Tuesday 18 June 2019

Obama warns Harry about dangers of social media

Britain’s Prince Harry, right, and former US president Barack Obama watch a wheelchair basketball event in Toronto. Photo: Reuters
Britain’s Prince Harry, right, and former US president Barack Obama watch a wheelchair basketball event in Toronto. Photo: Reuters

Gregory Katz

Former US president Barack Obama told Prince Harry in an interview broadcast yesterday that people in leadership roles must be careful in their use of social media, and warned against spending too much time immersed in the internet at the expense of the world outside.

Mr Obama did not, however, directly mention his successor, President Donald Trump, who has made the use of Twitter a centrepiece of his presidency.

"All of us in leadership have to find ways to recreate a common space on the internet," he said. "One of the dangers of the internet is people can have entirely different realities. They can be just cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases."

He spoke with the prince, who was guest editor of a BBC Radio 4 news programme. Both men said the interview, recorded in Canada in September, was Mr Obama's first since leaving the presidency in January.

Mr Obama said he felt serene the day he left the White House at the end of his second four-year term, despite the vast amount of work that remained unfinished. He said it was "hugely liberating" to be able to set his own agenda in the morning, to have the time to talk with his wife, Michelle, now that he is no longer president.

"I miss the work itself because it was fascinating," Mr Obama said of his eight years in the Oval Office, citing his health care reforms as one of his proudest achievements.

In a brief live segment at the end of the show, the prince said he did not know if Mr Obama would be on the guest list for his wedding in May to American actress Meghan Markle.

"I don't know about that, we haven't even put the invite or the guest list together, who knows if he's going to be invited or not," he said. "I wouldn't want to ruin that surprise."

'The Sun' newspaper has suggested that the British government is concerned the prince and Ms Markle may invite the Obamas but not Mr Trump, possibly straining ties between the two governments.

The prince did say his fiancée enjoyed her first Christmas with the royal family.

"The family loved having her there," he said.

He used his position to ask Mr Obama a "lightning round" of questions of the type normally asked of entertainers, not politicians.

The former president declined to say whether he wears boxers or briefs, preserving a bit of post-presidential dignity, but was willing to say he prefers Aretha Franklin to Tina Turner - "Aretha is the best," he said of the Queen of Soul - and favours retired basketball star Michael Jordan over current phenomenon LeBron James.

Mr Obama rejected gloomy prognostications about the state of the world, saying that in many ways the world is healthier and wealthier than it has ever been, making it perhaps the best time in human history to be born.

He cited improved treatment of African-Americans, and greatly expanded opportunities for young women as achievements of the past few generations that give him hope for the future.

Irish Independent

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