Despite consensus that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election did not extend to actual hacking of voting technology, Russian efforts to intervene on behalf of the Trump campaign have been defined as “hacking” by elements of the liberal media. This definition is broadly accepted in liberal circles, and there is now a widespread misperception that Russia tampered with voting technology to alter the outcome of the election. In this essay, we trace the emergence of this definition of Russia’s role in the 2016 election and explain the factors that led to its acceptance, arguing that the debate over Russia’s “hacking” illustrates that definitional arguments may operate differently than scholars have previously conceived. Traditional studies of definition emphasize the role of political leaders in crafting salient definitions, adopting a top-down approach. We argue that definitions also emerge from the bottom up, moving from media sources toward institutional centers of power. Our findings both illustrate the dangers of efforts to define Russia’s influence campaign as “hacking” and extend previous scholarship on definitional argument.


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pp. 389-420
Launched on MUSE
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