Did Hacking Influence the 2016 Presidential Election?

On the 20th January 2017, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. What’s more, for the first time in a decade the Republican party has control of all three federal branches of government. These changes confirm that America, and the rest of the world, have entered a new political age. With Brexit and the general resurgence of nationalist politics across much of Europe, Trump's victory in hindsight seemed logical. However, many were still surprised at this seemingly random triumph.

The question on most people’s minds is how, just how, did Donald Trump become democratically elected? Well, firstly his rhetoric seemed to appeal to various disgruntled Americans who expressed their fear and anger in current affairs. Additionally, many citizens did not trust Hillary Clinton, Trump’s rival throughout the campaign, arguing they did not want a Clinton legacy to continue or that the uncertainty of her character gave them doubts.

Whilst these are legitimate reasons for anyone to cast their vote for Trump, no one expected the interference of an old American opponent to be the likely cause of Trump’s victory. In early October 2016, the Obama administration formally accused Russia of hacking the Democratic National Committee's online networks in an attempt to “interfere” in the 2016 Presidential Candidate Election. And although there had been speculation and accusation from the Clinton campaign regarding leaked e-mails, this was the first time that the White House placed blame upon Russia and its "senior most-officials".

Since then, a myriad of accusations have come out against Russia and particularly against Putin himself. A declassified report published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence state that all three Intel agencies (The CIA; FBI and NSA) are in agreement that Putin personally 'ordered an influence campaign' aimed at the 2016 Presidential election. What’s more, they are all in agreement that Putin and Russia’s goal was to aid Trump into the White House. The report states that when it materialised that Clinton was in likelihood of winning the presidency, Moscow’s influence campaign centred upon "undercutting Secretary Clinton’s legitimacy and crippling her presidency from its start, including by impugning the fairness of the election".

Yet again, the question is how? How did the Kremlin manage to influence thousands of voters? Firstly, a textbook tactic was allegedly put into place: propaganda or “fake news” was spread throughout the campaign to sway voters against Hillary Clinton. These stories were diverse and included attacking Clinton’s health, as well as suggesting Clinton paid individuals up to $3,5000 to protest Trump rallies. This “news” is likely to have had an affect on some voters, especially undecided voters, as Clinton’s character had already been in question throughout the election.

Secondly, the declassified report published by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence argues that Russia doxed Clinton’s campaign when the Kremlin supposedly hacked the Democratic National Committee in July 2015 and maintained access till July 2016. The findings (e-mails) were then leaked by WikiLeaks not only revealing private conversations between Clinton and her staff, but also the plentiful paid speeches that she carried out to Wall Street. The Clinton campaign then refused to comment about these speeches and accused WikiLeaks of aiding Donald Trump to become president by carrying out the Kremlin's and Putin’s “dirty work”. These e-mails only added to the untrustworthiness of Clinton’s character and that’s all that needs to be done to sway an undecided voter. The leaked emails publicised unfavourable traits of Clinton's which, in-turn, could be linked to her loss of the election.

Now, some may say Trump is exactly where Putin wants him to be - in the White House. But it is difficult to estimate how much influence these supposed hacks had upon voters. What we know for sure is that the 20th of January 2017 will go down in history.