At Recode’s Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sat down with Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg to discuss the impact of technology and social media on modern politics. And the timing couldn’t have been better; earlier that day, President Trump’s Twitter account had once again captured the world’s attention with the now-infamous “covfefe” typo, leaving us all to speculate what the word might mean. Clinton’s take; “I thought it was a secret message to the Russians.”
Jokes aside, there’s no doubting that last year’s election was the first in which technology was leveraged to such an extent, be it through Trump’s use of social media or fake news masquerading as facts on trusted platforms like Facebook, in what Clinton calls a “continuous assault on our sources of information.”
“With respect to the platforms, I am not exactly sure what conclusions we can draw,” she says. “I believe what happened to me was unprecedented… It was such a new experience, I can understand why people seeing this on their Facebook pages would really believe ‘Hillary Clinton did that.’” While she doesn’t blame Facebook, she does believe social networks need to take a harder line on content curation moving forward. “They’ve got to help prevent fake news from creating a new reality that influences how people see themselves and the world, and the decisions they make,” she says.
The various hoaxes, misleading articles and conspiracy theories which populated online news feeds in the lead-up to the election often favoured the Republican narrative. Kara Swisher states she even remembers getting into an argument with people on Facebook over the notion that Hillary Clinton was a “lizard.”
Which begs this question: why have Republicans and right wing politicians been so much more effective at weaponising digital tools than their ideological opponents? Ultimately, Clinton says, it comes down to resources. When she was named the Democratic presidential candidate, Clinton “inherited nothing” from the DNC, which was on the brink of insolvency with practically no data to work with. The RNC, meanwhile, had been busy raising money since 2012 to build a data foundation and carry out 227,000 surveys to hand over to their candidate.
“Republicans build institutions, invest in those institutions, and are much more willing to push and cross the line,” says Clinton, referring to Republican-owned radio stations, TV networks and websites, not to mention privately funded projects. “8 of the top 10 political documentaries on Netflix, last time I checked, were screeds against President Obama and myself,” she says. “Democrats aren’t putting their money there.”
And this is where Clinton believes the battle lies for the Democratic party; not just in deciding who they want to be their candidate in 2020, but in helping the DNC get over its data deficit and work on crafting and delivering fair, factual and relevant content to voters. And it is imperative that they not be complacent. “The forces we’re up against aren’t just interested in influencing our elections and politics,” says Clinton, “they’re going after our economy and our unity as a nation.”
Clinton speaks with evident passion and more than a touch of humour at Code Con, almost as if she is consciously defying the criticism levied at her during the presidential race for being “emotionless.” But as the first female presidential candidate in American history, she simply could not express the same kind of fiery, righteous anger as her peers, like fellow Democrat Bernie Sanders, or even Donald Trump.
“The few times I’ve tried that, it’s been less than successful,” she says, citing backlash each and every time. “At some point, it bleeds over into misogyny… When people have a set of expectations of who should be president and what a president looks like, they’re going to be critical of someone who doesn’t look or sound like them. Obama broke that mould, but he was still a handsome, likeable man.”
Whether we’ll see another woman in the running for Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 remains to be seen, but Clinton is definitely not putting herself forward. However, that doesn’t mean she is going to fade away in the manner the right-leaning media might like. She recalls all of the landmark moments she has witnessed throughout her life and career, from the civil rights movement to women’s rights to anti-war protests, and the suppressive forces that have always attempted to quell them, and she states that there is still work to be done.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she says. “I have a big stake in what happens in this country. I’m unbowed and unbroken about what happened. I don’t want it to happen to anyone else, or to happen to the values or institutions I care about… We’re at a very pivotal point, so I’m going to keep writing, and talking, and supporting the people who are on the front lines of the resistance.”
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