Former US president Barack Obama said the way people communicate via social media risked splintering society and leaders had to ensure the Internet did not cocoon users within their own biases.
“All of us in leadership have to find ways in which we can recreate a common space on the Internet,” Obama said in an interview conducted by Britain’s Prince Harry, broadcast on BBC radio on Wednesday.
“One of the dangers of the Internet is that people can have entirely different realities, they can be just cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases.”
Obama has previously warned that social media platforms can lead people to make snap judgments about complex decisions although he has refrained from criticizing his successor Donald Trump who regularly uses Twitter.
Obama said in the interview broadcast on Wednesday that social media should promote diverse views in a way that “doesn’t lead to a Balkanisation of our society” and moving online communities offline helped people to see that many issues were not as simple as they might seem in a chatroom.
“It’s also by the way harder to be as obnoxious and cruel in person as people can be anonymously on the Internet,” he said.
“Meet in the pub…Meet at a place of worship. Meet in a neighborhood and get to know each other.”
Obama spoke to Harry in an interview conducted by the prince as a guest editor for BBC radio’s daily morning news show and focused on their shared interest in promoting causes. The interview took place in September.
Harry was asked by the BBC whether he would invite the Obamas to his wedding next year with US actress Meghan Markle.
“I don’t know about that,” Harry said. “We haven’t put the invites or the guest list together. Who knows whether they are going to be invited or not. I wouldn’t want to ruin that surprise.”
The Sun newspaper said on Tuesday that British government officials had urged Harry not to invite the Obamas to his wedding for fear of angering Trump.
Obama spoke of being able to take a longer-term view on issues such as climate change.
“Take some of the tragedies that have happened recently, with hurricanes devastating first Houston and parts of Florida and now Puerto Rico,” he said.
“Today those aren’t my direct responsibilities but I can focus over the next 20 years in making sure that we don’t have more hurricanes and natural disasters that are accelerated as a consequence of climate change and the ability to focus long term I think is a great luxury.”
Prince Harry spoke to his father about climate change, a favourite topic of the Prince of Wales, who admitted he had “probably bored (Harry) to tears for so many years” on that very subject.
Climate change “whether we like it or not is the biggest threat multiplier we face”, according to Prince Charles.
“Because what’s happening now is what I was dreading which is that we are having to deal all the time with the symptoms that are springing up all round the world,” he added.
“They are diverting us off down all these different channels to try and deal with ghastly conflicts and humanitarian and natural disasters and goodness knows what else. But at the root of it all, much of it, is climate change which is causing untold horrors in different parts of the world and of course we sit here in this part of the world so often unaware of what is happening in Africa or the Far East.
“It’s a miracle, I think, that everything is here. That’s why I have gone on about this because, to me, the unutterable tragedy, the inexcusable one, would be if we destroyed this quite remarkable planet and ecosystem. Because we depend on nature and the ecosystems for our entire survival. Nature is our sustainer.”