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Gender and Technology in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

The final speaker in this AoIR 2017 session is Elizabeth Losh, whose interest is in the role of devices in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Barack Obama was seen as associated with a broad range of constructive as well as destructive devices, from personal mobile phones to impersonal drones, while Donald Trump is associated mostly with the tweets sent from his mobile phone. But what about Hillary Clinton?

Clinton's digital practices, and those of her campaign staff, were greater factors in her electoral defeat than her gender, Liz suggests. There were considerable discussions and scandals about her use of personal email accounts, emails leaked from the Democratic National Congress servers, and other problematic uses of technology; here, gender and technology are enmeshed and both contributed to Clinton's election loss.

In discourses on privacy, 'privacy' is often a feminised concept; privacy intrusions are seen as especially affecting women. Clinton's email privacy was violated in the campaign, and she highlighted the personal nature of many of the emails sent from her server, while Trump refused to engage in private email exchanges during the campaign and instead positioned himself in the public debate through his use of Twitter.

Visual presentations of Clinton during the campaign often focussed on her use of her mobile phone, and this positions her as distracted by technology, and withdrawn from in-person contact to a private social network. This contrasts with representations of Barack Obama, who carefully avoided such depictions and cultivated an image as a highly personable politician. Clinton's image remained considerably more aloof.

Hillary Clinton's private uses of digital technology were also related to Bill Clinton's sexual transgressions; in both cases, the Clintons were positioned as engaging in inappropriate, quasi-adulterous technological contact, and one meme of Hillary Clinton used the phrase "I did not have textual relations with that server", echoing Bill Clinton's famous statement during the Lewinsky affair.

Clinton's use of technology was also contradictory; she highlighted the potential of digital technologies, but her campaign also remained intransparent. The location of her email server in a bathroom served as a marker of digital impurity; digital exclusivity was also highlighted as a negative. Gender is enmeshed with these features, and as we continue to consider the digital literacy practices of major politicians these factors must be addressed further.