Power of data and US’s 2020 elections: how fake news influences political opinion on international society

Fonte: Markus Spiske
Power of data and US’s 2020 elections: how fake news influences political opinion on international society 2


The internet is a global system that connects users logged in computers worldwide. On the web, users can receive information on every event that happens in the world, creating a rapid response to all occurrences in which the users can comment on. All resources and their information is called data, and it is available on the internet’s surface on news websites, blogs and academic articles, and on social media. This last network, in specific, is what allows people from all over the world to express their opinion on politics, creating debates on public matters. This exchange of knowledge and opinion is what makes data so powerful: every single piece of information, being real or fake, has a repercussion and an impact on people’s opinion and, therefore, on international society (Rands, 2020).

International society was the concept chosen to define the world’s civil society, states and international organizations in this analysis because it considers the arena of diplomatic relations between countries, since it presupposes the idea of common values, interests and objectives between all states. Thus, despite the condition of anarchy that has been established, in which there is no higher level than the sovereign states that can compel them to make any decision, countries work their international relations through rules, institutions and organizations that establish standards of behavior to ensure that the objectives common goals, such as independence, maintaining peace and enforcing international agreements, are achieved (Braillard, 1990). And so, considering one country has to take into account another country’s decision and the internet is used worldwide, data can be spread into all societies, allowing everybody to make remarks even on domestic issues.

This article’s effort is to understand how politics and world dynamics can be impacted by the use and leakage of data and fake news on the internet. Alongside the discussion of what is fake news and how big data explains information, this article proposes an analysis of the dynamics of the presidential election that is currently scheduled to happen in November 2020 in the United States as a case study. The hypothesis is that the internet and social media are used as a way of debating politics in the world, making statements and posts published online (by political figures themselves or third parties) a way for voters to analyse public politics and also to choose who they’re voting for. So, the leakage of data can have a very strong bargain power on deciding what internacional society’s opinion will be on that political topic, therefore impacting directly on politics. In the US’ case, spreading fake news about presidential candidates, as well as their own pronouncements on their social media page, can generate opinion/vote changes and that is directly impacting on this year’s presidential election.

To support the argument, we will first define what is big data and fake news, using professional explanations by computer science academics online, and also what is the bargain power concept proposed by Schelling and Keohane, to understand how data can be embedded in power. Then, we will analyse how big data and fake news are being used in this year’s presidential election in the US. For this analysis, we used specially news websites and social media on the internet, because, since this is happening right now, there aren’t many academic articles about the topic. Next, the conclusion is presented to prove if our hypothesis was true or false.

Big data, fake news and data leakage

Everyday we are exposed to new technologies, since this is a huge part of our daily life. Technology develops and the world suffers the impacts of its growth, positively, with news spreading faster making the society more informed and connected but also negatively, when these news are not facts, but fakes. The phenomenon of fake news is a recurring fact in recent years, and it can be defined as fake information, sometimes accompanied by sensationalism, that is spread on the internet as if it was true. Having said that, fake news impacts our lives in many different ways, specially because the internet and social media is one of the most used means of communication in the world (SAE Digital, 2020). The term fake news was first used in the 19th century, but it only became more used in recent years by the international media, especially in the United State’s elections in 2016, when Donald Trump was running for presidency representing the republicans. In that time, it was spread fake news involving different people, but specially, the opponent of Trump, Hillary Clinton (Martin, 2019). In that year, Trump was elected the 45th president of the USA, despite all the efforts that Hillary was making, including the use of big data tools and analysts (CNseg, 2017).

To better understand big data tools, it is very important to comprehend the concept of the Internet of Things, also known as IoT. This term appeared for the first time as an idea that computers would be able to collect, by themselves, information that would make an user’s life easier, by refining its preferences (Ramalho, 2020). Big data is an interpretation of complex and huge volume data that are collected by the IoT. Thus, the IoT is a network of devices that can be physical like a cellphone or not physical, like a sensor, generating data growth creating Big Data (Cisco, 2020). 

