Russian hacking of the US election is the most extreme case of how the internet is changing our politics

18th September 2016, Tom Trevatt

The Guardian / John Naughton

When we look back over the last 20 years of politics, the period in which the internet has become mainstream, we see a deeply changed landscape. Early political uses of the internet include the collection of data and crowd sourced fundraising. But recently, we are witnessing a significant shift in the role the web has to play in political life. Events such as the Arab Spring and the election of Trump point to how large that role is. By lowering the “transactional cost” of engaging in political life, the internet has produced a more turbulent, fast moving and unpredictable political scene. The emergence of “post-truth” politics, unsubstantiated news reports that “feel” true, indicate a politics ruled more by click bait than by policy. In an earlier media ecology, one dominated by TV reports and news anchors, the kinds of post-truth speculation that appeared in the US elections this last 18 months would never have appeared. But now, we see a politics dominated by forums and comments boards – Trump is a master of Twitter, the medium lends itself to the pronouncements of post-truth statements that don’t need to be substantiated. The reported hacking of the DNC servers by Russian intelligence backed operatives is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how radically our political landscape has changed. A significant part of the Trump campaign rested on either gloating or goading the Clinton campaign on losing 30,000 emails; the President-elect won based on a campaign that urged a foreign power to hack his opponent’s email – consider that for a moment. Trump has made it acceptable, through his use of Twitter and other social media, and in his campaign speeches, to mock women, the disabled, people of colour – the list goes on – he has truly shifted the Overton Window. Add to this maelstrom of political insecurity the failing integrity of the American digital voting infrastructure, and it is clear to see that global, not just American, politics is deeply beholden to the digital – our faith in the democratic machine is being shaken from all angles.

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