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This author predicted the Burisma-Biden emails, Russia-Iran election interference

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Sinan Aral, The Hype Machine author and MIT’s David Austin Professor of Management, Marketing, IT and Data Science joins Yahoo Finance's On the Move to discuss the election interference and why the Burisma-Biden email scandal and Russia-Iran election interference stories shouldn't surprise anyone.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: We invite into the stream a friend of this program, Sinan Aral, author of "The Hype Machine," and MIT'S David Austin Professor of Management, Marketing, IT, and Data Science. Good to have you back. Got to talk about election security. In your book, you actually called these emails that are getting attention in-- unverified attention in some publications, and it's convinced me that you really are a CIA agent. But tell us, what was it you said months ago before this became front and center?

SINAN ARAL: Yeah, right there on page 39 of my book, I did predict the email-- the Burisma-Biden email scandal. Also foreshadowed the interference by Iran and Russia on the same page, no less. But frankly, I don't consider myself an oracle. These things are entirely predictable when you're looking at the data. And it's no surprise to me that it's happening right now as an October surprise moment.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Emily, I think you're muted there.

- Hi, Sinan. Just taking a look at the election again, we are getting into that one-week-out period where Facebook said it would not run new political ads ahead of the November 3 election. I'm just wondering, taking a look at some of the restrictions we've had from Facebook, from Twitter and YouTube around political advertising this year, around QAnon and some of the information and misinformation spread by that group, what still needs to be done, really, here to ensure the safety of this election? And is there room because of what's already been announced by these companies, for people to say that these-- really, these tech companies didn't go far enough?

SINAN ARAL: So the answer is that yes, these are all great measures. Facebook and Twitter have been taking steps in the last several weeks to really slow the spread of misinformation, to try to reduce election interference, to prevent campaigns from calling the election early, to kind of regulate political speech-- moderate, I should say, political speech. But wow, is it a slow roll, too late in the game.

This should have been done four years ago. And in addition, these types of changes should be solidified going forward. We need to protect our democracy sustainably for the long term, not just in a couple of weeks before an unprecedented election. So while these moves are-- should be applauded, and I think that they should get credit for taking steps, it's too little, too late, and now it's up to the voters to prevent the spread of misinformation themselves.

JARED BLIKRE: Hi, Sinan. Always good to see you. We've been focusing on the election, but I want to know if you can extend your data reading and tea leave reading to other social phenomenon such as social unrest, Black Lives Matter, anything related to COVID, what are you seeing?

SINAN ARAL: Yeah, in this moment, rather than misinformation changing people's minds about who to vote for and tipping the election in one direction or the other, I'm much more worried about voter turnout and violence. We've seen a plot to kidnap the governor of Michigan. I mean, I can't believe that that's coming out of my mouth right now. We have armed militias that are organizing over Facebook and Twitter, perhaps to enact violence.

As well, we have Iran with voter data targeting people in Florida and intimidating them not to vote. These are the things that we should be worried about. It's really the violence, not the vote, that concerns me most right now. And yes, social media is a catalyst, an accelerant, and a coordinator of essential social movements. And I think that there are so many impacts on society by social media, we need a national commission on technology and democracy to really deal with all of these issues.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Sinan, just want to fess up here that I deleted all of the social media stuff off of my phone about three weeks ago. Don't miss it. The world has not come to an end. I still do that stuff online, you know, with the computer.

But is that going to happen-- do you think there'll be enough people who take these steps-- and I freaked out after seeing the Netflix documentary on social media. But if enough people start doing this, would this reverse the fears that you have? And is it even realistic to think people would maybe do that?

SINAN ARAL: I really think that we can turn this around. And that's really what my book is all about is how do we do that. I loved "The Social Dilemma" documentary. I loved and hated it. Obviously, it's very scary, and it's a clarion call. It raises a lot of red flags, and I think that that's very important.

But the natural next question is, what do we do? And after the hype of the election is over, we really need to get down to the business of reforming these platforms. We need to get down to the business of regulating the market failures that exist in this economy. And we really need to take action, because it is having unprecedented effects on our society, from pulling us apart to political polarization to the spread of fake news to the integrity of our elections to privacy debacles. It has far-reaching consequences, and it deserves a lot more attention than it's gotten over the last four or five years.

ADAM SHAPIRO: I just want you to know I am never giving up Myspace. Are they even still in business? I'm going to check that out over this. Sinan Aral, "Hype Machine" author and also MIT's David Austin Professor of Management, Marketing, IT, and Data Science. Always good to see you. All the best to you.