 Recapturing the elections context, it’s crucial to understand that data has really changed politics. Therefore, a great thing that was brought by data analysis is the possibility to predict future actions, including political actions like the Brexit situation where the UK decided to not be a part of the European Union anymore or potential threats like terrorists and even warning of possible diseases in the population. In 2012, Obama used this technology to his favor to be reelected, using a smart analysis of big data, but this analysis can also be prejudicial if interpreted in the wrong way, for example, when this data includes fake news this counts in the final analysis (Rands, 2018). The technology used by Trump in his campaign was very similar to the one that Obama used, but better. Donald Trump used a technology developed by the Cambridge Analytica, a marketing enterprise, where the collected data aims to draw a psychology profile of the potential voters, based on 5 pillars: how open is the voter mind, how extroverted, perfectionist, cooperative and how annoying the voter can get.

This method, also known as OCEAN, has existed since 1980, but with the advance of social media and big data, it expanded, since it can evaluate a big amount of data using the technique. An example of this is that in social media, everything we like, share and click is counted on a data basis, making it possible to discover a potential voter profile: prefered political party, sexual orientation, usage of alcohol and even the voter’s skin color. Certain profiles like angry, introverted and indecise people or concerned parents are the most desired ones for potential voters, since they are easier to manipulate with the directioned advertisement system (CNseg, 2017).

This technology amplifies its quality of data analysis based on how many people liked each other’s post, aiming to find networks of friends and people who think alike. Another gadget that can collect data and help this technology is the movement sensor on cell phones, which brings us to the point that was mentioned above that the IoT is not only possible via social media and use of the internet: it can be physical tools, like your smartphone. After the data is collected and analysed looking for the best way to use it, they start the marketing process. In the 2016 US elections, it was tested over 175 thousand different announcements on the internet, aiming to direct the correct parts of Trump’s arguments to the right people, changing small details so a certain voter would enjoy receiving it (CNseg, 2017).

With all this technology evolving data, its analysis and its beneficial to contemporary world politics, the need to protect databases has become crucial. In addition to protecting government databases, it’s also important to protect society one’s, since they are affected directly by the use of big data. All around the world laws to reinforce how the enterprises can use the individuals data are being reviewed and even created. Some european countries and Brazil are examples of countries that have a general law concerned on data protection, and the US, even though they don’t have this kind of general law, they have different state and federal laws involving the subject (Gafety, 2020). Even with the laws and regulations that protect these databases and the social media having privacy policies to avoid leakage of data and other kinds of prosecutions, the data is not completely safe. An example of this situation is the famous social media, Facebook, one of the largest social medias in the world, has suffered a cyberattack that cost the leakage of 260 million of users data, that was available on darknet websites for free (Afp, 2019). Even though the company is investing in more security protocols to the users, this calls our attention to the dangers of data leakage and how this impacts on the individual’s privacy, but also very important: how it impacts the world politics privacy. 

This year, 2020, was especially important to represent how the data leakage can make or break a political campaign. In the may 31st down, a famous group of hackers, the Anonymous, appeared before a while making severe accusations to Donald Trump and the US police department after the president’s statement that the movements defending and claiming for justice for George Floyd were extremists and terrorists. Before we go deep into this question, it is important to define who is the group Anonymous and its main characteristics. The group was created in 2003 in a famous darknet forum, where anonymity was the main characteristic, making it possible for them to make posts without signing it. Since their first posts on this forum, it became easy for people to pretend they were part of the group, making it even more difficult to find out the true reponsibles (Souza, 2020). The Anonymous are considered hacktivists, a group of hackers that makes public political declarations, aiming to sensibilize important questions for them, and one of the ways to draw attention to their causes is to leake information about their victims (Cisco, 2020). An Anonymous act can leak information about a politician that can ruin its reputation and even put its life in risk, being considered a cybercrime. 

As we mentioned before, the most recent action taken by Anonymous was a video that encouraged people to stand against Donald Trump, supporting the anti racist protests that were happening in the country to claim justice for George Floyd. They intercepted the Minnesota police radio station and also threatened via a youtube video to expose the US police, leaking information about crimes involving them. The group also mentioned a network of powerful people that would be involved with international child trafficking, a network influenced by Trump’s friend, John Casablancas. Some documents about this child trafficking situation were even published in pastebins on the internet, including lists of names, justice prosecutions, and personal data of this network of people, including Donald Trump itself. In the video aired by the group of hacktivists they even mentioned Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro and in the same week, lots of twitter accounts claiming to be the Anonymous group appeared, including some in Brazil, where they leaked personal data like addresses and phone numbers and even published credit cards supposedly belonging to the Bolsonaro family. This situation becomes very dangerous since the exposure of data is a problem that threatens contemporary politics, once these accusations are very serious and can compromise political campaigns and also the individual’s personal life (Da redação, 2020). 

