Former President Barack Obama urges Americans to vote, worries about deep divisions in country

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Former President Barack Obama had praise for the young generation that has been active in calling for social justice. He spoke to a group of developers Thursday in an online conference sponsored by the San Francisco-based cloud company Twilio.

However, he also worried about the how American society has developed deep divisions.

The very things that tend to bring people together, from Little League games to parent-teacher meetings, disappeared this year due to the pandemic. President Obama said the result is a lack of consensus and agreement on facts that casts a shadow over a wide range of critical issues from COVID-19 to the presidential election.

"Right now, there's this cacophony of voices, some informed, some not. All are vested with similar authority, and everybody wants to believe what they want to believe and becomes politicized," he said in an hour-long conversation with Twilio co-founder and CEO Jeff Lawson. The former president said social justice protests are an exception that has galvanized an entire generation.

"You've got a generation that says we should be living up to our ideals. These are things we were taught by our parents and our teachers.

And maybe our parents and teachers didn't believe that everyone was created equal, but we did. And we're going to go out and take action to do something about that." He pointed out that marches have been peaceful.

Obama noted the proliferation of online sites has created silos in which some people might get stuck in what he called narrow biases. Combined with social isolation, that could be dangerous.

"If you've got a bunch of lonely young men sitting in their basements, they are more subject to watching YouTube videos and going down some rabbit hole, and the next thing you know, they come out and they've got a bunch of crazy conspiracy theories."

Despite that kind of problem, Obama told the Twilio online audience that democracy needs voter participation.

"I continue to believe the instincts of most people out there are good. We just have to make sure that their voices are heard."
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