Hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer bailed out the Trump campaign last summer when it hit its low point, but that was not the most important thing he did.
The most important thing was to teach Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner and Jason Miller how to use computer algorithms, artificial intelligence and cyber-bots to target individual voters and shape public opinion.
The Guardian reported that Mercer’s company, Cambridge Analytica, claims to have psychological profiles on 220 million American
voters based on 5,000 separate pieces of data. [Correction: The actual claim was 220 million Americans, not American voters.]
Michal Kosinski, lead scientist for Cambridge University’s Psychometric Centre in England, said that knowing 150 Facebook likes, he can know a person’s personality better than their spouse; with 300 likes, better than the person knows themselves.
Advertisers have long used information from social media to target individuals with messages that push their psychological buttons.
I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked or surprised that political campaigners are doing the same thing.
Bloomberg reported how the Trump campaign targeted idealistic liberals, young women and African-Americans in key states, identified through social media, and fed them negative information about Hillary Clinton in order to persuade them to stay home.
This probably was what gave Trump his narrow margin of victory in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
The other way artificial intelligence was used to elect Trump was the creation of robotic Twitter accounts that automatically linked to Breitbart News and other right-wing news sites.
This gave them a high-ranking on Google and created the illusion—or maybe self-fulfilling prophecy—that they represent a consensus.
Robert Mercer and his ilk are not invincible. Mercer wasn’t able to get Ted Cruz the Republican nomination. And Hillary Clinton had her own data analytics system. It was just that Trump’s algorithms beat Clinton’s algorithms.
But over time, with so much as stake, these systems are bound to become more and more effective.
If billionaires are using computer-enhanced psychological techniques to manipulate the vote, can governments be far behind—or are they behind at all?
The Guardian article noted in passing that a lot of these technologies originated in Russia. The one thing I find scarier that a billionaire using PsyOps techniques in an American election is the notion of Russia or some other foreign government manipulating elections with these same techniques.
That possibility is much more important than the possibility that Russians leaked Democratic and Clinton campaign e-mails. And I don’t know what to do about it, except to respond in kind, which would make things worse.
Robert Mercer, the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media by Carole Cadwalladr for The Guardian. Important and strongly recommended. Thanks to my friend Anne Tanner for pointing me to the link.
The Bizarre Far-Right Billionaire Behind Bannon and Trump’s Presidency by Thomas Hedges for The Real News Network.
Inside the Trump Bunker, With 12 Days to Go by Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg for Bloomberg. A pre-election inside account of the Trump campaign.
Debunking the claim
Do Democratic Operatives Dream of Big Data Death Stars? The Case Against Cambridge Analytica as a Propaganda Tool by Yves Smith for naked capitalism. [Added 3/1/2017]
The story behind Nigel Oakes, Trump’s weapon of mass persuasion by Claudio Gatti for ItalyEurope24. [Added 3/6/2017]
Did Cambridge Analytica influence the Brexit vote and the US election? by Jamie Doward and Alice Gibbs for The Guardian [Added 3/6/2017].
Cambridge Analytica: BINGO! by Marina Bart for naked capitalism [Added 3/6/2017].