Former President Barack Obama claimed Thursday that he is "pretty close" to a First Amendment "absolutist."
But in the same speech, Obama demanded more action from social media companies to combat "disinformation" and even suggested the federal government should get involved.
What are the details?
During a speech at Stanford University about the dangers of social media and hyper-connectivity to democracy, Obama said Big Tech needs more regulation.
Obama claimed that content moderation "doesn't go far enough" because it does not prevent the distribution of "clearly dangerous content."
Thus, stopping the spread of "potentially harmful content" should not be "left solely to private interests," Obama added, explaining that Big Tech platforms "need to be subject to some level of public oversight and regulation."
Obama explained what he believes that regulation should be:
A regulatory structure, a smart one, needs to be in place, designed in consultation with tech companies, and experts and communities that are affected, including communities of color and others that sometimes are not well represented here in Silicon Valley, that will allow these companies to operate effectively while also slowing the spread of harmful content. In some cases, industry standards may replace or substitute for regulation, but regulation has to be part of the answer.
The former president said that in the same way food processors are subject to governmental regulatory inspections, so social media companies must be inspected to ensure they are "following certain safety standards that we as a country — not just them — have agreed are necessary for the greater good."
Obama also claimed that "people are dying" because of disinformation and misinformation, referring to social media content that bucks the government's narrative on COVID-19 and COVID vaccines.
Ironically, Obama's suggestion for government intervention came after he promoted free speech principles.
"I’m pretty close to a First Amendment absolutist. I believe that, in most instances, the answer to bad speech is good speech," Obama said. "I believe that the free, robust, sometimes antagonistic exchange of ideas produces better outcomes and a healthier society."
"The First Amendment is a check on the power of the state. It doesn’t apply to private companies like Facebook or Twitter, any more than it applies to editorial decisions made by the New York Times or Fox News. Never has," he added.
Who called out Obama?
Jonathan Turley — a constitutional scholar, professor at George Washington University Law School, and self-described "liberal" — called out Obama for claiming to support freedom of speech while advocating for increased regulations.
Turley described Obama's claim as being "akin to claiming to be a vegetarian absolutist while calling for mandatory meat consumption."
"Obama supports free speech unless he considers the speech to be 'disinformation' and then he becomes an advocate for speech controls. If Democrats want to become the party of censorship, they should have the integrity to call it for what it is," Turley challenged.
"So Obama is 'an absolutist' except for anything that he deems 'lies, conspiracy theories, junk science, quackery, racist tracts and misogynist screeds' or otherwise disinformation," he added, referring to Obama's own words.
Former President Barack Obama is speaking at Stanford University about challenges to democracy www.youtube.com