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Last week former President Barack Obama was the keynote speaker at Stanford University, discussing disinformation and challenges to democracy in an increasingly digital world.  

“With the recent events we have witnessed, we know democracy is neither inevitable nor self-executed as citizens like us have to nurture it, tend to it, fight for it, and as circumstances change we have to look at ourselves critically not for democracy to survive but for it to thrive,” Obama said.

The former President pointed out that globalization is one of the contributing factors that not only erased countries’ economies but also accelerated global inequality and affected people’s view on democracy. 

“Here at home (America), we have seen the steady decline of people participating in unions, civil organizations, houses of worship, and median institutions that once served as a community glutton. Over the years it has become easier for leaders in other countries to discount democracy’s appeal. And in a rush to protect us from them, virtues like tolerance and respect for the democratic process not only look expendable but a threat to our way of life.” 

Obama highlights that the consumption of information plays a big part in the downfall of democracy, 

“I am amazed by the internet, and the improvements it has contributed to society. But the progress has come with unintended consequences that resulted in the new information ecosystem turbocharging society’s worst impulses. Today we are fed different media realities directly into our phones, and we have become more prone to confirmation bias.

“We stay inside our personal information bubble, assumptions, and prejudice, so our ideology isn’t challenged but reinforces our preexisting world views. This makes us react negatively to people who disagree with us. This mindset aids in deepening racism and cultural divides, so it’s fair to say that some of the current challenges we face are inherited from a fully connected world.” Obama said.

Obama also spoke on how companies and social media play a role in blurring the lines between factual news, advertising, and opinion-based articles. 

“All we see is a constant feed of content with some factual information alongside lies, conspiracy theories, and junk science. Over time we lose our capacities to distinguish between fact, opinion, and wholesale fiction, or we stop caring about telling the difference.”

He added that people and even children have become addicted to going viral, they feel it gives them an edge over others and makes them stand out. This leads people to have no problem stirring up controversy and spreading hate. Obama believes that this also leads to traditional news media falling into the “Going Viral” mindset. That  journalists now post articles that are less factual and more controversial. 

Obama covered many other things in his keynote speech. To watch the videotaped event, visit https://tinyurl.com/yt5zuu2y. 

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