Former President Obama on Thursday urged technology companies to take steps to protect the public from disinformation, which he warned puts the public’s trust in democracy at risk.
During a keynote address at Stanford University, Obama warned of the dangerous of disinformation’s proliferation on tech platforms, pointing to the rise of autocrats such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Obama also noted former President Trump’s bogus claims of widespread election fraud in the 2020 presidential election that led to the deadly Capitol insurrection last year.
“Right here, in the United States of America, we just saw a sitting president deny the clear results of an election and help incite a violent insurrection at the nation’s capital,” Obama said. “Not only that, a majority of his party, including many who occupy some of the highest offices of the land, continue to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the last election and are using it to justify laws to restrict the vote and make it easier to overturn the will of the people in states where they hold power.”
After saying that events such as the Capitol insurrection are aided by disinformation on social media platforms, Obama acknowledged that during his presidency, he did not realize the extent society had become “susceptible” to lies and conspiracy theories, despite having spent years being a target of disinformation myself.”
During the 2020 presidential election cycle, Obama asserted that his successor led the charge on the racist “birther” movement in 2011 in order to promote himself, despite having repeatedly complimented Obama publicly early on in Obama’s presidency.
“And essentially what happened is because the guy just decided he wanted attention, like whether it was to promote Celebrity Apprentice or whatever, he looked and saw what was being said and he said, ‘oh, if that’s what folks want, I can do that with even less inhibition. I don’t need a dog whistle, I’m just gonna go ahead and say it,’” Obama said during an interview with Pod Save America in Oct. 2020.
The racist “birther” conspiracy theory centered on a baseless claim that Obama was not born in the U.S. Trump repeatedly demanded to see Obama’s birth certificate in boosting the conspiracy. Although Trump eventually admitted in 2016 that Obama was born in the U.S., Trump has not acknowledged his role in promoting birtherism. In August 2020, Trump pushed a similar conspiracy theory about Kamala Harris, who was Democratic candidate Joe Biden’s running mate at the time.
Watch Obama’s remarks below: