Free speech advocate, noted professor hopes media and public are better prepared to fight election disruption

Kathleen Hall Jamieson at the Seminars at Steamboat.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — One of the world’s greatest free speech supporters and a devoted student in the science of communication told a Steamboat Springs audience that social platforms, the media and the U.S. government are better prepared to face election disruption by the Russians and other cyber soldiers during the 2020 election.

“You could say the platforms have now put in place a lot of protections,” said professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication and co-founder of, a nonpartisan website that searches out inaccuracies in U.S. politics.

“They’re (social platforms) shutting down inauthentic accounts. They’re increasing the likelihood that you can’t buy advertising if you’re a foreign national.”

Jamieson is known for her diligent work in ensuring the integrity of facts in public discourse. Her much lauded career has been dedicated to promoting public understanding of complex issues.

Jamieson spoke on cyber hacking and the 2020 election during the Seminars at Steamboat on Monday, a nonpartisan nonprofit group that hosts America’s top public policy experts.

Jamieson also expressed support for an earlier Seminars speaker’s suggestion that the Trump Administration should create a centralized military cyber force to fight espionage.

Jamieson spent much of her talk explaining how Russia used hacking and fake media accounts to influence the 2016 election. Interestingly, she originally didn’t believe the Russians influenced the 2016 election, but her scientific study of data eventually led her to author the award-winning book “Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President.” 

Jamieson made it clear that Russia didn’t have to cooperate or coordinate with the Trump campaign to influence the election. 

“All they had to do was read our U.S. media, because our coverage is so tactical that if you read it carefully, you know what states to target and what voters to target and what the needs of the two campaigns are. Once you know that all you have to do is create a message imbalance … that could shift votes on the margin,” she said.

Jamieson pointed out how Russian-made social media accounts were used to suppress votes, even attracting more Black followers on a fake account than the legitimate Black Lives Matter account. One Russian account even told its duped followers to text a certain number to vote. She showed examples of Russian-made memes that focused on creating fear or memes that played on prejudices.

She also pointed out how the media was manipulated by the Russians who were behind WikiLeaks.

“They were overwhelmed by Russian hacked content… stolen from the democrats,” said Jamieson who pointed out that the media ignored confirmation that Russians were behind the hacking, in part because of the overwhelming news cycle. On that day, Trump’s Hollywood Access tape was also leaked, along with hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta. She said the hacked emails were strategically leaked by the Russian-backed Julian Assange week by week to influence the news cycle. 

She said the press will try not to repeat those mistakes, citing one award-winning journalist who admitted to failures in their coverage.

“’I didn’t raise the possibility that we’d become puppets in Putin’s shadowy campaign. I chose the byline,’” she quoted Amy Chozick, a reporter for The New York Times.

When asked how she would balance free speech and fake content on social media, Jamieson fiercely defended the public’s right to post and say what they want barring dangerous or egregious content that violates America’s social standards.

“We draw boundaries, about what we should be able to see … child pornography a clear boundary, shouting fire in a theater a traditional boundary,” she said. 

 “But I don’t want to trust somebody else to decide what I’m gonna hear,” said Jamieson. “Frankly, I’d like to know what they’re saying and thinking, because frankly, I’d rather know that and be prepared to deal with it rather than be surprised.”

She also encouraged people to go to the fact-checking website to keep abreast of what’s being written or said on media sites and how accurate or inaccurate the reporting is.

For Jamieson’s full speech and Q & A session, visit

Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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