Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came out swinging against the use of big data in political campaigns Friday night in New York City. In what she called a “war on truth,” Clinton said privacy rights are “one of the cardinal challenges” facing democracy. She appeared at an event in support of the Netflix documentary “The Great Hack,” which examines the U.K.-based data firm Cambridge Analytica and its role in the 2016 election, Brexit, as well as elections in Trinidad and Tobago and Kenya. Speaking pointedly to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, she urged him to act quickly to combat disinformation spread through fake political ads on Facebook.
“Mark Zuckerberg should pay a price for what he is doing to our democracy,” said Clinton. “Part of our problem, those of us who are appalled by this war on truth and this fake news which is truly surrounding us these days, is we’re not very good at combating it. It’s hard because you’re up against algorithms, plus all these other powerful forces, it’s really hard.”
“The Great Hack” is the latest film from Oscar-nominated filmmaking team Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer. Following a tastemaker screening at The Crosby Hotel, the filmmakers and Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr joined Clinton onstage for a discussion.
In explaining her impetus for the making the film, Noujaim said that big data has now surpassed oil as the most valuable commodity on earth, and it’s being used to undermine democracies around the world. With the 2020 election fast approaching, “The Great Hack” aims to shine a light on the sometimes abstract-sounding issues surrounding privacy and big data.
“The issue is people don’t understand the gravity yet and you say ‘data rights’ and ‘privacy rights’ and people’s eyes kind of glaze over, but it really is about a war on truth,” said Noujaim. “It is an information war and we are so in the middle of it.”
“It’s not just about one election, it’s about so many of the choices that we’re facing in society right now,” Clinton added. “The use of our data to manipulate us, to make money off of us, is really one of the cardinal challenges we face…this is our information, but people seem to forget that they should demand to own it.”
One of the journalists who first broke the Cambridge Analytica story, Cadwalladr appears throughout the film as an energizing presence. Equally compelling onstage, she was hardly able to contain her excitement when she asked Clinton if she saw a connection between Zuckerberg’s meeting with Donald Trump at the White House and Facebook’s announcement two weeks later that it would not fact-check political ads.
“I can’t draw any conclusions about closed door meetings, not only with Trump but with Tucker Carlson and with Breitbart and with many others that have been going on at Facebook headquarters,” said Clinton. “But if I were of a conspiratorial mindset, I might suggest that there seems to be some connection…I don’t understand the mindset that we currently see operating with Zuckerberg.”
Clinton praised Twitter for banning political ads on its site, but concluded with an ominous message for Zuckerberg as well as other tech companies like Google.
“It was an open society that enabled technology to be birthed and now be so dominant in our lives,” said Clinton. “It’s like a bad fairy tale. They are going to kill that golden goose. They are going to create a political system that is going to either come down too hard on them and squeeze them in ways that are not productive or continue to have a laissez faire attitude toward them where they continue to undermine our privacy and our freedom and our democracy. It could not be a more imperative challenge for us.”