This may end up being one of the most criminally overlooked stories of the year…
Yesterday Facebook confirmed a Washington Post report that they sold roughly $100,000 of targeted ads on its platform, that was connected to hundreds of troll accounts and pages operated out of Russia. It’s a big news story that’s launched thousands of breathless blog posts, but for anyone who watched Hillary Clinton speak at the Code conference in May, it’s old news.
On May 31st, Secretary Clinton covered a number of topics in a casual and candid Q&A: the e-mail scandal being “the biggest nothing-burger ever,” and how, in terms of voter registration and marketing data, she “inherited nothing” from an outdated DNC data operation. But more relevant to this story, she also gave a logical and dispassionate account of how Russian interference might have partnered with US Data operations — namely the RNC and Cambridge Analytica — to effectively undermine her bid for the White House.
In the clip above (courtesy of MSNBC), Clinton opened by extensively raving about the RNC’s state-of-the-art data operation, before then mentioning links to data mining outfit Cambridge Analytica, which is owned by Billionaire Trump supporter Robert Mercer (which has also been linked to current White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon.) Working together, Secretary Clinton said, created a powerful force “that married content with delivery and data. And it was a potent combination.”
When asked by co-Host Walt Mossberg about the “lies” surrounding “fake news,” Clinton replied:
Lies? You’re really … that’s a good word too [laughter and applause]. The other side was using content that was just flat-out false, and delivering it in a very personalized way, both sort of above the radar screen and below. And you know, look, I’m not a tech expert by any stretch of the imagination. That really influenced the information that people were relying on. And there have been some studies done since the election that if you look — let’s pick Facebook. If you look at Facebook, the vast majority of the news items posted were fake. They were connected to, as we now know, the 1,000 Russian agents who were involved in delivering those messages.
They were connected to the bots that are just out of control. We see now this new information about Trump’s Twitter account being populated by millions of bots. And it was such a new experience. I understand why people on their Facebook pages would think, “Oh, Hillary Clinton did that, I did not know that. Well that’s going to affect my opinion about her.” And we did not engage in false content. We may have tried to put every piece of information in the best possible light, and explanations, but we weren’t in the same category as the other side.
Clinton also reminded her audience that “seventeen agencies, all in agreement, concluded with high confidence that the Russians ran an extensive information war campaign against my campaign to influence voters in the election,” and claimed that they “could not have known how best to weaponize that information unless they had been guided.”
She then went in for the kill, concluding that Russian interference efforts must have been “guided by Americans,” and voters that were “targeted with this false information” were those who were “genuinely trying to make up their minds.” Her logic ostensibly arrived at this notion, because based on Google search information, “searches for this stuff were particularly high in places in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.”
Her critics may have then just dismissed this as conspiracy, or an excuse for ‘what happened,’ but Clinton laid out a case of how collusion between the RNC, Cambridge Analytica and the Russians might have happened. And we now know that, at least regarding the misinformation via Facebook, she was correct.
This development suggests that the ad buy was part of an alleged election interference effort by Russia and begs a larger question about whether there was assistance from American efforts, aka anyone connected to the Trump campaign (which of course would mean collusion.)
The next step in this investigation? Learning if the Russian trolls bought geo-targeted ads at the behest of an American Data Mining company, and, if so, who may have provided that information to the Russians. So far Ms. Clinton’s explanation of “what happened” has been correct. Time will tell if she was right on the rest of the story.
Watch the clip above, courtesy of MSNBC.
-image via screengrab-
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