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Social media platforms’ quest for profit undermines democracy – People’s World


Former law professor and former president Barack Obama spoke about social media and democracy at the University of Chicago. | PA

CHICAGO—The pursuit of profit from social media platforms, without controlling extremist content, is leading to “a series of editorial choices” and rampant misinformation that can “undermine our democracy and, when combined with a media ecosystem, can be fatal to it.” “, said the former said President Barack Obama.

Google, Facebook, Instagram and others are ignoring or denigrating old protections against misinformation and lies, configuring their sites to produce the most clicks and ad dollars, attracting and retaining viewers with extremist content, it said. -he explains.

And there’s another factor that helps pave the way for this threat, Obama said at a lengthy April 6 seminar co-hosted by the Institute of Politics and Atlantic monthly magazine: The debilitating decline of local journalism, leaving people at the mercy of “news” sites that peddle disguised extremism.

This decline in local news, due to the loss of advertising revenue on the Internet and the encroachment of venture capital funds devouring and destroying local newspapers, is also one of the main causes of The News Guild, which fights against the worst of them, Alden Capital – an Obama fund by name.

“The loss of local journalism, the growth of grievance and anger-based journalism” is the result of “technology whose design monetizes anger and conflict because people are very vulnerable” to emotional manipulation, a- he explained.

But current users must share some of the blame, Obama and others said during the 3.5-hour sessions. They ignore the “guardrails” – both legal and traditional – against such lies, instead adopting lies without fact-checking or consulting alternative sources.

That’s because the Internet’s first generation, overwhelmed by lies, distrusts facts and institutions, including data from responsible media, science, and government. Mistrust drives social media users to embrace extremism, conspiracy theories and, often, violence, he said. They depend on disinformation, which Obama has separated from disinformation.

“Disinformation is if you make a systematic effort to promote false information and suppress real information for political, financial or to suppress other people you don’t like,” said Obama, who has spoken for the last hour and a half. interviewer Jeff Goldberg, co-editor of Atlantic.

“If you go back to the basics of our constitutional design,” said the former Chicago constitutional law professor, “you have freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of the press. Everyone has their say. to say and we settle.

“But in reality” and in history, “certain voices have been squeezed out,” including in the anti-Communist witch hunts of the Joe McCarthy era. Nevertheless, “we have built a set of standards and a process” to control disinformation. “And now we’ve seen a shift away from that.”

The former president said the problem of misinformation is not new, but the abandonment of standards is. Obama, a native of Honolulu, recalled the campaign of lies about his birth. Social media, driven by Donald Trump, his eventual successor, promoted the “birther” canard that Obama was born overseas because he attracted clicks, views and ads. Obama did not nominate Trump.

Yet, “on the demand side” of social media users, “there is a demand for lunatics that we have to grapple with.” Responding to a question from the audience, he released his only politically tinged statement: “There’s a straight line between Sarah Palin” – the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee – across birtherism and opposition to coronavirus vaccines.

But, citing his own error, Obama also admitted that data providers can stumble, providing extremists with ammunition. Obama said his mistake was pushing for the Affordable Care Act. In verbal shorthand, he said everyone can keep their doctor.

The right, propelled, although Obama did not say so, by the sight of a black man in the White House, pounced on it via social networks. “But that’s not what I meant,” Obama said in a pleasant back-and-forth with Goldberg.

He explained that 85% of people in the United States covered by private insurance qualified under the ACA’s higher coverage standards, such as providing free medical exams, could keep their current doctor.

Others fell victim to low-cost, no-benefit insurers whose operations missed even the essentials and paid little or nothing for care. “There were false assurances in the market,” the former president said. Although he didn’t say it, such low-cost insurance — without disclosing its few benefits — was a favorite GOP trope during the ACA debate 12 years ago.

“Technically it’s true” when the right accused “He lied,” admitted Obama. “But they (the imposters) couldn’t offer insurance because they were regulated.”

But other insidious problems accompany the shift to social media as the main gatekeepers of information, which in turn fuels extremism, he said. This is where venture capital, which The News Guild calls “vulture capitalism,” comes into play.

Obama specifically cited Alden Global Capital, now one of the largest owners of newspaper chains in the United States, creating “news deserts” in cities across the country. Former readers then fall prey to so-called “news” sites peddling extremism under the guise of information, he explained.

Alden takeover of The Tribune Company, owners of Obama’s hometown, unionized at TNG Chicago Grandstandthe Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentry, the Hartford, Conn., Stream, and other newspapers – is just the latest example of the threat vulture capitalists pose to local news, according to The News Guild. But given Alden’s growth into a major news channel, it’s worse.

And Google employees staged protests against their bosses, first over sexual harassment at work, then over a refusal to remove extremist exploitation. They have since formed the Alphabet Workers Union to pursue this goal, among other things, even taking their cause to Congress. Alphabet is the renowned parent company of Google.

“Alphabet can make money without doing harm. We must prioritize the well-being of society and the environment over the maximization of profits,” summarizes their mission statement.

It is this profit motive that drives social media and its willingness to publish and promote extremism, Obama and other speakers said.

Still, the former president sees some hope.

While the combination of social media, lies and misinformation is global, so are young people – whom his nonprofit foundation works with – who have learned to be wary of what they read on the net. But the return to the old norms will not be quick.

Democracies, including in the United States, have become “flaccid” about upholding the principles that created pre-internet information safeguards, he explained. Sometimes, he added, when the United States, especially internationally, has not and does not live up to its own ideals.

“If we get the right democracy, democracy is stronger all over the world. If we don’t, others will fill the void. If we seem to have abandoned our ideals, or if we are unwilling to fight for them, then the (Vladimir) Poutines of the world will have an easier time.

“But building the habits and muscles of democracy will take time.”


Marc Gruenberg

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