During the day of the second, decisive election round for the French Presidency in 2017, where potentially the European Union’s future is at stake, the story of the hack of Emmanuel Macron’s team of and a following leak (#MacronLeak) sweeps the WWW, the professional journalist media and the social media. This hack and this leak are obviously strategically targeted to cause uncertainty, delegitimise the democratic process and potentially even to spread disinformation. It is interesting that preliminary critical evaluations of the leaked digital material and speculations about the way it has been disseminated throughout the social media involve aspects of digital forensic analysis. The thorough analysis of this incident and the materials will take much longer and it is at the moment unclear whether the whodunit-and-why question will be answered beyond a good guess.
The tendency that leaks of stolen born digital material are being used by anonymous parties to manipulate electoral campaigns might be worrying, but instead of calling out on digital arms (for a balanced perspective, see also “Bots unter Generalverdacht“), I am more interested in the long term research perspective for the humanities that opens up here. Matthew Kirschenbaum already pointed out it his KISLAK lectures at UPenn Libraries that the historian who wants to write the history of the electoral campaign for the 45th presidency of the United States would have to take tweets, facebook and instagram posts into account as primary records:
How could a future historian or political scientist hope to understand anything about our current election cycle without access to blogs, tweets, facebook, youtube and instagram? (00:25:27)
Kirschenbaum said this a good while before the public was confronted with the question of whether the leaked emails from the Democrats’ hack were authentic or which role the announcement of the forensic investigation of A. Weiner’s seized hard drive would play in the final phase of the election.
I think that this – in a tip-of-the-iceberg manner – demonstrates the gravity and social impact of the digital forensic challenge that all of the humanities from history, social sciences, archival studies, law studies to literature and art history are facing in cooperation with computer science, digital forensic research: granting the authenticity of the preserved born-digital historical record of important events, cultural heritage, works of art and develop scientifically sane methodology to analyse it and tell “authentic” from “wrong” or “manipulated” (read especially Blanchettes Burdens of Proof, 2012). This is not only important in the longer term perspective of historical research – a historian will definitely need digital forensic knowledge in the future – it is also important to provide the public with awareness and methods to evaluate digital sources correctly in order to make informed democratic choices.