I’ve been blown away by small group of articles — all linked with this one, which goes a long way toward explaining “What Just Happened?” in the 2016 election of Donald Trump — as well as Brexit.
These two UK and US campaigns have at least one thing in common — both used a firm called Cambridge Analytica and its extremely powerful software, capable of handling large amounts of key data on virtually every citizen of the United States and the UK. Key political players in the drama include two people on Cambridge Analytica’s board of directors: 1) ultra-conservative Rebekah Mercer, a billionaire heiress whose goal reportedly is “controlling the apparatus of the Republican Party to enforce ideological purity;” and 2) Steve Bannon, whose Breitbart site was helped by Ms. Mercer with millions of dollars in operating money.
Using a variety of tools and purchased/developed data on practically every voting American, Republicans and the Trump campaign worked with Cambridge Analytica to develop a whole new level of analytical election data — virtual “personality profiles” on the vast majority of US and UK citizens. (“The whole kingdom, Snow White.”) (This You-Tube video explains how it works.)
The information gathered by Cambridge Analytica gives the firm and its clients the ability to predict how millions of us — perhaps all of us — will behave, based on well-constructed psychological profiles from data that is purchased — or that we volunteer via social media, etc. The program is able to predict how we will vote before we go to the polls — and work to determine exactly what meme (through which medium of FB post, Twitter feed, robo-call, email, etc.) — that will work best to re-enforce or change that vote — or help us decide not to vote at all. It all works not to shape the candidate — who could just be an “empty suit” — but to shape our perception of him.
Assisted by new, conservative media — bots and auto-trolling, etc. — Cambridge Analytica and the Republicans (and pro-Brexiters in the UK) dominated the virtual field in 2016 by generating and spreading (or getting us to generate and spread) countless examples of pervasive data-driven emotional messaging they could individually target to the entire electorate, based on our psychological profiles. The messaging was likely not “love Trump” so much as “hate/fear Hillary” (or Democrats, Obama, liberals, the media, etc.). Which explains the dominant mood of the 2016 campaign, not to mention its aftermath. (I write this and it sounds like science fiction — but this is the jist of what these better-informed writers are telling us.)
These countless pro-Trump / anti-Hillary digital memes are what newspapers were to the local and state political bosses/industrialists who owned and used their opinion pages, at least, to move (or pacify) the electorate in the days of my novel Carla Rising (shameless plug). Or what TV/radio advertising used to be, in the last half of the 20th century — except this new Cambridge Analytical / Republican software uses and applies a million (or more) micro-psychological profiles, as opposed to a number of more obvious traditional “demographc profiles” to hand-make relatively few ads on the relative handful of traditional networks. And the goal is to use this psychological information to get people to feel doubt, as opposed to be certain about something — and act on their negative feelings.
Based variously on truth or “alt-truth,” these mostly-emotional messages are data-driven, circulating among very specific psychological demographics — some of whose members naturally segregate themselves on exploitable social media, like Facebook and Twitter. Cambridge Analytica, the Conservative Republicans, and the Trump campaign were able to use this behavioral-data-driven software to find exactly those “most adaptive” voters who mattered most, in key voting districts. For this kind of campaign, a battery of algorithms using ‘bots and social media gives more clout to a seemingly random — and false — pro-Trump posting than an army of volunteers carrying the easily verifiably true pro-Hillary message — and, I hate to say, regardless of who speaks it — be it a famous actor, singer, newscaster, or sage politician.
The US Republicans’ campaign and the Cambridge Analytica, in other words, enabled the Trump campaign to transcend (or subvert) our traditional political groups — factoring in such micro-communities as “men who fear a house break-in,” “women who’ve been abused,” “parents who’ve lost children,” “over-40s who fear they are homosexual” or “under-40s who likely are, whether they know it or not.” The age is gone when we poll how “US blacks” or “urban whites” or rural people will vote. Without these new tools developed by Cambridge Analytica, a competing campaign will have trouble knowing just where the psychological battleground is — who/where the real swing voters are. Just where Hillary and the Democrats seemed to blunder.
Further, it must be asked, how is this campaign software shaping the electorate –using this emotional (and often untrue) messaging to train and encourage future George Zimmermans, Timothy McVeys or panicky policeman on the street.
Even if they are legal, the use of these powerful psychological profiling and manipulative tools by one side over the other — along with its successful shaping/delivery of emotional/hate messaging — seems hugely unfair, and undemocratic.
In the future, I suspect it might be considered a new class of crime….