Former President Barack Obama said Friday that he has reservations about the way new media can create information silos and stifle critical thinking but remains hopeful about America’s overall trajectory.
On his first trip to India since leaving the Oval Office, Obama sat down with Indian journalist Karan Thapar on day two of the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit 2017 in the Indian capital of New Delhi on Friday.
Thapar noted to Obama that many politicians tweet their thoughts on any subject, seemingly at any time — clearly alluding to President Trump’s freewheeling use of Twitter.
“Do you think tweeting your message is a sensible way of dealing directly with the people, or is it dangerous because when you have to compress you end up simplifying, sometimes distorting?” he asked.
Obama said that new platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are extraordinarily powerful tools that can be used for good or ill, and that the world is just beginning to understand the inherent challenges of these new technologies. They can create information silos and encourage snap judgments rather than critical inquiry, he said.
“Psychologists know that most of what are called quick snap judgments about complex issues are typically wrong,” Obama said. “One of the dangers is that instead of deep analysis or some skepticism toward initial information and the desire to learn more [and] evaluate, we start seeing a generation of a citizenry generally that just looks at the surface — the sizzle and not the steak, so to speak.”
He said that people who get their information from Fox News or the New York Times occupy completely different realities and that this significantly undermines the ability to build bridges in a democracy. Digital information bubbles have exacerbated this problem, he continued.
“I say that to suggest that those of us who are leaders in any field — and, look, I’ve got 100 million Twitter followers. I actually have more than other people who use it more often,” Obama said to laughter in a veiled swipe at Trump. As of Friday morning, Obama had 97.4 million Twitter followers and Trump had 43.7 million. “It’s important to be mindful about both the power of these tools but also their limits.”
During a speech in Toronto on Tuesday, former first lady Michelle…