Looking back on her failed election campaign, former Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said she takes responsibility for every political decision she made, but “that’s not why I lost,” she told attendees at the Code conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.
In addition to press attention focused on her use of a personal email server—which Clinton called a “nothing-burger” that the New York Times “covered like it was Pearl Harbor”—the former Secretary of State said she was subjected to an unprecedented campaign of fake news and social engineering on Facebook, orchestrated by Russian agents and an army of bots.
Clinton said that while her campaign was using social media to reach out to potential voters and supporters, Republican groups were engaged in the “weaponization of technology” to push a message about her and the risks of electing her president.
“Here’s what the other side was doing,” she told interviewers Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher of Recode. “Through content farms, through an enormous investment in falsehoods, fake news, call it what you will—lies—the other side was using content that was just flat out false, and delivering it both above and below the radar screen.”
In terms of Facebook, Clinton said that the “vast majority” of news items that appeared on the social network about her were fake. This orchestrated campaign was “connected, as we now know, to a thousand Russian agents [and] connected to the bots, which are just out of control,” she said.
Clinton referred to a recently declassified report from the Director of National Intelligence, which said that a number of intelligence agencies agreed there was Russian involvement in the campaign.
“Read the declassified report that came out in early January,” Clinton said. “Seventeen agencies all in agreement—they concluded with high confidence that the Russians ran an extensive information war campaign against my campaign to influence voters in the election.”
These fake news stories helped convince potential voters not to support her, Clinton said. And the former Secretary of State said she and her campaign were convinced of Russian government involvement in a disinformation campaign and other dirty tricks early on.
“We went and told anyone we could find that the Russians were messing with the election and we were basically shoo’d away,” Clinton said. “We couldn’t get the press to cover it.”
Clinton also referred to Cambridge Analytica, a data-analysis company that specializes in using demographic and psycho-graphic data about online behavior to target political and advertising messages. Some have credited the firm—which is controlled by Robert Mercer, a prominent backer of the Trump campaign—with helping to sway the election.
The former Senator said that it’s important for people in the technology world and the business world to understand the connections between “domestic fake news operations” and the sophisticated attempts by Russian cyber agents to influence user behavior.
“How did they know what messages to deliver?” Clinton asked, referring to the Russians. “Who told them? Who were they colluding with?” She also called on Facebook to do more about fake news on the network. “They’ve got to curate the news more effectively,” she said. “They’ve got to help prevent fake news from creating a new reality.”
Clinton called her use of a personal email server a “nothing burger,” that got turned into “the biggest scandal since Lord knows when.” New York Times covered it “like it was Pearl Harbor.” She said “I take responsibility for every decision I made, but that’s not why I lost.” Talks about the “weaponization of technology” by various groups, as well as the Russians and Cambridge Analytica. “Here’s what the other side was doing — through content farms, through an enormous investment in falsehoods, fake news, call it what you will — lies — other side using content that was just flat out false, delivering it both above and below the radar screen — look at Facebook, vast majority of the news items were fake — connected as we know now to 1,000 Russian agents, connected to the bots, which are just out of control, see reports now about Trump’s account and all the fake accounts following him…
Clinton noted that she had no control of the Russians, which she said “weaponized” technology against her. She cited the deluge of false articles that circulated on Facebook in the months preceding the election that were “connected to the 1000 Russian agents,” and WikiLeaks, which spent the month before the election releasing a daily trove of emails from her campaign Chairman John Podesta.
Google searches for WikiLeaks, she said, were highest in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, swing states crucial to her victory that she narrowly lost. But, she said, the Russians couldn’t have acted unilaterally; they had to have had support from Americans. “How did they know what messages to deliver?” she asked about the Russians. “Who told them? Who were they colluding with?”
“It’s important for people in tech and business to understand the marriage of the “domestic fake news operations,” the sophisticated Russian cyber units and the Republicans’ more flush data repository, Clinton said.
“Putin wants to bring us down,” Clinton said. “It’s way beyond me. …. I believe that what was happening to me was unprecedented. Over the summer we went and told anyone we could find that the Russians were messing with the election and we were basically shoo’d away. …. We couldn’t get the press to cover it.”
Clinton said platforms like Facebook have got to get better at curating news. But she also said that her supporters put off taking more action on fake news because she was thought to be in the lead. “I don’t know enough about what they could have done in real time,” Clinton said. “I also think I was the victim of the very broad assumption I was going to win. I never believed it, I always thought it would be a close election.”