Though Joe Biden is President when former President Barack Obama visited Washington, DC in February he completely overshadowed his old friend. If Democrats sheepishly wonder if Biden is even up to the task of running again in 2024, Obama is seen as the center of gravity for the Democratic Party more than the Democrat who currently occupies the White House.
What Obama says is about as good a reflection of where center-left values are at the moment than any other Democratic figure.
In the wake of billionaire Elon Musk threatening to buy Twitter and turn it into a free-speech platform to protect democracy, Obama said that the sort of “disinformation” that would be allowed in such a scenario would be a threat to democracy.
“Each of us, whether we work at a tech company or consume social media, whether we are a parent, a legislator, an advertiser on one of these platforms, now’s the time to pick a side,” Obama told Stanford University on Thursday. “We have a choice right now. Do we allow our democracy to wither or do we make it better?”
Obama then, bizarrely, tried to insist that, at heart, he is a free speech “absolutist.”
“Freedom of speech is at the heart of every democratic society,” he said, declaring himself “pretty close to a First Amendment absolutist.”
“I believe that in most instances the answer to bad speech is good speech. I believe that the free, robust, sometimes antagonistic exchange of ideas produces better outcomes and a healthier society,” Obama continued.
Great! Maybe Musk could work with Obama to preserve freedom of expression on Twitter?!
Wait, never mind. Obama then said that when it comes to social media companies, “regulation has to be part of the answer.” He added that current “content moderation” “doesn’t go far enough” in tamping down on “clearly dangerous content.”
Here is some of the clearly dangerous content that was “moderated” before the 2020 presidential election:
Former Twitter head Jack Dorsey has since admitted suppressing the Hunter Biden laptop story was a total mistake.
Obama said major social media companies need to play a more significant role in suppressing content.
“The bigger issue is what content these platforms promote,” Obama said. “Algorithms have evolved to the point where nobody on the outside of these companies can accurately predict what they’ll do, unless they’re really sophisticated and spend a lot of time tracking it. And sometimes, even the people who build them aren’t sure.”
“That’s a problem,” he insisted.
The government must regulate speech platforms to keep us “safe,” Obama claimed.
“In a democracy, we can rightly expect companies to subject the design of their products and services to some level of scrutiny,” the former president said. “At minimum, they should have to share that information with researchers and regulators who are charged with keeping the rest of us safe.”
Obama made the distinction between public and private companies when it comes to censorship as a key component of this debate. But what he didn’t confront is the glaring trend of the average Democratic voters agreeing with him about the need to censor “disinformation” on the internet. Obama ignored that much of what has been called disinformation in recent times included legit news and basic political expression.
Everyone is for free speech in theory, including believing that open and robust expression is key to any functioning democracy, as Obama noted. But if the Hunter Biden laptop story can be categorized as “disinformation,” and it clearly was. If the theory that COVID-19 might have originated in a Chinese lab can be called disinformation, it was. If what Joe Rogan or Dave Chappelle says can be deemed false by left-leaning regulators at Twitter or in government…
How would that not be suppression of democratic free and open speech of the most basic kind? Of course, it is, but opposition to free speech–outright scorn–runs throughout elite institutions and figures.
We NEED content moderation: Age limits for accounts. No tolerance of calls for violence. Prevention of terrorists organizing on social media.
That is not what Obama alluded to and polls show most Democratic voters truly want something far different: Suppression or outright censorship of views and positions they don’t agree with.
Obama specifically cited former President Donald Trump and other Republicans claiming the 2020 presidential election was stolen. I don’t believe this. Here at BASEDPolitics, we don’t promote that narrative. But it is still free expression, just as it is when Hillary Clinton says Russia stole the election in 2016 (another conspiracy).
All of the above is basic political speech.
Obama asked Americans to “pick a side” in this debate. If one side is free expression that might include wackjobs claiming Kamala Harris is a secret lizard person accompanied by sane political news and opinion the left might not like. It’s that, or left-leaning (or right-leaning! Democrats won’t be in charge forever) government “regulators” who get to decide what Twitter and its users are allowed to see…
Bring on the lizard people. Every American who claims to value free speech should claim the former option. Free and open expression should be tolerated in the United States.
Even if a former president thinks it shouldn’t.