Donald Trump’s election victory was not due to Russian hackers or fake news but the “epic failure” of the mainstream politics and media to connect with voters, Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko told guests at the annual Digital BBQ held at his Residence.
The Ambassador said it was wrong to “blame the outcome on outside forces” or “point fingers” at Moscow. “The voters were disgruntled rather than duped, they rejected the mainstream because they wanted change, not because they are seduced or fooled.”
Yakovenko’s comments came as the CIA released a report, claiming to have evidence that Moscow deployed hackers to interfere with the US election in favour of a Trump victory.
The intelligence agency accused Russia of transmitting hacked confidential emails of the Clinton campaign to Wikileaks. This has been denied by Wikileaks envoy and former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, who claims the emails were “leaked” to Wikileaks by a disgruntled Democrat insider.
Alarmed at reports that Wikileaks could be interfering with the US election, the Embassy of Ecuador in London temporarily cut the internet connection of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange who has taken refuge in the Embassy.
So the theme of this year’s popular social media get together – ‘Hacking the algorithm’– was especially topical. The Russian Embassy brought together a panel of experts to show how algorithms in Google’s search engine or social media use data trails generated by users to guide them to content, thus creating a ‘bubble’ that filters out alternative content.
The impact of filter bubbles
Ambassador Yakovenko said it was the job of diplomats to puncture the filter bubble “to reach new hearts and minds” rather than always preaching to the converted.
Oxford University’s digital diplomacy expert, Ilan Manor, said algorithms were limiting access to knowledge and transforming open societies into closed ones.
While intended to make our lives easier, they could be used by those with less benign intentions and so it was important to educate the public on how to “hack” or disrupt algorithms.
Clickbait and fake news
Diplomats pointed out that in the cacophony of social media it was increasingly difficult to get a message out. In a Twitter poll carried out during the event, respondents felt that algorithms were polarising society and that provocative messages (‘clickbait’) designed to cause outrage were most likely to break through a filter bubble rather than insightful messages.
The role of fake news and its impact on the US election was also discussed. The panellists debated whether those generating the fake news had intentionally wanted to tip the election in favour of Trump or that his more colourful character simply generated more clicks and thus more revenue.
Deputy Spectator Editor Freddy Gray said “clickbait” and fake news were ruining journalism, but he hoped the public would learn to read beyond the headlines in the post-truth age.
Ambassador Yakovenko said he didn’t think post-truth politics was anything new, just that those using it had new digital tools.