This situation of data leakage is not recent. In fact, it became known with the WikiLeaks website in 2006. They define themselves as:

 WikiLeaks is a multinational media organization and associated library. It was founded by its publisher Julian Assange in 2006. WikiLeaks specializes in the analysis and publication of large datasets of censored or otherwise restricted official materials involving war, spying and corruption. It has so far published more than 10 million documents and associated analyses (Wikileaks, 2020).

WikiLeaks stands for freedom of expression and the right to access information, since the information belongs to the public. They take responsibility for filtering information that comes from anonymous sources and leakers, and an example of this is the leak and release of thousands of US military data. The organization was recently responsible for leaking emails from the 2016 runner for US president, Hillary Clinton. Those emails were considered damaging for her image, and this whole situation helped boost Trump’s campaign in the elections (Whittaker, 2018). Having all that said, we can assume that data, nowadays, is power, especially when it comes to politics. All these actions taken by groups of hacktivists, enterprises and organizations impacts IoT and big data, also impacting how analysts will treat this data, and also, impacting people’s opinion when it comes to choosing a candidate or party to vote for in the elections. 

Bargain theory and the power of data

Civil society is a part of international society, and so it’s possible to consider it as a rational actor that makes any decisions considering it will receive a gain/benefit (Schelling, 1956). That being said, when choosing a president to represent their country, civil society looks out for information about the available candidates to make sure their propositions and values are compatible to the candidates. This kind of information is found on the media, especially on the internet, as about 46% of the world’s population is online on social media. Considering the exposed, it is possible to say that data and the information it carries has an extremely strong bargain power to change civil society’s opinion on something. Also, data is being considered as the world’s most valuable resource, even beating oil export. That shows how important is the dissemination of information nowadays.

Bargain power can be defined as an actor’s capacity to conquer their objectives through tactics, such as issue-linkage, sanctions, concessions, among others, that allow greater advantage in situations of perceived difference of interests (Schelling, 1956). In this way, this bargaining power can be understood as a bargaining chip in international negotiations, being then the ability of an actor to influence the results in a negotiation within the International Regime, and to pressure for assistance to their demands and vulnerabilities (Keohane, 1984).

If information has the power to change opinions, then data has a direct impact on politics. One way of considering this impact is in favor of a government, because governmental organizations can use data as a way to promote their objectives and to choose what kind of information about the government goes public. Data at a massive scale, big data, can also be used in favor of a government when an office is able to analyse information about their country or city, helping to coordinate traffic or hospitals and improving the residents’ living conditions. Another way data impacts politics is through the propagation of fake news, information that may not be true but has a power to create commotion and to stain an actor’s image. To sum up, data can be used to promote common good in international society or to promote personal gain to an actor (Rands, 2020).

Also, it is important to keep in mind that data and big data brings knowledge, and, as Thomas Hobbes said, knowledge itself is power because it brings people wisdom (Hobbes, 1968). The interpretation of data when the information is widespread online, can help or muddle politics, for example creating a scandalous presidential campaign or helping politicians support their argument through a data set. Here emerges the danger of fake news, that unroll untrue information about a subject, creating bogus conclusions (Rands, 2020).

USA’s 2020 presidential elections

The United States of America is considered to be the great hegemon on international society today, specially because of economic matters, such as importation of goods, technology development and for being the home of the largest investment exchange in the world (Art et al, 2006). And so, being the USA’s president is a big responsibility, because this person will represent the country’s interests during diplomatic negotiations, and all eyes worldwide are turned to see who the american population will choose to be the country’s leader.

