On New Year’s Day 2020, Twitter account @HindsightFiles began posting documents from data firm Cambridge Analytica (CA) which expose the extensive infrastructure used to manipulate voters on a global scale.
More than 100,000 documents are said to be released in the coming months, revealing Cambridge Analytica’s activity in a shocking 68 countries, including elections in Malaysia, Kenya, and Brazil. The Guardian reported that the documents come from Brittany Kaiser, a former employee of Cambridge Analytica who turned whistleblower and star of the documentary The Great Hack.
Kaiser told the Guardian:
“I’m very fearful about what is going to happen in the U.S. election later this year, and I think one of the few ways of protecting ourselves is to get as much information out there as possible.”
The latest CA whistleblower has said the dumps will contain previously unreleased emails, project plans, case studies, and negotiations. The HindsightFiles twitter account has posted data on the relationship between Cambridge Analytica and John Bolton, former National Security Adviser to the Trump administration. In 2013, the John Bolton Super PAC paid Cambridge Analytica $650,000 for voter data analysis and digital video ad targeting.
The documents provide more details on that relationship, including using psychographics to play on voters hopes and fears. Psychographics is a methodology which focuses on consumers psychological attributes. Research firms attempt to develop a psychographic profile on various segments of the population by studying personality, opinions, interests, attitudes, values, and behaviors.
Cambridge Analytica first made headlines following the 2016 Presidential election after it was revealed the company had gained access to 87 million Facebook profiles. Whistleblower Christopher Wylie exposed how he helped set up CA and obtain the data of millions of Americans. This is when the public began to understand the scope of Cambridge Analytica’s operations.
In 2015, the UK-based political consulting firm, worked on behalf of Ted Cruz’s campaign to help him win the 2016 Republican nomination. Cambridge Analytica was also involved in campaigns to promote Brexit, as well as promoting the 2016 Trump Presidential campaign. Donald Trump would eventually hire Steven Bannon as the chief strategist for his White House. Bannon previously served as CA’s vice president and was the executive chairman of Breitbart News.
It was through Bannon that whistleblower Christopher Wylie and CA CEO Alexander Nix came to know billionaire Robert Mercer. Bannon arranged for Mercer to invest five million dollars into the creation of Cambridge Analytica. Mercer wanted to work with the group to influence the U.S. elections. When the public became aware of the manipulation by CA, Bannon denied having any knowledge of the scheme. Wylie, however, said Cambridge Analytica was Bannon’s “psychological warfare mindfuck.”
Cambridge Analyitca itself is a web of shadowy companies invested in behavioral researching and influencing mass behavior. Cambridge was born out of the Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL), founded by Nigel Oakes and Alexander Nix. SCL claimed to have an expertise in Psychological Operations, and worked as part of military and political operations around the world. An article by the Register noted that SCL provided training to 15 (UK) Psychological Operations Group and had access to secret information.
The Great Hack documentary details how SCL started out as a military contractor called SCL Defense before shifting to using their data to influence elections. According to the New Yorker, SCL was born out of another organization created by Oakes, the Behavioral Dynamics Institute (BDI). Oakes told Marketing in a 1992 interview:
“We use the same techniques as Aristotle and Hitler. We appeal to people on an emotional level to get them to agree on a functional level.”
Although Cambridge Analytica has officially shut down, company executives set up a new company in 2017 called Emerdata Limited. It was also reported that SCL executives joined Emerdata, including Rebekah Mercer, daughter of billionaire Robert Mercer. The Mercer family have been consistent supporters of President Donald Trump.
The latest leaks from Cambridge Analytica seem poised to expose more lurid details of the inner workings of the disturbing relationship between big data and political operatives. Both the history of the company and its executives are a clear example of the growing trend of politicians seeking to use data gathered by social media companies to better understand and manipulate the minds of potential voters. Stay tuned to the Apparently Apparel for updates on this developing story.
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