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A lot has been said in recent months about the content of Hillary Clinton’s emails and whether they put national security in danger. Thousands of journalists and groups worldwide have dug into the correspondence distributed by Wikileaks, some fueling the controversy, and others defending her from it.
Clinton Circle, a new analysis made by the Macro Connections group from MIT Media Lab is the first graphic proposal that shows the relationships behind email interactions and also, facilitates reading these emails.
Using a tool they had previously created called Immersion, researchers loaded nearly 30,000 private mails sent or received from the Hillary Clinton email address--which have already been published by WikiLeaks.
In this visualization, they were able to identify the message trail: how many emails were sent, who sent them, and to whom.
The visual display of Clinton’s emails created by the team of the MIT Media Lab reveals that although from 2009 to 2013 there were at least 53 identified recipients, only three people occupy Clinton’s inner circle.
- Jake Sullivan, political adviser to the Clinton presidential campaign. During the examined period, Clinton and Sullivan exchanged 5,411 mails: she sent 1,411 messages to Sullivan and received 4,000 from him. Currently, Sullivan is still the right hand of the Secretary of State.
- Cheryl Mills. She served as a chief of staff and advisor to Clinton during her four years as secretary of state. The Democratic Party candidate sent 1,142 messages to Mills and received 4,436 messages from her. It’s known that Mills gave federal investigators access to her laptop with the condition that the outcome of what they found could not be used against her. She got an immunity agreement.
- Huma Abedin, U.S. policy advisor. Hillary sent 885 messages to Abedin and received 3,577 from her. Abedin is the vice president of Hillary Clinton’s current campaign. They’ve been together for two decades and she has received plenty of attention as one of the major players behind the candidate. This year she was also the focus of some distraction after her husband Anthony Weiner underwent a second public scandal, for sexting to through social networks. Abedin divorced him this year. The sexting scandal resurfaced on Friday after the FBI announced it was taking another look at the Clinton emails to see if the former Secretary of State broke the law.
The MIT tool not only shows how communications between Hillary and the three main partners were frequent with her, but also among themselves: like a team.
In a second degree of closeness to Clinton there are three other people, all women: personal assistants Lauren Jiloty, Lona Valmoro and Monica Hanley.
Clinton sent 978 emails to Jiloty and received 731 emails. The Democratic Party candidate wrote 435 to Valmoro and was addressed in 491. Meanwhile, Clinton sent 438 messages to Hanley and received 534 mails from her.
This visual analysis of the emails reveals that seven of the top 10 frequent recipients of messages were women like Canvas Valmoro, Sidney Blumenthal and Melanne Verveer.
In addition, the data shows some infrequent ‘sparse’ messages to people like Obama, Kissinger, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus and former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The promoters of the new visual assessment recognize it has it’s limitations.
Kevin Hu and Zhang Jingxian from Media Lab explained to Univision that out of 30,322 mails reported as 'leaked', 3,717 of them are blank: no title nor content. Also, the amount of emails is quite small considering the work of a Secretary of State.
The data shows that Clinton sent only 2,000 emails per year from this account, and received about 5,000. Comparatively, César Hidalgo, MIT professor who leads the Macro Connections group, sends about 8,000 emails a year and receives more than 30,000 - more than four times greater than Clinton’s email traffic.
Hidalgo also assured that the new visual analysis does not intend to issue any political judgment. In fact, Immersion was a tool that Hidalgo’s team launched back in 2013, and given the availability of the Clinton emails (as well as those of John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee (DNC)), they decided to reuse it to display these databases.
The tool allows the user to click directly on the correspondence exchanged by Clinton and read its contents.
In addition, Hidalgo explains that “one of the goals of this exercise is to show how data visualization tools can contribute to investigative journalism and to the communication of stories where data plays a central role".
"We live in a world in which we spend much of our lives online. Your data and history is in there, but it is hidden in metadata. Immersion is a tool that allows users to understand which data they have already shared with others, and also, how their patterns of interaction have evolved over time", says Hidalgo, who also invite people to look up their own stories using Immersion.