In this year’s presidential election, which will happen in November, there are two extremely strong contenders: current president Donald Trump (Republican Party) and Joe Biden (Democrat Party). Online, people also commented that Biden’s choice of having Kamala Harris, a black and south-asian woman, on his side as contender for vice-president shows a great progress on women in politics, which granted Biden a few more votes (CNN, 2020). Rapper Kanye West was also a figure commented about on social media, after the musician announced his intention of running for president on Twitter on July 4th. Most comments referred to West’s strong opinions about abortion and death sentences and his intention of restoring school prayer. To sum up, West exposes all his political opinions on the internet, creating strong responses in favor or against. Most, if not all, of his marketing campaign is being done online, and he counts with other famous figures of Hollywood, such as Kristen Dunst, to promote his image (Billboard, 2020).

On September 29th, Trump and Biden clashed against each other on the first of three presidential debates that lasted 90 minutes and was considered ”the most chaotic and bitter White House debates in years” (BBC, 2020). BBC News made a poll online to see which candidate is most likely to win. The blue line on graph 1, below, represents votes for Biden, and the red line represents votes for Trump. Before the debate, on September 28th, it is possible to see that Trump’s curve began to rise again. But, after the debate, public opinion considered that Biden was the winner, and so many politicians, such as Hillary Clinton, used the media to back up the candidate (BBC, 2020).

Graph 1: 2020 presidential election poll

Power of data and US’s 2020 elections: how fake news influences political opinion on international society 3
Source: BBC, 2020

Also, the world was paying attention to the debate and the international media gave its opinion. European countries like the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and France, considered the debate a huge failure, especially when it comes to the current president’s composure. They pointed to the lack of respect in the debates, since both candidates were not having a civilized dialogue. Other countries like India and China, also shared the same opinion, pointing out that the US brought a great shame to themselves with this election process (BBC, 2020). And civil society, to show their discontentment with Trump’s behavior on the debate, internet’s users created a hashtag on Twitter to comment about the debate. The hashtag made the ”trending topics” worldwide on that social media, which means that the whole world was commenting about Trump (Independent, 2020).

All these news and opinions promoted by international media for sure has an impact on voter’s opinion and brings a new data analysis. The voters will have directioned advertisements next month, and we can assume that since both parties this year are using the data analysis technologies to boost their campaigns. As we mentioned before, they will try to get to as many people as they can based on their personality collected by the IoT technologies and big data analysis, and they get to new data through online surveys, online advertisements that are has a specific target and even robots, also known as bots, programmed softwares that can work on their own, to send voter’s specific messages to make them have feelings that will lead them to vote for their candidate. Having that said, the biggest challenge in this scenario, for the international society, is to control what and how they are consuming on the internet, especially in those election’s time. Technology will only grow everyday, so the need for data privacy for both sides: political and private life, is a security urgent need, specially when it comes to leaked data, also in those both sides. The future world politics is getting more dependent on data and technology, claiming this new security issue as we mentioned before, especially with potential threats of hackers that take advantage of flaws on the system to make their moves, and with that they can get all this data information (Kozlowski, 2019). 


In conclusion, it is possible to say that big data and fake news have been extremely used in this year’s presidential campaign in the United States, because the internet became the primary source to discuss politics. When considered that we are currently living during a pandemic, and that most US citizens are staying indoors, social media became the place for politicians to promote their opinions and for people to discuss. So, our hypothesis that ‘‘the internet and social media are used as a way of debating politics in the world, making statements and posts published online (by political figures themselves or third parties) a way for voters to analyse public politics and also to choose who they’re voting for’’ is being proven to be true when considering that information and data have bargain power on deciding what internacional society’s opinion will be on that political topic, therefore impacting directly on politics.

Considering the internet and social media are here to stay, since half of the world’s population is online and on any kind of media, it is possible to deduce that big data will continue to be used as a way to promote information online. The data leakage is also something that is pretty relevant considering the new political tendencies and also considering that everything we do nowadays is registered online. Therefore, an imminent issue in the international scenario is the protection of data, both personal and political. When political, we can consider that this kind of leakage will have an impact on how the society will vote, since their opinions can change depending on what kind of information they will have access to, changing also their profile type that is analysed by specialized data and marketing companies. Because of that, we hope students continue to analyse the internet’s impact on politics and on other aspects of international society, so that we can better understand how this connected world will function.


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