Cambridge Analytica – What is the truth?
It was supposed to bring us together, to bring truth where truth had been unable to shine. A space to share ideas, to meet people. It became somewhere to connect with friends and family, to see kids growing up and pets dressing up. Then somewhere to discover music, watch movies, find love. Society was changing. Regimes were falling to movements who could find a new solidarity online. Dirty secrets were being aired on a massive scale. There was nowhere for the despots to hide. And then it all went wrong.
We started to notice something insidious creeping in. Those adverts seemed a little too relevant. Pictures of that surprise present appear next to your partner’s emails . Turns out that love you thought you had found was not the same age, sex, species that they had claimed to be. Was someone watching you? Could they hear you? Gosh, could they even read your mind? Paranoia started to seep into our social addiction. But wait, this was The West. Surely it doesn’t happen here? Right?
- In one of the most emotive, contentious campaigns in recent UK history, a slender majority of the British people turn out to vote to leave the European Union.
- In the USA, an underdog celeb defeats the establishment’s darling to become the 45th President of the United States of America. But we know all about that.
The losers couldn’t believe it. This didn’t make sense. Everything they had seen on their social media streams confirmed the majority agreed with them. Who were these invisible, irrational voters? Something wasn’t adding up, and suspicions were on the rise. Attention started to be drawn to the teams behind these stunning victories, and one particular common denominator stood out, a data analysis company used to operating behind the scenes and out of the spotlight, but the spotlight was about to shine on them very brightly indeed – Cambridge Analytica.
Cambridge Analytica had emerged from a private strategic communications company, SCL, whose clients included a range of western military organisations, and whose owners had strong ties to the right-of-centre establishment. Their resume includes the manipulation of elections across the developing world, guiding them towards administrations acceptable to the Western worldview. There were rumours of mass psychological influence of specific sectors of society to encourage or discourage voting, depending on likely inclinations. CA was to continue this methodology, but this time they would be targeting the self-proclaimed bastions of democracy at home – the UK and the USA.
But despite any suspicions that something was not quite right, it was only through the revelations of a former employee that the sheer scale of the operation was revealed. Christopher Wylie, our guest speaker, helped to develop CA in its infancy, but in 2018 released documents to The Guardian exposing their possession of vast amounts of private personal information gleaned from Facebook, much of which was without permission or knowledge of the subjects. Profiles were extrapolated from this data to analyse and predict behaviours and motivations in key areas, which would then be used to target advertising, information – and disinformation – with the aim of influencing enough undecided voters to move in the desired direction to swing the vote towards their clients, to spectacular effect.
Fair enough, one might say. All is fair in love and politics. Are they merely being punished for being smarter than the other team? But these are reminiscent of military grade techniques of propaganda and psychological warfare. And we are seeing these tactics deployed, against us, in peacetime. As Mr Wylie expressed when putting evidence to Parliament when asked if CA’s actions made any difference to the outcome of the elections, you shouldn’t be allowed to win by cheating, and CA were playing by a different set of rules to their opponents.
Or maybe not. After all, how do we know what to believe any more? What is truth? Is Cambridge Analytica the chimera it has been presented as, or the victim of a successful left wing campaign to discredit them? Who can say for certain what is information and what is disinformation? Don’t take my word for it, that’s for sure. Christopher Wylie’s? Maybe that is as close as we can get…
Tickets to our “Is Social Media Ruling the world?” chat are available HERE