Bloomberg Writer – Why Hillary Clinton Bombed at the Polls

May 8, 2017


This following article is an opinion written by Leonid Bershidsky for Bloomberg. I don’t agree with some of the statements, such as Germany and France having more qualified informational services available to them. Hey, we all have the same internet! But, anyway its right on that we didn’t vote for Hillary because she lies, cheats…..


Why Macron Won and Clinton Lost

Internet-based dirty tricks only work against voters willing to be misled and weak candidates.

By Leonid Bershidsky

Hillary Clinton blames her electoral defeat, in part, on what she has called “Russian WikiLeaks” which “raised doubts” in the minds of her likely supporters and “scared them off.” Yet the very same arsenal — bots, fake news, hacking — was used against Emmanuel Macron — and he still won the French presidential election against his populist rival by a two-thirds vote.

The internet-based election disruption toolkit is familiar by now. A network of social media accounts, both real and bot-run, agitates for a populist candidate and against his or her centrist rival, posting and reporting memes and stories that are often fake but believable to people in a certain filter bubble. At the same time, hackers launch phishing attacks against the centrist candidate’s campaign and then leak their spoils, helped by the same activist-and-bot network. This is what happened in the U.S. in 2016 and in France in 2017. In both countries, the campaigns were blamed on Russia, because they were run against the candidates who were relatively hostile to Russia.

The use of the toolkit in the French campaign has been well-documented by cybersecurity experts and fact-checkers.

The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, for example, described Marine Le Pen’s “online army” on Twitter. A cluster of key accounts launched a hashtag with a barrage of simultaneous posts. The accounts retweeted each other, then an “amplification network” including automated accounts (bots) picked up the tweets and tried to spread them further. In some cases, this approach succeeded in lifting the hashtags into Twitter’s top trends. But, the DFLR noted: 

There is no evidence to suggest that any of the hashtags studied here spread significantly beyond the community of Le Pen’s online supporters. They did make it into the overall trending lists, but they did not become self-sustaining trends. Instead, they faded away within a few hours.

The U.S. alt-right community, perhaps empowered by claims in the news media that they helped elect Trump, tried to help, but was largely defeated by the language barrier; Pepe the Frog, the alt-right symbol, didn’t quite resonate with French voters.  

The U.S. alt-right community, perhaps empowered by claims in the news media that they helped elect Trump, tried to help, but was largely defeated by the language barrier; Pepe the Frog, the alt-right symbol, didn’t quite resonate with French voters.

Pro-Le Pen accounts, both French and foreign ones, as well as accounts supporting far-left candidates such as Jean-Luc Melenchon, tried to spread narratives countering those of traditional media. A study by the social networking consultancy Bakamo, published in April, found that about 24 percent of all election-related links that have been shared in France pursued this goal. A significant share of these links were from Russian state propaganda sources, such as RT and Sputnik, accused by the Macron campaign of spreading fake news.

Those who posted these links were more prolific and engaged than those who cited traditional news stories. But the latter made up 56 percent of the shared links. The reframing of media narratives and the fakes — tracked rigorously by platforms such as CrossCheck and the daily Le Monde’s Les Decodeurs — failed to sway a significant number of voters.

An Oxford University study published in late April concluded that “the people discussing French and German politics over social media tend to use more high quality information sources than those discussing US politics.” The conversation, according to the study, is “less poisoned” in France than in the U.S., and less of the content was being spread using bots. The Oxford researchers, like Bakamo, noted that twice as many election-related links reposted by French users led to quality news stories as to various junk and fakes. In the U.S. last year, the ratio was almost 1-to-1.

Perhaps the most dangerous fake — “documents” about Macron’s offshore account which surfaced between the rounds of voting — was quickly and convincingly debunked; it did no damage.

Hackers, too, failed to influence the French election’s outcome. Before the first round of voting, there was a real chance Macron would be eliminated if compromising information about him came to light; that’s what happened to the early favorite, conservative candidate Francois Fillon. But no spectacular stolen data about Macron was published anywhere while he was vulnerable. Only last Friday, just before the French media and both candidates went into the legally mandated quiet period, hackers released a trove of stolen emails from Macron associates and campaign officials.

The timing is curious. The French media and bloggers could do nothing with the data because, as the government promptly warned them, they could be prosecuted for violating the quiet period. But apparently whoever compiled and released the trove (an employee of a Russian government’s IT contractor? Someone with an email address on a German public email service? A group that includes these and other people?) hadn’t found anything interesting in it. Two days of frantic efforts to unearth juicy tidbits from it produced no results for WikiLeaks or the foreign reporters who were not bound by the media blackout. All that pro-Le Pen diggers managed to find was a clearly humorously meant “Je baise le peuple” (“screw the people”) at the end of an email by a Macron campaign staffer.

The release will be scrutinized post-election, and maybe some minor transgressions or missteps will be highlighted. But that won’t change the outcome or, judging by what I’ve seen of the stolen data, make Macron’s life any more difficult as president. The hapless hackers must have hoped to create confusion and an atmosphere of suspicion on election day. Macron won anyway by a wider margin than polls had predicted.

To sum this up:

The pro-Le Pen campaign on the social networks failed to travel beyond Le Pen’s base, which was more clearly defined than Donald Trump’s in the U.S. since Le Pen was far more of a known political quantity;

The spread of fakes was thwarted by French voters’ relative sophistication compared with American ones;

Unlike in the U.S., the centrist candidate’s campaign had little to hide — or had the good sense not to put sensitive material online. 
Clinton didn’t lose because the internet-based toolkit was used against her. She lost because a sizable number of Americans did not consider her trustworthy. So they easily accepted both the fake news about her and the hints of corruption and dishonesty contained in the leaked emails. 
Months of postmortems of Clinton’s loss to Trump overshadow one of the simplest explanations: It’s important to convince voters that you are not corrupt. Macron also benefited from voters who refused to give Le Pen a free pass on her party’s history of racism and xenophobia the way Americans let Trump get away with his inflammatory statements.
Clinton rejoiced at Macron’s victory and what she called a “defeat to those interfering with democracy.” Democracy, however, includes a long history of dirty campaigning. The internet toolkit — call it Russian, alt-right or by any other name — is far from a superweapon. It’s merely a collection of dirty techniques based on modern delivery methods. These methods are not a silver bullet. A country with a healthy political culture and engaged voters can reject them. It’s not for nothing that in France, Sunday’s turnout of 74.56 percent counted as relatively low, while in the U.S. it would have been the highest since 1896.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Leonoid Bershidsky’s Article:

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