Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America

Book - 2019
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"Mindf*ck goes deep inside Cambridge Analytica's "American operations," which were driven by Steve Bannon's vision to remake America and fueled by mysterious billionaire Robert Mercer's money, as it weaponized and wielded the massive store of data it had harvested on individuals--in excess of 87 million--to disunite the United States and set Americans against each other. Bannon had long sensed that deep within America's soul lurked an explosive tension. Cambridge Analytica had the data to prove it, and in 2016 Bannon had a presidential campaign to use as his proving ground."--Amazon.
Publisher: New York : Random House, [2019]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2019
ISBN: 9781984854636
Call Number: 324.7028 W977m
Characteristics: 269 pages ; 25 cm


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Aug 30, 2020

Despite the sensationalist title, this book is a serious and alarming autobiographical account of Cambridge Analytica’s role in Brexit and the US 2016 election. Intelligent and precocious, Wylie starts with his teenage involvement in Liberal Party of Canada campaigns. At twenty-one he heads to the UK to study at the London School of Economics where he is recruited by shady organization SCL, known primarily for being paid to influence events in developing world countries. Wylie plays a key role in developing the ideas behind the algorithms that use publicly available data from multiple sources, especially Facebook, to profile people, looking for those who are susceptible to weaponized messages. Wylie is a central character in the founding of Cambridge Analytica by SCL. He meets and initially bonds with Steve Bannon in their shared view of the power of culture to influence change and population behaviour. He also meets alt right billionaire Robert Mercer, the main funder of Cambridge Analytica, and various other key players in the US and UK, including Russians. Wylie’s explanation of population behaviour to explain the results of the US 2016 election and Brexit is the best I’ve read. Liberal-minded and gay, Wylie drifts with the toxic evolution of his brain child as a tool of the alt right, and eventually becomes the whistleblower responsible for its downfall. Wylie is an insightful and astute person; his blindness to what CA was doing seems a bit disingenuous. Regardless, this book reveals an unseen side to the political process that is dangerous to democracy: the role of big money and big data in manipulating people by using distorted information to invoke a fear response that is deaf to reason or countering information. The method can be wielded on any issue, "left" or "right". Ironically, my act of writing this cautionary review leaves a footprint. Read it and be wary.

Jan 30, 2020

some further reading:
“Democracy and Its Crisis”
A.C. Grayling 1949-
Oneworld Publications 2017, hc, 192 pages
ISBN-10: 1786072890, ISBN-13: 978-1786072894
Anthony Clifford Grayling CBE, 1949-
“Digital Demagogue : Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Trump and Twitter”
Christian Fuchs
Pluto Press 2018, ISBN: ISBN-10: 0745337961, ISBN-13: 978-0745337968
“Enemies of Freedom : Understanding Right-Wing Authoritarianism”
Robert Anthony “Bob” Altemeyer 1940-
Jossey Bass Social and Behavioral Science Series
Jossey-Bass 1st edition 1988, hc, 378 pages
ISBN-10: 1555420974, ISBN-13: 978-1555420970
“The Public in Peril : Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism”
Henry A. Giroux 1943-
Routledge 1st edition 2017, ISBN: ISBN-10: 9781138719033, ISBN-13: 978-1138719033
“The Republican Noise Machine : Right-wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy”
David Brock
Crown 2004, hc, 432 pages
ISBN-10: 1400048753, ISBN-13: 978-1400048755

Jan 21, 2020

The other comment here is so misplaced and so terribly flawed... this story is much less about Trump and Brexit than it is about how readily the human mind can be led by the technology now at our disposal.
The fact the previous comment has 9 likes shows just how biased that flaw in the human mind can be.
But if you're genuinely interested, the book "Inside the Victory Lab" shows just how this deep dive into statistical modelling and careful parsing of psychometric profiles got it's start... in the Obama campaign of '08!
Read: The Victory Lab : The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns by Sasha Issenberg

If you know who Edward Bernays is, this kind of marketing is simply the continuation of his legacy. For those who don't know, Bernays was Sigmund Freud's nephew, wrote the deeply influential book Propaganda (“Bernays’ honest and practical manual provides much insight into some of the most powerful and influential institutions of contemporary industrial state capitalist democracies.”—Noam Chomsky) and he more or less founded the American Public Relations industry.
Bernays most famous and well known stunt was in getting women to smoke cigarettes by aligning that act with "Freedom". During the suffragette era, Bernays had a bunch of debutantes who were taking part in a New York City parade whip out cigarettes on a prearranged signal and light up their 'Torches of Freedom".
Worked like a charm because... I guess if we used the previous commentators theory... women aren't very smart?
No. That's wrong.
Aligning the values we claim to hold as personal beliefs or as 'who we are' can be hooked to a lot of dumb things (or people).

Read: Propaganda by Edward Bernays

In fact, as Bernays knew, much of marketing is about linking people's core values and beliefs to a product... seen a car advertisement lately? Or a shampoo ad? Buy this and define the 'real you'. Eat this for a taste of 'authentic'. Wear this and "show them who's boss!".
This is an old, well known practice and is now getting turbocharged by the immense amount of personal data *you* freely hand over when you're using that delightful ankle monitor/tracking device you call your 'phone'.
You're doing this to yourselves.

Read: Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff.

Long story short, psychologists have know for a while that the Big 5 model (O.C.E.A.N.) is pretty much the gold standard for predicting peoples responses to stimuli. It is a spectacularly effective means of engaging people emotionally. Just pick the traits you know they score high or low in, (which they've handed you by basically living in their phone 24/7) create your ads tailored to those traits, then let Facebook and Google's ad placement algorithms do the targeting.

To wit:
If you score high on Openness (the "O" in OCEAN) and enjoy new experiences, maybe the best way to get you to vote for a pro-immigration candidate is to specifically send you ads in Facebook (or Google) that explain how immigration creates a more culturally diverse country with many different personal narratives.
Does that sound 'evil' to you?
What about if you score low on Openness and high in Conscientiousness? How about ads (specifically directed at people like this) for a candidate that suggest Canada can't afford new immigrants when it's already got lots of homeless people who need help?
Does that sound 'evil' to you?

This is how the marketing world has worked for some now - it's not "new".
What is new is just how accurate the targeting can get, due to people willingly sharing their personal lives and habits and beliefs 24/7/365 on their phone or computer.
You did it to yourselves.

My take on this book is "The Gold Standard in Marketing Textbooks for the Forseeable Future."

Get used to this folks; you're the ones supplying the data/oil that makes these marketing tactics work so well.

Oct 12, 2019

Trump supporters would be wise to read this and learn how they have been brainwashed so they can move forward and face reality.


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