I DID NOT HAVE TEXT WITH THAT SERVER: Attitudes about Gender, Technology, and Digital Literacy in the 2016 U.S. Election

Elizabeth Losh

Abstract


This paper argues that the rhetoric surrounding failed U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s 2016 email scandals can be understood as a consequence of a particular confluence of gender and technology in which excessive digital privacy is represented as a feminized user choice and calls for digital transparency are presented in terms of masculinist norms. Using techniques from discourse analysis and the theoretical framework of feminist technology studies, this paper analyzes materials in the @realDonaldTrump Twitter archive, the Fox News website, the WikiLeaks database that indexes hacked emails from Hillary Clinton and John Podesta, and FBI documents from the agency’s website. Additionally, it references visual culture depicting Clinton as a user of personal mobile devices in public places, where she is shown as a secretive technology user claiming privacy in the public sphere. It also notes that popular Internet memes have associated her email conduct with sexual impropriety and dishonesty about a lack of digital purity. This paper explores how a political official's relationships to non-human servers, peripherals, and portable devices could be perceived of as potentially threatening to the sexual order and by extension threatening to political sovereignty. It asserts that more research should be done on the digital literacy practices of public figures – and public perceptions of those practices – particularly in relation to tropes of privacy and transparency with a focus on gender inequity.

Keywords


privacy, transparency, elections, gender, ubiquitous computing

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