Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sat for a conversation with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday in Clinton’s new capacity as a professor of practice at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.
I think the idea of two of the most powerful women in U.S. history chatting with one another is compelling stuff, no matter your politics. And this chat met my expectations.
The full convo is available here. One of the most compelling parts of the discussion came when Clinton discussed the dangers of disinformation, social media manipulation, and nefarious actors gaining access to all of our private information online.
Of course, Clinton and Pelosi were having this rather amiable conversation about the dangers that online disinformation and incitement can create as former President Donald Trump awaited arraignment on criminal charges in Manhattan. Oh, the irony.
Both Clinton and Pelosi are frequent subjects of right-wing propaganda and disinformation, including images and video deliberately spread to make it seem as though they were unwell or inebriated.
Clinton mentioned, for example, Facebook’s initial refusal to take down a viral video of Pelosi in which the creator slowed down audio of her speaking. The account that posted the video falsely claimed Pelosi was intoxicated.
During the Monday talk, Clinton shared the following warning:
The capacity for extortion and blackmail based on your data — including data that is not even 100% true — becomes a huge problem in the world of unfettered social media use. We are all going to be racing around saying, “But I didn’t do that. I didn’t say that.” Or, “Yeah, I said that. But I didn’t mean this.” And we are going to be in a constant state of uncertainty and instability because other people have captured so much information about us.
Those remarks are a great reminder of the dangers all social media companies pose, even as many U.S. lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike — home in on TikTok exclusively. (Read more about that here.)
Clinton too had a personal story to share on the ability for nefarious actors to use these manipulative tactics to achieve their political goals. She referenced the recent conviction of Douglass Mackey, a Trump-supporting social media user charged in a 2016 election scheme in which prosecutors say he "conspired with other influential Twitter users and with members of private online groups to use social media platforms, including Twitter, to disseminate fraudulent messages that encouraged supporters of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to “vote” via text message or social media.’”
Mackey has become a cause célèbre in far-right circles, where members claim the newly minted convict has been targeted solely for harmless trolling. In fact, Mackey’s case revealed he conspired with other right-wing influencers on social media to target potential Clinton supporters with fraudulent claims about how they could vote, all while Mackey and others discussed a need to limit Black voter turnout.
Prosecutors even presented evidence that Mackey promoted one image that used a similar font to that found on Clinton campaign materials.
Clinton noted that this internet-borne scheme crossed the line from free speech into action meant to subvert an election.
"Democracy requires at least a minimal level of trust, and how do you compromise with somebody unless you have some way to trust what they’re saying and what they will do, for example?" Clinton said. "So if we are going to turn our politics over to people who — maybe just for the heck of it — are making up stuff to misrepresent leaders, or maybe because they know they can achieve it if they do, then where does this stop?"
Watch the clip here:
I appreciate these urgent warnings from Clinton. There's a battle underway for control of the most powerful communication technologies on the planet. And in the wrong hands (as in, those of the far right), these technologies can blur the lines between truth and fiction.