In a rare interview since stepping down in January, former US President Barack Obama has warned against the irresponsible use of social media. He warned that such actions were distorting people’s understanding of complex issues, and spreading misinformation.
Prince Harry quizzed Mr Obama on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Prince Harry, who is the fifth in line to the throne, is one of several prominent figures who are guest-editing the programme over the Christmas period.
“All of us in leadership have to find ways in which we can recreate a common space on the internet,” said the former president.
Mr Obama expressed concern about a future where facts are discarded and people only read and listen to things that reinforce their own views.
“One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases.
“The question has to do with how do we harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices, allows a diversity of views, but doesn’t lead to a Balkanisation of society and allows ways of finding common ground,” he said.
In what is considered a swipe at the incumbent President Trump who is an avid Twitter user, Mr Obama suggested face-to-face contact would help counteract extreme views.
“Social media is a really powerful tool for people of common interests to convene and get to know each other and connect.
“But then it’s important for them to get offline, meet in a pub, meet at a place of worship, meet in a neighbourhood and get to know each other.
“Because the truth is that on the internet, everything is simplified and when you meet people face-to-face it turns out they’re complicated.”
On the pressures of being president, Mr Obama said
“It’s hard, being in the public eye is unpleasant in a lot of ways. It is challenging in a lot of ways. Your loved ones are made vulnerable in ways that might not have been true 20 years ago or 30 years ago”.
“So it is a sacrifice that I think everybody has to be at peace with when they decide to go into politics. But, ultimately, I think the rewards of bringing about positive change in this world make it worth”
The former president and prince have been friends for some time, with the pair continuing to meet even after Obama’s tenure as president.