Barack Obama calls on digital media to find ways to help people re-engage with democracy

President Barack Obama has challenged tech entrepreneurs and digital media practitioners to work with government to solve issues facing society today.

Barack Obama gave a keynote at SXSW

Barack Obama gave a keynote at SXSW

The call came as part of an on-stage interview at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas, where President Obama told the audience: “The reason I’m here really is to recruit all of you.

“It is to say to you as I’m about to leave office – how can we start coming up with new platforms, new ideas, new approaches… to solve some of the big problems we are facing today.”

Turning to digital media he urged the audience to think of ways in which news and other outlets could get people more engaged in the democratic process.

“We cannot solve the problems in government or society unless we the people are paying attention,” he said.

“In an age where people are getting their information through the internet and attention spans have shrunk it’s important that you the people who shape this space are thinking about it. There’s a way for you to shape this democracy in a way that has not been seen for a very long time.”

Asked about the Apple case with the tech firm currently refusing to hack into the iPhone of one of the people behind the San Bernadino shootings, the President cautioned people on taking an “absolutist view” of breaking encryption versus people’s freedom.

He said: “Before smartphones were invented and to this day if there’s probable cause to think you’re guilty of a serious crime, law enforcement can appear at your home and go through your things to see if there’s any evidence of wrongdoing.

“And we agree on that because we realise there are measures that need to be taken to make us safe and secure.”

He pointed to the Snowden revelations as having damaged people’s perceptions of the government and how much of their data the government was handling, and insisted it was overstated.

President Obama was interviewed by Texas Tribune founder Evan Smith

President Obama was interviewed by Texas Tribune founder Evan Smith

“I am of the view that there are very real reasons that we need to make sure that the government cannot just willy-nilly go into everyone’s iPhones,” he added.

“I am way on the civil liberties side of this thing. I anguish a lot about the decisions we make when it comes to keeping this country safe. But the dangers are real, maintaining law and order and a civilised society is important.

“I would caution against taking an absolutist view on this.”

Alex Hayes in Austin


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