This post is also available in: French
When Facebook announced that it would not remove political advertising with inaccurate content (aka lies) very few people seemed to be surprised, or bothered.
When it was reported that interference by Cambridge Analytica, may be with some help from Canadian AggregateIQ was most likely responsible for the success of Brexit, being used by Vote.leave, it created some interest but not enough to question the results of the referendum.
UK’s Channel 4 TV conducted an undercover investigation during which Cambridge Analytica described in no uncertain terms they had the capacity to manipulate elections and they had done so in various countries around the world:
“Revealed: Trump’s election consultants filmed saying they use bribes and sex workers to entrap politicians
“An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News reveals how Cambridge Analytica secretly campaigns in elections across the world. Bosses were filmed talking about using bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers…
“…In the meetings, the executives boasted that Cambridge Analytica and its parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) had worked in more than two hundred elections across the world, including Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic, India and Argentina.
“The company is at the centre of a scandal over its role in the harvesting of more than 50 million Facebook profiles.”
The companies and the people who carry out the studies of the Big Data being collected from our credit cards, supermarkets shopping habits, health records (which will inform US health care companies which bits of the NHS they should buy when the UK begins to negotiate the post Brexit deals) cookies, Facebook “likes”, etc, use sophisticated maths to elicit patterns to then use these for targeted advertising. Of any type, general consumerism, politics, whatever.
These “number crunchers”, algorithms wizards, work as hired guns for companies and politicians. If in the 80’s and 90’s political parties gave their campaigns to advertising agencies, in the new millennium the invisible hand of the Big Data manipulators will quietly tell us what to think and how to vote on a text message or WhatsApp, or targeted Facebook content.
After helping the most right wing faction of the Conservative Party win the Brexit referendum and the elections Dominic Cummings, one of these Big Data guys, is now sitting in the UK’s government headquarters advising the Prime Minister on how to run the country. Are all these people right wing? Probably not but as hired guns they are likely to work for those who have the money, e.g., the most well off. He has expressed a desire to hire “misfits and weirdos” in order to shake up the civil service. So they brought in one whose racist views and support for eugenics forced him to resign after a big media scandal.
The poisonous spread of the alt-right ideology speaks of a system of massive subtle manipulation we cannot see unless we begin to pay attention to the drip drip of “information” (propaganda) that reaches us constantly on our most personal (which we believe private) objects (screens). Is there any chance to control how our data is used to manipulate us? Going back to paying all in cash? Hospitals getting rid of computers and writing all in paper records? Probably not. But we can remain vigilant about who are the “spads”, the special advisers in the political system and the proliferation of Cambridge Analytica-like companies, proposing firm international regulations to their political activities.