Hillary Clinton: Tech platforms must be reined in before things get worse

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said technology platforms must be reined in before the situation gets worse.

Clinton said this in a Hold The Line interview with Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, to be aired on Wednesday, April 14.

“We’re in a situation with these platforms [that] if they’re not reined in, it’s not just the threat and the reality of the world on fire right now, it is even worse than that. It leads to a form of not just populism and nationalism, but fascism, of totalitarianism, of a kind of mind control that people have fallen into without awareness and certainly without permission,” Clinton said.

“Just like we had to rein in smoking once we learned that it caused lung cancer, we’ve got to rein in the tech platforms before they truly undermine everything that we believe in,” she said.

Clinton, who was a subject of conspiracy theories and disinformation during the 2016 presidential campaign, admitted that she only fully understood the extent of the problem after the elections that saw her lose to Donald Trump. She had blamed her defeat on an apparent US-Russian collusion.

“I have to confess: I did not understand what was going on in 2015 and 2016. In retrospect, it all seems fairly clear and ominous. But at the time, we were learning as we went. We didn’t really understand the full reach of what the Russians and Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign and all of the allied groups had done and accomplished until we were looking back at it,” Clinton said.

It was a combination of the inadequacies of the government and the media, which found the novel issue implausible.   

“At that time, the Democratic National Convention had been hacked and it became clear over weeks that the hacker was associated with the Russian government; you mentioned Internet Research Agency, but also military intelligence. We couldn’t get anybody to believe that,” Clinton said.

“Our government at the time, even though it had opened an investigation into the Trump campaign, did not share that information. I and my campaign were out making the case based on private cyber security analysis that the Russians were behind it. Sadly, most of the press just missed that. They thought it was so far-fetched. They basically ridiculed and just rejected what my campaign was saying,” she said.

No other way forward

For the former presidential candidate, there is “no other way forward” but to regulate the “powerful entitities.” 

“The whole business model of the tech platforms, first and foremost Facebook, is to drive distrust, is to drive you through their algorithms further and further down the rabbit hole of conspiracy, falsehood, and to become almost captured by that system of distrust and disinformation,” said Clinton, who had blasted Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for damaging American democracy.

“So something has to be done about the platforms and I’m hoping that they will be looked at carefully for all their monopolistic practices, their algorithms, their business model which is called surveillance capitalism, because they take all information and use it against you to sell you things, will be the subject of legislative and regulatory changes,” she added.

It would be possible to accomplish this in the US with the Biden presidency, she said. But with the rise of populist and autocratic leaders globally, Clinton acknowledged that making the world unite on this front would be difficult. (READ: Propaganda war: Weaponizing the internet)

“On one hand tech companies are out of control, basically enabling the worst kinds of disinformation and conspiracy theories, and we have nation states taking advantage often of American technology to control the population.” – Rappler.com 

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com