Sunday, April 1, 2018

Cambridge Analytica Cracks Facebook and Our Electoral System

by Roger Herried

 Updated Note: 

The original Cambridge Analytica (CA) research article done by Roger missed a critical CBS story and interview the day after the Guardian story came out.

The CBS source for the story was not revealed.  It was apparently from the Trump administration claiming that they abandoned the use of the CA database some time in late September or early October of 2016 and supplanted it with the Republican Party's database.  However, it was used to target ads on Facebook.  

This missed news story would suggest that the impacts of the role of CA's tactics on the election didn't play as great a role as the article states. However, this doesn't mean that the use of psychographic profiling during elections or the broader impacts of our broken electoral system have gone away, or worse, are being ignored by the msm.   


“We ‘broke’ Facebook,” and swung the Brexit vote — Chris Wylie
 And did it on behalf of Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon.
The piece has extensive links to content meant to enhance this article. Its an attempt to broaden the discussion about privacy and our badly broken electoral system.

The 3–17–18 rehash of the Cambridge Analytica story by The Guardian’s Observer Magazine and the New York Times may have finally set off a dramatic chain reaction that could reshape this country’s electoral and media institutions like no other.

 Thanks to the billions of dollars in free Mainstream Media coverage of Trump’s vaudeville populism during the 2016 presidential primaries, our winner take all electoral system was primed for the show of the century. In June 2016, following Trump’s republican primary victory, his son in law Jared Kushner brought in Robert Mercer and Steve Bannon’s Cambridge Analytica brainchild that was originally part of the Ted Cruz campaign.

What’s the Fuss About

A Canadian PhD (Chris Wylie) and Steve Bannon came together to form Cambridge Analytica with funding from Robert Mercer allowing it to obtain the raw data from 50 million Facebook users from Professor Aleksandr Kogan of Cambridge University, and distill the list down to 17 million candidates, using computer driven psychological profiling that micro-targeted them with ads either to switch their vote to Trump or not vote at all. There was an immediate skeptical response from the left that there is no proof that profiling tactics actually worked. One author even bought Bannon’s claim that the database wasn’t used (here is politifacts response). There have been calls for Facebook to contact those affected — or investigate to see if they were impacted.

A part of the privacy side of this story includes the $100 billion drop in the value of Facebook, a campaign for people to close their Facebook accounts and proposals for the feds to regulate Facebook. But the real juicy part of the story has only started to come together with the details on the kinds of content you’re being tracked by social media sites.

 How many people even remember that Facebook was caught just a few years ago with their phone app that allowed them to record your conversations? Or even more dramatic that by 2014 Facebook had already been conducting experiments on its users on how to manipulate users mood, even going so far as to openly claim that Facebook would become one of the most powerful political election tools ever. And lest we not forget, the Trump campaign gave Facebook $70 million during the final weeks of the 2016 election with Facebook’s employees actually embedding at Trump’s digital headquarters set up by Jared Kushner.

The first decent alternative media piece on the scale of the Cambridge Analytica (CA) hack and Facebook’s involvement was written by Roberto J. González at Counterpunch. Facebook’s model of selling people’s personal information to advertisers is only the tip of the iceberg on this as there can be no doubt that they are also giving it to government agencies. Many more have since followed for example:

Buried in the original Guardian piece by Carole Cadwalladr was Chris Wylie’s explicit details about the scandal that exposes CA’s public claims as lies that led to their CEO being fired within days. It laid out the even more explosive details about the SCL Group (the UK military cyber warfare group and connections that CA was based on) and how two Cambridge University psychologists (Kosinski & Stillwell) designed the Facebook quiz that could be used to quantify five personality traits — Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism that could be used to build personalized ads, attacking an estimated 17 million voters the same way that Reagan and the Stanford Research Institute came up with strategies to split off union workers in 1980 but in a much more targeted way (see below for more background on this.

