In a speech at Stanford University, Former President Barack Obama warned that disinformation is causing the “weakening of democratic institutions around the world,” and questioned the ability of tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to fully rein in burgeoning misinformation on their platforms.

“One of the biggest reasons for democracy’s weakening is the profound change that’s taken place in how we communicate and consume information,” Obama began in his speech. “For more and more of us, search and social media platforms aren’t just our window into the internet, they serve as our primary source of information. Nobody tells us the window is blurred, subject to unseen distortions and subtle manipulations.”

Obama also said in the long talk that he wished he had realized what was happening sooner and said gravely “what still nags at me is my failure to appreciate at the time just how susceptible we had become to lies and conspiracy theories.”

Beginning with Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election and onwards to further elections, and now in the form of skepticism of Covid-19 vaccines, misinformation takes many forms and has become increasingly difficult to combat. “The sheer proliferation and the splintering of information and audiences has made democracy more complicated,” Obama said.

He insisted that tech giants’ “decisions have an impact on every aspect of society. With that power comes accountability, and in democracies like ours at least, some democratic oversight.” Along with increased regulation of tech companies, Obama proposed, “These companies need some other north star other than just making money and increasing market share.”

“The internet is a tool, social media is a tool,” Obama said in his wrap-up statements. “At the end of the day, tools don’t control us, we control them. And we can remake them. It’s up to each of us to decide what we value and then use the tools we’ve been given to advance those values.”

Some of Obama’s remarks compiled by Stanford University on YouTube can be viewable below:

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