added in his Facebook post.

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"I believe we should use every tool at our disposal to secure our greatest gift -- a government of, by, and for the people -- for generations to come."

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