But then Mathew Hindman was able to interview Aleksandr Kogan, the Cambridge professor who gave Cambridge Analytica the massive database he’d taken with Facebook’s permission. He gave Hindman details on how the data mining (psychographic profiling) worked and how good it was in identifying party affiliation or the individuals personal psychology. For a bit of mind bend, go google psychographic profiling or read this article that includes below CA profile data sheet.
CA Personal Profile spreadsheet from 5–18–17 Quartz Article
As demonstrated by this story on gerrymandering, the republican agenda of profiling Americans is far more about voter suppression than about getting the target to switch preferences — so Trump’s ongoing attack meme “Crooked Hillary” would be reinforced many times over when FBI director Comey’s announced their investigation the week before the election that resulted in nearly a 10 point drop in support for Clinton. That drop was further exacerbated with publication of the Wikileaks story describing how Clinton had taken control of the Democratic National Committee in order to torpedo Bernie Sander’s campaign. Even so, Sanders received over 40% of democratic primary votes — so why would the “Crooked Hillary” meme work? This was America’s dirty political system at work — not “the Russians.”

The Broader View — Our Rigged Electoral Process

This story isn’t just about how the U.S. came to elect a billionaire egomaniac as president, but how our electoral system has been destroyed by America’s elites. It all started with the 1971 Powell memo, moved into second gear during the Reagan era that included the formation of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Network. It picked up speed with the theft of the 2000 election that was quickly followed by 9/11, and has now jumped into high gear. It took Adam Curtis’ Century of the Self BBC documentary (that has never been shown by any major U.S. media outlet) to present the historic role of the corporate media’s use of subversive public relations tactics to poison our electoral system, not to mention creating a consumer hell. The video lays out the evolution of public relations from the days of Edward Bernays and Walter Lippmann (who coined the concept of stereotypes and the role of journalism and an enlightened public) and documents how the Stanford Research Institute used computer generated databases and psychographic profiling of self-centered baby boomer behavior to identify Reagan democrats in the 1980 presidential election. It has not stopped since then — even Obama had his big data voter machine.
Like any two bit magician (anyone remember the Wizard of Oz?) the corporate media has self censored its own domination of our electoral system and in turn is desperately trying to distract us with Russiagate. From the historic role of voter suppression of all kinds (Jim Crow, Political PACs, Gerrymandering, work day voting, negative attack strategies etc.) to Citizen’s United or the outright theft by the Supreme Court in 2000, the biggest scandal of all is how the corporate media refuses to address its own role in shaping this country’s two party fiasco. Back during the McCain Feingold debates on electoral reform that was broadcast by C-Span, a representative stood up and said that nothing will change as long as the media which is the biggest opponent of campaign financial reform (its biggest profits come during the presidential horse races) controls the arena the game is played in. Google and Facebook know this as they are shooting to take over as the delivery vehicle for that big pot of money but does the American voter have even the slightest clue?
Predictions suggest that over 50% of political finance money will go to social media companies like Facebook by 2020. During the 2016 election, the media was openly claiming that their news coverage of Trump’s behavior was worth over $5 billion. They even had their own October surprise as another in a long history of such moves for Trump with the Access Hollywood Tapes but then we had the Wikileaks and Comey investigation of Clinton that was the main reason (voter suppression) for people not voting for Crooked Hillary (Trump’s winning meme). Nearly 40% of eligible voters stayed home — a figure that has remained at this level or below it for over a century, yet there has been no attempt to resolve the problem institutionally (imagine if the public school system ignored the fact that 40% of the country’s kids weren’t showing up for school).

But the story doesn’t end with its impact to our electoral institution but also drills into the heart of the growing fourth amendment crisis around privacy and how nearly an entire country has been brainwashed into thinking that they have nothing to hide by letting Facebook collect and sell what we do online. Apologies, but our privacy as well as the right to bare arms were originally enshrined because of rogue behavior by the British government and its chartered corporation, the East India Trading Company. When it comes to privacy, the dark side as exposed by Wikileaks and Snowden is willing to both kill opponents and undermine legitimate civil ones and hide the fact it is going ahead with deploying computer algorithms in military applications, prison systems, jobs and what Google and Facebook think we should read or not read that is pushing us into a negative form of tribalism. The hackers that could breach our private data on Facebook and other sites and steal our it are no longer just a bunch of punks but governments both here and around the world.
NSA Political Cyber warfare Plan — Ed Snowden release

