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Obama Said Publicly Shaming People On Twitter Is "Not Activism"

"If all you're doing is casting stones, you're probably not going to get that far," the former president said.

Posted on October 30, 2019, at 9:59 a.m. ET

Hannes Magerstaedt / Getty Images

Former president Barack Obama discussed the dangers of callout culture at an event Tuesday, cautioning young people against the idea that activism is "to be as judgmental as possible" about others.

The former president was being interviewed by actor and activist Yara Shahidi, at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago.

Obama told Shahidi, who is currently attending Harvard University with his eldest daughter Malia, that publicly shaming people on Twitter is "not activism," offering up an example.

"Like, if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn't do something right or used the wrong verb. Then, I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself because, man, you see how woke I was?" he said. "You know, that's not activism. That's not bringing about change. If all you're doing is casting stones, you're probably not going to get that far."

He went on to say that he sees callout culture being especially prevalent on college campuses.

"I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people — and this is accelerated by social media — there is this sense sometimes of 'the way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people,'" he said.

Obama went on to say, "This idea of purity, and you're never compromised, and you're always politically woke and all that stuff, you should get over that quickly."

Calling for more nuance in difficult conversations, Obama said, "The world is messy, there are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids and share certain things with you."

WATCH: President Obama on online cancel culture: "This idea of purity and you're never compromised and you're always politically woke, and all that stuff — you should get over that quickly."

Obama has been vocal about his thoughts on this issue in the past. In an interview with Prince Harry in 2017, he criticized the black-and-white nature of online discourse and how activism requires people to "get on the ground and do something."

"The truth is on the internet everything is simplified, but when you meet people face to face, it turns out it is complicated,” he said. “It is harder to be as obnoxious and cruel in person as people can be anonymously on the internet.”

He also touched on it his speech at the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture last year.

"Democracy demands that we're able also to get inside the reality of people who are different than us so we can understand their point of view," Obama said. "Maybe we can change their minds, but maybe they'll change ours. And you can't do this if you just out of hand disregard what your opponents have to say from the start."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.