This is a story about how manipulative, opportunistic, corrupt people using unvetted information -- and disinformation -- combined with the power of digital technology delivered the ultimate death blow to American democracy.
This story involves some familiar and other less well known names and entities.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin - US Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump - Hedge-fund billionaire and computer scientist Robert Mercer - His daughter Rebekah Mercer who went on to become a leader in the Trump transition team - Alt-Right Breitbart News - Steve Bannon, Executive Chairman of Breitbart News and future White House Chief Strategist to President Donald Trump - Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting and datamining firm - Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica CEO and Director of the SCL group's elections division - Christopher Wylie, former Director of Research for Cambridge Analytica and Canadian Whistleblower
Before we get into the juice, raw, red meat of this article, here's a little relevant background information on some of it's players.
Robert Mercer was a staunch supporter of altering campaign election funding rules, that for sixty years had reined in individual and corporate donations.
His search, post-election, to understand how Trump captured the presidency, led him to examine cutting-age digital tools, dark money, and a network of interrelated players with common ideological goals.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the reclusive Mercer took the opportunity to put his unlimited funds into the service of his extreme vision of limited government.
Mercer has become a top billionaire on the political scene. Besides his own family foundation, he funds a host of conservative think tanks.
In 2011, Mercer invested $10 million in Breibart News, developing a designated media arm to promote his point of view.
Breitbart News is a noted news platform promoting anti-immigrant sentiment, misogyny, and white supremacist content. Steve Bannon took over the Breibart helm and publicly pronounced his goal of “deconstructing the government of the United States.”
The narrative begins with a portrait of a New York Trump voter disgusted with “mainstream media.” He gets his news from online outlets, including “pseudo-news” sites that push stories like the bogus child sex trafficking ring of #Pizzagate fame.
During the lead up to, during and ever since the 2016 Presidential election campaign Trump relentlessly crusaded against, attacked and de-legitimized the mainstream media.
By doing so, most Conservatives were influenced and brainwashed not to believe the reporting of the New York Times, the Washington Post, or CNN.
As a candidate, Trump stated he would express the facts “plainly and honestly.” Yet, the non-partisan fact-checking website Politifact found differently.
It showed that Trump’s statements had a 4 percent veracity rate and that 33 percent of his assertions were actually false.
FoxNews and Breitbart helped Trump to create and propagate his own truth. Trump painted himself as the sole person who could fix America's problems, “drain the swamp” and "Make America Great Again".
As the 2016 election season geared up, Mercer backed Ted Cruz and put $13 million into Cruz’s “Keep the Promise” campaign. As Trump decimated his opponents, Mercer shifted his allegiance to Trump -- to the tune of $15 million.
With major money invested in Trump, Mercer moved to take over the campaign reins in July of 2016. His daughter Rebekah met with Trump and offered more money --along with the “talents” of Bannon to spearhead the campaign.
Trump remaining unbeholden to outside interests was no longer remotely tenable. Key clues to the incestuous entanglements became clear when monies and paper trails became evident by looking at records filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
There were no payments in the Trump campaign for Bannon’s salary. However, through a Mercer PAC, there were recurring payments to Glittering Steel, the company run by Bannon. In five months, the production company received $302,000.
The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint maintaining that Glittering Steel is a front for Bannon, while noting that Mercer’s company and Breitbart News are in the same office building.
So how did Cambridge Analytica win the election for Donald Trump?
That piece of the puzzle begins with Alexander Nix and the London firm, Strategic Communications Library (SCL). Their mission is to evaluate data to determine “what impacts people and how they think.” It’s known as “Psychological operations (PSYOP).”
This diagram by @carolecadwalla is very useful for understanding #CambridgeAnalytica's place in the network linking Trump, Bannon, Mercer & Farage and the Leave campaigns.#CambridgeAnalyticaUncovered#StopBrexit #Brexit pic.twitter.com/Qire99Adf0
— Nick Reeves – #FBPE (@nickreeves9876) March 20, 2018
SCL claims they provide “behavioral influence planning and evaluation” for clients who want to “influence or treat a problem.”
It references a roster of clients like NATO, the British Ministry of Defense, the NSA, and the U.S. State Department. They polish their creds with the example of how their tactics helped to advance “healthcare in Ghana.”
The flip side isn’t as magnanimous. These methods are implemented to manipulate people without their awareness; often utilized to create a problem -- in order to solve it. Instigated to organize protests in Nigeria in 2007. It’s been used by authoritarian regimes.
SCL started a “subsidiary” branch to manage data in 2013 called Cambridge Analytica. They set up shop in the United States and partnered with Mercer. Bannon became Vice President. Their tagline was, “The right message in front of the right person at the right time.”
Cambridge Analytica employed “data-modeling” by taking readily available personal data off the web (age, income, address, religion, gun ownership) from Facebook user accounts, as well as buying it from banks, credit card companies, and the social media giants Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
They were able to accrue four to five thousand pieces of data for 230 million adults in America.
And it’s all legal.
Added into the mix are data points that determine consumer and lifestyle behaviors, as well as political viewpoints.
The personality traits of “openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism” (OCEAN) get calculated.
“Behavioral micro-targeting uncovers what “motivates” individuals -- to influence their vote.
Expert Michal Kosinski explains digital data and psychological profiling. He created a test specifically for Facebook and explained how Facebook “Likes” can create an accurate assessment of a subject’s religious views, politics, sexual orientation, personality and intelligence.
Cambridge Analytica offered their services to Trump, who was not interested until he learned they had worked on the successful Brexit initiative.
The two parties connected in June 2016. By the end of July, Trump had forked over $6 million to Cambridge Analytica. Another $5 million would be forthcoming.
What did these dollars buy?
A tactic based on the realization that Trump didn’t have a shot at winning the popular vote. However, if he went after wavering voters in key swing states, winning the Electoral College was realistically attainable.
The goal was to isolate conservative Democrats who might vote for Trump and geo-target them -- down to their zip codes.
Looking at Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, Cambridge Analytica concentrated on those undecideds by defining thirty-two personality types and determining which voters were the most vulnerable to Trump’s messages of fear and anger.
Trump revisited those geographical areas before Election Day. Simultaneously, this demographic of anxious voters received personal messages on Facebook tailored explicitly to them.
These “dark posts” disappeared hours after appearing in the specified user’s timeline. They remain untraceable and without any record -- except on Facebook’s server.
It worked. Trump got 77,000 votes from those three swing states and ultimately won the US Presidency, despite losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.
Democracy may not be dead yet.
How do you feel about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook now?
Call to Action:
We should all band together and file a class action, breach of privacy lawsuit against Facebook ...
Mark Blaise is an idealistic, socially conscious content creator on a mission to raise people’s awareness while promoting social justice for all. He enjoys writing inspiring and thought provoking posts on social issues, The Golden Rule, personal growth and other amazingly helpful "stuff". His goal is to inspire you to grow and to be a better person by spreading more kindness, showing more compassion, doing unto others, giving back, contributing and helping make the world a better place, while living a truly happy, more fulfilling and inspired life.