Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Newly fashionable tool

My friend and debate partner sent me a PDF of an article that friends had sent to him. He added, “I can't tell where it falls on the spectrum from conspiracy fiction to great reporting.”

I searched the title and got a match, which also matched the author and holder of the copyright. It was indeed published by The Guardian, a respected British newspaper. I would hope that swings it towards great reporting.

The article is The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked by Carole Cadwalladr. It tells how companies Cambridge Analytica of Britain and AggregateIQ of Canada came together to dig through online data and use it to persuade just enough voters to vote for Britain to leave the European Union.

The data was from Facebook and from various companies that track what people do on the web. All the data was obtained legally (though I get the impression that Facebook has since changed its rules on sharing such data). The companies used various Big Data techniques to find out which voters were “persuadable” and determine what kind of message would be most effective in securing a “leave” vote. These voters were then supplied with ads, peaking just before the vote. It worked.

I’ve heard of such things being done in American campaigns, especially that Obama’s team was getting pretty good at it, though GOP candidates used it as well.

This is where it gets troubling. The guy behind AggregateIQ is US billionaire Robert Mercer. He’s definitely a member of the 1% and definitely wants to influence elections. He doesn’t expect the company to make money. It was AggregateIQ that went to the various Leave campaigns and offered its services.

It appears that Mercer also offered some type of help to the nasty guy’s campaign through American companies. It appears they operated during our campaign the same way they did during the British Brexit vote. A US billionaire helped bring about the biggest constitutional change to Britain in a century.

Keep in mind my earlier comments about knowing we’re in an authoritarian state when elections are held but no longer have the capability of changing things. Then read Cadwalladr’s closing (emphasis added):
Martin Moore of King’s College, London, pointed out that elections were a newly fashionable tool for would-be authoritarian states. “Look at Erdoğan in Turkey. What Theresa May is doing is quite antidemocratic in a way. It’s about enhancing her power very deliberately. It’s not about a battle of policy between two parties.”

This is Britain in 2017. A Britain that increasingly looks like a “managed” democracy. Paid for by a US billionaire. Using military-style technology. Delivered by Facebook. … It goes far beyond party politics. It’s about the first step into a brave, new, increasingly undemocratic world.

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