If the MSM truly wanted to educate the public about the historic evidence of vote tampering in a true and honest way, it would have to start with this country’s long standing interference in other country’s elections or at least start to tabulate some of the other, more egregious examples of foreign interference. For example back in the months just prior to Obama’s election foreign nationals from India flooded democratic representatives across the U.S. in an aggressive campaign to remove the US ban on India over its nuclear weapons program. Those bribes worked and democrats caved in to the republican strategy.

 The ongoing Russiagate (Bill Moyer’s Timeline) campaign by part of the liberal media is a desperate attempt to remove Trump and for that reason alone is a worthy project if it actually ousts him, but also because it keeps a spotlight on our electoral system — where it should be the job of the alternative press to fill in the missing narratives — items this piece barely brings into play.

During the 2008 presidential election, the Obama campaign hoodwinked the progressive left with its own unique play on identity politics. But from the day he excommunicated Rev. Wright up until his chief staff Rahm Emanuel pulled the plug on the massive blog that had millions of users who had been promised a direct line of input to the Obama administration, an immense hole in the future of social media was ripped open almost before it ever got off ground. Major sites like Newsvine (that was bought by MSNBC and then shut down) had immense numbers of democratic activists that were able to shoot down the criminal tactics of republicans almost on a daily basis, resulting in a far different way to stop the traditional dirty tricks the right wing has long been known for. The star chamber tactics at Newsvine against the left, environmentalists and union organizers was a sobering example of the DNC’s own dirty politics.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal is an important symbolic event that should be taken seriously on its face — as it represents the growing power of social media and the loss of privacy that our society should have never have been forced to opt into. And last but not least, during the last budget bill, the media completely buried the importance of an attached rider called the CLOUD Act. This act is even worse than the Patriot Act because it is designed to get around government spying laws by allowing foreign allies to do the dirty work our own laws block them from doing.

What can be done?

  1. Consider closing your Facebook account down — or strip it of all your personal information.
  2. Read this article about the privacy campaign — list of primary demands.
  • Move toward “meaningful transparency” by ensuring that users “have access to and control over their data”;
  • Protect users’ personal information by providing “end-to-end encryption” that would prevent corporate and government surveillance;
  • Cease collecting and storing data that “isn’t necessary for your product or business”;
  • Provide equal protections to all communities and stop collecting “information that is vulnerable to misuse,” like immigration status and political views; and
  • Support “laws that require a warrant before the government can demand information about your users” and “reforms that curtail mass surveillance.”
3. Don’t use Facebook for political organizing — let representatives from formal groups do the organizing — go elsewhere that promises not to track your political activity
4. There are alternatives like email.
5. Install and use EFF’s privacy Badger
6. Support public ownership of internet service providers that agree to do opt out vs. opt in data collection
7. Demand that all social media sites have an opt out policy and that they never sell or release your data
8. Tell your friends about the Cloud Act and demand its removal.
9. Learn how to delete your browser cookies on a regular basis — leave cookies in place for sites that have passwords.
10. Support digital rights groups like Electronic Frontiers Foundation.
11. Don’t rely on any one search engine (google — Yahoo or Bing) for searches. Note that all of them inject tracking services every time you do a search. Duck Duck Go is an alternative search Engine.
12. Post a statement up on Facebook that you don’t want your data sold to anyone. Many people don’t watch commercial TV because they are acutely aware of that model’s design to sell you as product to advertisers. The same goes for Facebook and any site that has fallen into the Google and hundreds of other tracking companies — the above privacy badger can be used to shut down the most invasive of them.
13. If you do any kind of activist work — please learn the ropes about Virtual Private Networks (VPN)’s and that you will need to bypass the 5–9–14 spy networks to be serious.
14. Make sure you use strong passwords and be careful of password managers as hackers are learning how to break into them.
15. What’s you favorite list of things to do about this?

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