Former President Barack Obama has called for the regulation of tech companies and the altering of their algorithms to promote “common conversation” on social media platforms.
Recode reports that during a speech at MIT’s Sloan Sports Conference last Friday, former President Barack Obama called for the regulation of tech companies and stated that they are “public goods,” not just for-profit companies, and should be treated as such. Obama also suggested that social media companies change their algorithms to promote “common conversation” on their platforms.
“I do think the large platforms — Google and Facebook being the most obvious, Twitter and others as well, are part of that ecosystem — have to have a conversation about their business model that recognizes they are a public good as well as a commercial enterprise,” said Obama. “They’re not just an invisible platform, they’re shaping our culture in powerful ways.”
Obama also criticized Facebook and Google, calling them a “duopoly” and stating that they helped contribute to a fractured media environment that has resulted in a number of online echo chambers. Many worry, however, that by attempting to create a “common conversation,” the voices of those that with dissenting opinions could be censored. “We have to have a serious conversation about, what are the business models, the algorithms, the mechanisms, whereby we can create more of a common conversation,” said Obama. “And that can not just be a commercially driven conversation.”
Obama specifically called out Fox News and the New York Times saying, “Essentially we now have entirely different realities that are being created with not just different opinions, but now different facts,” he said. “And this isn’t just by the way Russian inspired bots and fake news. This is Fox News vs. the New York Times editorial page. If you look at these different sources of information, they do not describe the same thing. In some cases, they don’t even talk about the same thing. And so it is very difficult to figure out how democracy works over the long term in those circumstances.”
The full audio of Obama’s speech can be found here.