Society being splintered by online biases, says Obama

RSTV Bureau
LONDON: Undated BBC handout photo made available on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. Former US President Barack Obama interviewed by Britain's Prince Harry for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that he guest edited.  AP/PTI

LONDON: Undated BBC handout photo made available on Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017. Former US President Barack Obama interviewed by Britain’s Prince Harry for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that he guest edited.
AP/PTI

Former US president Barack Obama said the way people communicate via social media risked splintering society and leaders had to ensure the Internet did not cocoon users within their biases.

Obama said in an interview with Britain’s Prince Harry, broadcast on BBC radio on Wednesday that social media should promote diverse views in a way that “doesn’t lead to a Balkanisation of our society.”

“…how do we harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices, allows a diversity of views, but doesn’t lead to a Balkanization of our society but rather continues to promote ways of finding common ground and all of us in leadership have to find ways in which we can recreate a common space on the Internet,” Obama said replying to a question by Prince Harry.

The former US President has previously warned that social media platforms can lead people to make snap judgements about complex decisions although he has refrained from criticising his successor Donald Trump who regularly uses Twitter.

“One of the dangers of the Internet is that people can have entirely different realities they can be just cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases. The truth is that on the Internet everything is simplified and when you meet people face to face it turns out they’re complicated,” he said.

He, however, added that online communities offline helped people to see that many issues were not as simple as they might seem in a chatroom.

“And you find areas of common ground because you see that things aren’t as simple as have had been portrayed in whatever chat room you’ve been in. And it’s also by the way harder to be as obnoxious and cruel in person as people can be anonymously on the internet,” Obama said.

Obama spoke to Harry in an interview conducted by the prince as a guest editor for BBC radio’s daily morning news show and focused on their shared interest in promoting causes.

On the question of his last day at the majestic White House after handing over the presidency to Trump, he said, it was a satisfying feeling, “mixed with all the work that was still undone and concerns about how the country moves forward”.

(With inputs from Agencies)