Feb 28, 2018

Obama wants a "significant conversation" about Big Social

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Former president Barack Obama said last week at a sports analytics conference at MIT that companies like Google and Facebook, as well as Twitter and other platforms, have to have a conversation about their business model and "recognize that they are a public good as well as a commercial enterprise."

Why it matters: While the former president didn't explicitly call for more regulation of these platforms the way other public figures have, he did for the first time acknowledge that they are shaping our culture in powerful ways.

"[W]e have to have serious conversation about what are the business models, the algorithms, (and) the mechanics whereby we can create more of a common conversation and that cannot just be a commercially driven conversation."

Obama's comments come amid a growing backlash agains the dominance of big tech and the way big platforms shape public conversation and opinion. His comments are particularly poignant given the close relationship his campaign and administration had with the tech community, which typically embraces progressive social ideals.

  • "If we don't have at least a common baseline of facts our democracy over time gets constrained and thats what's happened," Obama said.

Obama's position contrasts that of President Trump, who told Axios in an interview last year that he would not force the government to intervene in the dominance of Facebook because the platform's reach benefits his communication goals. He did however, allude to welcoming market pressure to take on Facebook.

While Obama admitted he's a huge admirer of what Facebook, Google and some of the other big platforms have accomplished, he says basic rules are needed to ensure the marketplace works fairly.

  • "I always try to remind people that capitalism works and the marketplace works because they are some basic rules when in place create even playing fields that ensure people aren't defrauded."
  • "As a consequence you have a international marketplace of trust and new ideas can grow not just be crushed by guardrails by anticompetitive behavior."

What's next: Obama suggests that any action that should be taken in response to the dominance of these platforms is complicated. He says other countries, like China, that manage open access with censorship are not upholding the values of a society that he would want to live in.

Go deeper

Heat wave melts 20% of snow cover from Antarctic island in days

The effects of February's record heat wave on Eagle Island in Antarctica. Photo: NASA

Antarctica's Eagle Island now has a side that's almost ice-free following this month's searing heat wave, images released by NASA show.

Why it maters: "The warm spell caused widespread melting on nearby glaciers," NASA said in its report. It's the third major melt event of the 2019-2020 Southern Hemisphere summer, following warm spells in January and last November, according to the United Nation's World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Bernie Sanders wins Nevada caucus

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders waves to supporters at a campaign rally on Friday in Las Vegas. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders is projected to handily win the Nevada Democratic primary caucus, becoming the clear frontrunner among 2020 Democratic presidential primary election candidates.

Why it matters: Nevada is the first state with a diverse population to hold a nominating contest, highlighting candidates' abilities to connect with voters of color — particularly Latino voters.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

South Korea and Italy see spikes in coronavirus cases

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus has spread to more nations, and the U.S. reports a doubling of its confirmed cases to 34 — while noting these are mostly due to repatriated citizens, emphasizing there's no "community spread" yet in the United States.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 2,362 people and infected more than 77,000 others, mostly in mainland China. New countries to announce infections recently include Israel and Lebanon, while Iran reported its sixth death from the virus. South Korea's confirmed cases jumped from 204 Friday to 433 on Saturday and Italy's case count rose from 3 to 62 by Saturday.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 6 hours ago - Health