Former President Barack Obama hilariously portrayed himself as practically a free speech “absolutist” while also shilling for Big Tech platforms to censor content on The Verge‘s Decoder podcast last week.
Obama told The Verge Editor-in-Chief Nilay Patel that Big Tech platforms should not censor what he described as “offensive” speech. However, the former president added a warning that social media platforms have always had the right to control content seemingly taking a jab at Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who alleged that Big Tech platforms should be regulated as “common carriers.”
“I’m close to a First Amendment absolutist in the sense that I generally don’t believe that even offensive speech, mean speech, etcetera, it should be certainly not regulated by the government,” Obama claimed.
Later in the interview, Obama took a jab at Thomas for calling on social media platforms to be treated and regulated as “common carriers.” Obama disagreed, claiming, “I do believe that the platforms themselves are more than just common carriers like the phone company. They’re not passive. There’s always some content moderation taking place.”
Thomas’s assessment — which is at the center of looming Supreme Court cases in Texas and Florida — centers around the idea that social media platforms must offer their services to everyone and must be regulated as common carriers. “There is a fair argument that some digital platforms are sufficiently akin to common carriers or places of accommodation to be regulated in this manner,” Thomas wrote in a 2021 concurrence.
Obama’s remarks came in response to questions about AI-generated content and the role of Big Tech platforms in censoring content. Obama appeared to support free speech, claiming that social media platforms should take the “default position” of “free speech rather than censorship.” However, Obama correctly warned that the First Amendment — particularly in cases of child pornography and human trafficking —- has limitations.
“We have laws against certain kinds of speech that we deem to be really harmful to the public health and welfare,” Obama added.
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