‘Birtherism’ to the ‘Big Lie’: Inside Obama’s fight to counter disinformation

Former President Barack Obama is urgently throwing himself into the fight against disinformation, taking a yearslong private fascination into the open as he makes addressing the issue a key pillar of his post-presidency.

More than a decade after the false and infamous “birther” conspiracy theory was promulgated by his political opponents, including by the then-private citizen Donald Trump, Obama is hoping his personal experience with disinformation and his knowledge of its ramifications can help determine the best way to regulate social media platforms that promulgate disinformation and find ways to address what he calls the “demand for crazy on the internet” that has filled a void as local news outlets have diminished.

Obama’s effort has been sweeping, say the former President’s confidants and outside advisers with experience in the tech industry, with Obama convening meetings and conversations with academics, activists, researchers, tech sector leaders, media executives, former government officials and former regulators. People who have met with the former President describe him as gripped by the issue, showing up to meetings with handwritten notes and questions and often referring to reading he has done on the topic, including reports by the RAND Corporation and the Aspen Institute, and a research study on partisan media by David Broockman and Joshua Kalla.

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