In an interview today at Code Conference, Hillary Clinton urged social media platforms to figure out new ways to slow “the weaponization and manipulation” of information, admitting at the same time that it was a difficult problem to solve.
“I have a lot of sympathy at this point… for people trying to make these decisions,” she said toward the end of her interview with Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg. “I would just urge them to hurry up.”
She encouraged platforms to err “more on the curating, editorial decision-making” side of the equation, “instead of being overwhelmed by the challenge.”
The comments from Clinton came after a long discussion on how those platforms may have affected her chances during the 2016 election, as Clinton looked back on her data and analytics team. “What we thought we were doing was going to Obama 3.0 — better targeting, better messaging,” she said of the team, which had largely been carried over from Obama’s successful 2008 and 2012 campaigns. But that strategy, she claimed, was met and matched by a strategy that included spreading false information. “We weren’t in the same category as the other side,” she said.
Clinton used the example of the hack of her campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails, which she said were “anodyne” but led to conspiracy theories. Websites like Infowars manufactured the “most outrageous, outlandish, absurd lies you can imagine,” she said.
“The other side was using content that was just flat-out false and delivering it in a very personalized way,” she said, adding that she could “understand why people on their Facebook pages” could see a false story about her and not question it.
"If I put myself in the position of running a platform like Facebook, first of all, they've got to get back to trying to curate it more effectively,” she said. “Put me out of the equation, they've got to help prevent fake news from creating a new reality that does influence how people think of themselves, see the world, the decisions that they make.”
How fake news ultimately affected the election hasn’t been fully determined. Although the majority of fake news stories appears to have favored Donald Trump, one study released after the election questioned how much that false information may have changed voters’ minds, suggesting that any effect it had was minor. (At one point late in the talk, Clinton herself even seemed to allude to debunked claims that Trump had gained millions of fake Twitter followers.)
Clinton has mostly maintained a low profile since the election, and her interview at Code is one of her first major appearances. Last week, she also gave the commencement speech at Wellesley College, her alma mater.