Tech Lessons Learned From The Election: Is Tech Making Us Dumber?

By Rob Enderle November 02, 2016

As we enter the last week here in the U.S. before what is likely to be an election where the majority of voters will think the outcome is rigged regardless of who wins. This is the first election where one of the candidates didn’t just use social media, but appeared to live on it and where it was truly a bad thing for his campaignGiven social media played a huge role in getting the sitting U.S. President elected it would seem someone missed a meeting (and that isn’t a good thing). 

Let’s talk about that this week. 

Clinton and Electronic Messaging

It almost feels like electronic messaging has it in for Clinton.   It starts with an attempt to keep her correspondence out of the hands of her government by trying to have her own private email server, moves to a Russian breach of her party’s email servers and ends with a search of her top aid’s ex-husband’s PCs resulting from his texting minors.  It is almost as if electronic messaging is out to get the woman.  But this speaks to the importance of tools like Varonis that track email servers and document access because, had those tools been in place, the email server wouldn’t have existed (it would have been discovered early by government IT or Security) and the breach at the DNC would have likely been stopped before massive numbers of correspondence were taken.  In addition, the use of an unauthorized PC by Clinton’s aid would have been identified and likely flagged. So one tool, and Clinton would likely be so far ahead in the polls that the chance of her losing would be insignificant.

What strikes me as most troubling is we aren’t focuses at all on how to prevent this from happening again; we have laser-like focus on what happened suggesting this will all happen again.   We need vastly stronger access control and tracking in the U.S. government because the one consistent fact is repetitive breaches like this are both avoidable and appear to be caused by negligence.  


One of the things that continues to strike me as strange is how can we be so aggressive at going after Manning, Snowden, and Martin (the contractor that took confidential documents home) and then treat the Clinton email server as an “oops” moment.   Both Snowden and Manning were whistleblowers and Martin just took stuff home (no evidence that he every shared it, he just poorly secured it).  In all four cases, including the Clinton Email server, this was stupid but only one person got a hand slap.  Two of the other three are, or will be, in prison and the third escaped to Russia as a result of the U.S. response, which actually made things worse for both the U.S. and Snowden. 

We seem to be pretty fluid with regard to the government’s treatment of confidential documents and while the Republicans are at least consistent in their view that everyone should go to jail, you just know they too wouldn’t be if it was their candidate on the hot seat.  What we should take away is we not only don’t have a good way to keep the government from doing illegal things (the whistleblowers were the ones punished) but we really suck at protecting classified documents, and we still seem to treat physical documents more seriously than electronic versions even though we are far more exposed due to the sheer number of documents we can quickly move electronically.

Social Networking Lies

We have two candidates running for office. The Democratic candidate is wrong about 17 percent of the time, with some of that likely being on purpose, and the Republican candidate, who seemingly is addicted to Twitter, is apparently wrong better than70 percent of the time some of which is also on purpose.  But, in both cases, you have to believe they actually believe most of what they are saying.  So Twitter, in effect, makes you dishonest, or more likely, stupid.  But what we need to realize is that social media tracks your interests and feeds you what you want to read, which means, Democrats and Republicans are receiving vastly different news feeds and I doubt either is more accurate than the other.  Trump seems to suddenly realize that Twitter is a problem, but sadly, he seems to think it is because of items he doesn’t agree with, not overall inaccuracy.  There is one guy that really needs to understand the term confirmation bias. 

                    Image via Bigstock

While the first two sections suggested the U.S. Government needs to get its act together this last segment reflects on us.  Clinton comes across as smarter largely because she doesn’t live by Twitter suggesting we could learn from her example and take what we read on social media with a certain amount of skepticism. 

Wrapping Up:

Technology is a tool; it is a very powerful one in that through technology we can touch millions and millions can touch us.  But, misused, it can do a ton of damage and if we don’t wrap our arms around it, understand its proper use, and learn how to defend against improper use the move to AIs will likely make things worse not better.  Neither presidential candidate seems to understand how to use technology properly, Trump who runs Casinos which use analytics heavily shows no ability to use that technology for his benefit and misuses Twitter; Clinton is being killed by email a technology that nearly took out Ronald Reagan decades ago.  Obama, while far from perfect, actually set a high bar with analytics and was far more versed in tech eight years ago than either candidate is today suggesting – we are actually going in the wrong direction with regard to core Presidential skills.  

That’s more than sad because in the next eight years we will see the rise of artificial intelligence and we are already seeing a massive increase in cyber warfare and against this, regardless of who wins, we’ll be less capable of assuring our jobs (if you want to read something really scary check out this GAO report) or safety.   If Clinton loses it will likely because of email and a cavalier attitude toward information security, if Trump loses it’ll likely be because of social networks, and if most of us end up unemployed and in a revolt, it’ll likely be because neither of these candidates understands technology at all.  

Something to think or worry about this week.    

Edited by Maurice Nagle

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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