Social media leaders should be hearing the sounds of a growing crowd of sharply worded critics. These aren’t political outsiders or critical extremists. They are voices from the political mainstream, and they are surprisingly bipartisan.
Speaking at the Atlantic Live conference last week, Hilary Clinton was pointed and provocative.
“I don’t think we can say tech changed human nature. But tech went right to human nature — well, played to that part of human nature that is most subject to fear and anger and hate — because it was good business,” Clinton told Jeffrey Goldberg, editor in chief of The Atlantic.
“I have seen firsthand how dangerous lies can fuel violence and undermine our democratic process,” Clinton added.
She said the impact of the growing anger of social media was driving a fringe group of political activists. “During the 2016 campaign, a shocking number of people became convinced that I am a murderer, a terrorist sympathizer, and the evil mastermind behind a child-sex-abuse ring. Alex Jones, the right-wing talk-show host, posted a video about ‘all the children Hillary Clinton has personally murdered and chopped up and raped.’”
And now there is growing evidence this trend is more than angry voices. It’s having a profound effect on young people.
“In the past, surgeons general have at crucial moments sounded the alarm about major crises and drawn our attention to underappreciated threats, including smoking, HIV/AIDS, and obesity. This is one of those moments,” wrote Clinton in the August edition of The Atlantic. “Unless we address this crisis, [Surgeon General] Murthy warned, ‘we will continue to splinter and divide until we can no longer stand as a community or a country.’”
In her presentation, Clinton pulled no punches, digging deep into the strategies of then-political advisor Steve Bannon.
“Long before Bannon ran Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, he discovered an army of what he later described as ‘rootless white males,’ disconnected from the real world but highly engaged online and often quick to resort to sexist and racist attacks,” she said. “Bannon pursued the same project as a senior executive at Cambridge Analytica, the notorious data-mining and online-influence company largely owned by the right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer.”
Clinton’s urgent call was specific: This isn’t a bunch of isolated incidents, this is a strategy going back to before 2008, and with its sights set on 2024. “Like many others, I was too slow to see the impact this strategy could have, she said. “Now the Surgeon General is telling us that social disconnection is not just a problem at the margins — not just the usual ‘angry young men’ — but is in fact an epidemic sweeping the country.”
Clinton pointed out the Surgeon General has called for stronger and more sophisticated oversight and regulation of tech companies. On the Atlantic LIVE stage she went further, calling for the repeal of the controversial Section 230 law.
In closing, Clinton said: “Section 230 grants technology companies basically freedom from liability no matter what shows up. That should be repealed, and [companies] should have certain obligations about what appears on their sites.”
She added, “I believe disagreement is critical. Our nation was founded on profound disagreement in our constitution… Sadly, we have gotten away from that.