He also blamed the current information environment facilitated by social media companies for "turbocharging some the worst impulses of humanity."
Obama stated that one of the main reasons democracies are weakening was the fundamental change in the way we communicate and consume information.
Obama spoke at Stanford University Thursday to say that the current information ecosystem is causing existing racial or religious divides. However, he said that not all modern problems are caused by technology.
Obama stated that "some of the challenges we face today are inherent to a fully-connected world." They are also the result very specific choices by companies that have risen to the top of the internet, and social media platforms specifically.
Obama stated that social media companies' decisions regarding content moderation and algorithms to rank posts have made democracies less secure.
While he understood that social media companies must make money, the former president also stated that he was concerned about "inflammatory and polarizing" content that attracts and engages.
Last year, Facebook's parent company Meta leaked internal documents that showed its researchers knew their algorithms led users to post containing misinformation.
Facebook researchers know for a long time that bad actors can manipulate the platform's algorithms and game the system. A December 2019 memo by Facebook stated that researchers observed that Facebook users were posting more outrageous content to gain comments and reactions. Our algorithms interpret this as a sign that things should go viral.
Former president stated that it was difficult for Americans to distinguish between peer-reviewed articles from Dr. Anthony Fauci or miracle cures being sold by "hucksters".
Obama stated that the coronavirus pandemic was a prime example of how "the very nature of these platforms seems tilted us in the wrong way."
"Despite having clinically tested the vaccine in billions of people around the world, about one fifth of Americans still prefers to risk their lives and risk their family's health than getting vaccinated. Obama stated that misinformation is causing people to die.
In recent public appearances, he has stressed the danger of misinformation and diinformation. However, on Thursday, he raised concerns about what he described as the extensive way that disinformation is affecting democracies in the U.S. and abroad.
Obama stated that without the existence of standards and safeguards from regulators, the consequences are "frightening" for society. Obama encouraged social media companies to become part of the solution. However, he pointed out that companies such as Facebook and Twitter did not create societal divisions about race, culture, or religion.
Although there may be design flaws and bugs in the software, he said he believes it's possible to keep the transformative power of the internet and mitigate some of its worst effects.
Right-wing white nationalists claimed that Obama was not American when he was elected president. To dispel the false rumors, the White House eventually released a copy of Obama's birth certificate .
Obama has met with researchers, academics, ex-regulators, and industry leaders in recent months to discuss the threat from disinformation. He blamed social media platforms, which he said encourage falsehoods more than truths.
Obama spoke at a conference organized by The Atlantic and the University of Chicago earlier this month. He said that society must find a balance between making money on social media and engaging in harmful practices.
That message was repeated Thursday. Obama stated that, while he believes social-media companies are honest about limiting the dangers associated with their product, they still have an incentive to keep users engaged.
Obama stated that "These companies are still too guarded over how exactly their standards work, or how their engagement ranking system influences what goes viral or not."
He stated that decisions that affect billions of users should not be made by the largest social media platforms. They need regulatory oversight. Section230 of the Communications Decency Act has allowed social media companies to avoid scrutiny.
This law ensures that social media platforms are not held responsible for third-party posts. Despite the introduction of several bills last year by bipartisan legislators, Washington D.C. lawmakers have not been able find a way for the law to be amended.
Obama stated that he isn't convinced Section 230 should not be repealed completely, but called for reforms that would account for technological advances and the changes caused by social media platforms.