IEET > Technopolitics > Rights > Political Empowerment & Participation > Staff > Marcelo Rinesi
Russia 1, Data Science 0
Marcelo Rinesi   Sep 30, 2017  

Both sides in the 2016 election had access to the best statistical models and databases money could buy. If Russian influence (which as far as we know involved little more than the well-timed dumping of not exactly military grade hacked information, plus some Twitter bots and Facebook ads) was at any level decisive, then it’s a slap on the face for data-driven campaigning.

Apparently, the use of sophisticated data-driven campaign design hasn’t rendered obsolete the old art of manipulating cognitive blind spots in media coverage and political habits (“they used Facebook and Twitter” explains nothing: so did all US candidates, in theory with better data and technology, and so do small Etsy shops; it should’ve made no difference).

The lessons, I suspect, are three:

  • The theory and practice of data-driven campaigning is still very immature. Algorithmize the Breitbart-Russia-Assange-Fox News maneuver, and you’ll have something far ahead of the state of the art. (I believe this will come from more sophisticated psychological modeling, rather than more data.)
  • If a country’s political process is as vulnerable as the US’ was to what the Russians did, then how will it do against an external actor properly leveraging the kind of tools you can develop at the intersection of obsessive data collection, an extremely Internet-focused government, cutting-edge AI, and an assertive foreign policy.
  • You know, like China. Hypothetically.

Whenever this happens, the proper reaction to this isn’t to get angry, but to recognize that a political system proved embarrassingly vulnerable, and take measures to improve it. That said, that’s slightly less likely to happen when those informational vulnerabilities are also used by the same local actors that are partially responsible for fixing them.

(As an aside, “out under-investment on security /deliberate exploiting of regulatory gaps we lobbied for/cover-up of known vulnerabilities would’ve been fine if not for those dastardly hackers” is also the default response of large companies to this kind of thing; this isn’t a coincidence, but a shared ethos.)


Marcelo Rinesi is the IEET's Chief Technology Officer, and former Assistant Director. He is also a freelance Data Intelligence Analyst.


True. Generally speaking, attribution is a bit more difficult in this kind of operation, although of course not impossible.

So-called “data-driven” anything is overrated because of the very true but seemingly long forgotten fact - junk in, junk out. Anyone who thought Hillary was a shoe-in had junk data. Hillary was putting it out herself, beginning in 2015.

The only key thing that the Russians did was the possible involvement they had in the hacking of the DNC/Hillary campaign, which released what? Evidence that they all had been lying.

This isn’t rocket science. I know. I have friends that do rocket science. This is just PoliSci 3.0

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