Dark and Sinister Forces. The Plots against Democracy.
The Heritage Foundation supported the War in Afghanistan and the War in Iraq. According to a 2004 study in the journal International Security, the Heritage Foundation confused public debate by challenging widespread opposition to the Iraq War by international relations scholars and experts by contradicting them "with experts of apparently equal authority... this undermined the possibility that any criticisms [of the war] might be seen as authoritative or have much persuasive effect." The organization defended the Bush administration's Guantanamo Bay practices. In the 1990s, the Heartland Institute worked with the tobacco company Philip Morris to attempt to discredit the health risks of secondhand smoke and to lobby against smoking bans. Since the 2000s, the Heartland Institute has been a leading promoter of climate change denial. It rejects the scientific consensus on climate change, and says that policies to fight it would be damaging to the economy.
The Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) is a libertarian nonprofit think tank with offices in Chicago and Springfield. Founded in 2002, it is active in the areas of education policy, pension policy, and state budget issues. IPI has been a critic of a number of Illinois' tax policies. According to NPR, IPI has "advocated for smaller government, lower taxes and decried the power of longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan
Stephen Kevin Bannon (born November 27, 1953) is an American media executive, political strategist, former investment banker, and the former executive chairman of Breitbart News. He served as White House Chief Strategist in the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump during the first seven months of Trump's term. He served on the board of Cambridge Analytica, the data-analytics firm involved in the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal..
Robert Marcer With links to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and Nigel Farage, the rightwing US computer scientist is at the heart of a multimillion-dollar propaganda network
Rebekah Mercer (born December 6, 1973) is an American heiress, Mercer Foundation director, and major Republican donor who oversees the day-to-day operations of philanthropic and political projects for the Mercer family. She began managing the family foundation when the Mercers started getting involved in conservative causes.
Thomas Borwick worked for Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ, and was chief technology officer for Vote Leave before creating the campaigning group 3rd Party Ltd in order to influence the outcome of the 2019 United Kingdom general election.
Arron Fraser Andrew Banks (born 1966) is a British businessman and political donor. He is the co-founder (with Richard Tice) of the Leave.EU campaign. Banks was previously one of the largest donors to the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and helped Nigel Farage’s campaign for Britain to leave the EU
Nigel Paul Farage is a British politician and broadcaster. He has been leader of the Brexit Party since 2019, and served as Member of the European Parliament for South East England from 1999 until the United Kingdom's exit from the EU in 2020. Wikipedia
The diagram below illustrates how interconnected organisations were involved in the campaign to persuade voters to vote Leave from the European Union – often using material harvested from such media as Facebook to target particular neuroses in segments of the populace. Messages on social media focused particularly on the threat of Britain being overrun by immigrants
In America, people were targeted in swing states, in particular Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan: A stunning election night, the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, secured victory after a string of formerly Democratic states swung his way.
Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan all turned red.
Nationally, Donald Trump won 47% of the vote to Hillary Clinton's 48% - yet this translated into 306 electoral college votes for the Republicans and 232 for the Democrats.
Psychological targeting and Brexit
The Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal was a major scandal in early 2018 where Cambridge Analytica harvested the personal data of millions of people's Facebook profiles without their consent and used it for political advertising.
Let’s look again at the People and Organisations involved
(Also see “Ideas” section of this site “Spreading the True Faith”, which gives a comprehensive review of many of the Foundations, Institutes and other organisations which spread mainly Right wing, Neoliberal dogma.)
A key man is Robert Mercer. He was an alumnus of IBM, and left to be a pioneer in digital investment, the use of superfast computing to “game” the Stock Markets. Robert Mercer is secretive, there are few publicly available photographs of him. He and his sisters established the Mercer Family Foundation. The prime function of this is to fund and support Right Wing causes.
This is an excerpt from Wikipedia:
The Mercer Family Foundation is a private grant-making foundation in the United States. As of 2013, it had $37 million in assets. The foundation is run by Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of computer scientist and hedge fund manager Robert Mercer. Under Rebekah’s leadership, the family foundation invested about $70 million into conservative causes between 2009 and 2014. The foundation has also donated to groups that reject the scientific consensus on climate change. The foundation's main interests are in the fields of public policy, higher education, and science. The foundation has donated to organizations and institutions including the Heritage Foundation, Illinois Policy Institute, Heartland Institute, and SUNY Stony Brook. Mercer provides funding to the Home Depot Foundation, whose mission is to "improve the homes and lives of U.S. military veterans and their families."
Here is the positon of The Mercer Family Foundation on Government:
“It is the view of the Mercer Family Foundation that a collection of individuals making their own decisions within the confines of a clear and concise set of laws that they have determined for themselves will advance society much more effectively than will a collection of experts who are confident in their professed knowledge of what is best for everyone else. This is why we favor a smaller, less powerful government.”
“The mission and values of the Mercer Family Foundation are perhaps best expressed by Robert Mercer’s observation that individuals are happiest and most fulfilled when they form their own opinions, assume responsibility for their own actions, and spend the fruits of their own labor as they see fit.”
Although not directly linked, an organisation that occupies a similar field is Breitbart News, which used to be closely linked with Steve Bannon
Breitbart, or somebody acting on their behalf, appear to be trying to alter the Wikipedia article about them:
In the past week, Breitbart’s Wikipedia page has become the scene of an epic battle, with alt-right trolls descending en masse to change its content. After Breitbart ripped into Wikipedia, painting it as a bastion of the biased liberal elite, others followed suit. The Breitbart article saw a massive uptick in traffic, with more than 50,000 people visiting the Wikipedia page in recent weeks.
Another interesting association is with Cambridge Analytica. Here is another interesting Wikipedia posting:
Cambridge Analytica Ltd (CA) was a British political consulting firm that combined misappropriation of digital assets, data mining, data brokerage and data analysis with strategic communication during the electoral processes. It was started in 2013 as an offshoot of the SCL Group. After closing operations with legal proceedings including bankruptcy, members of the SCL Group have been continuing operations under the legal entity Emerdata Limited. The company closed operations in 2018 in the course of the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal, although related firms still exist.
The company was partly owned by the family of Robert Mercer, an American hedge-fund manager who supports many politically conservative causes. The firm maintained offices in London, New York City, and Washington, DC. Ex-CEO Alexander Nix has said CA was involved in 44 US political races in 2014. In 2015, CA performed data analysis services for Ted Cruz's presidential campaign. In 2016, CA worked for Donald Trump's presidential campaign as well as for Leave.EU (one of the organisations campaigning in the United Kingdom's referendum on European Union membership). CA's role in those campaigns has been controversial and is the subject of ongoing criminal investigations in both countries.
In March 2018, multiple media outlets broke news of Cambridge Analytica's business practices. The New York Times and The Observer reported that the company had acquired and used personal data about Facebook users from an external researcher who had told Facebook he was collecting it for academic purposes. Shortly afterwards, Channel 4 News aired undercover investigative videos showing Nix boasting about using prostitutes, bribery sting operations, and honey traps to discredit politicians on whom it conducted opposition research, and saying that the company "ran all of (Donald Trump's) digital campaign". In response to the media reports, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) of the UK pursued a warrant to search the company's servers. Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica from advertising on its platform, saying that it had been deceived. On 23 March 2018, the British High Court granted the ICO a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica's London offices.
Cambridge Analytica and Facebook
The personal data of up to 87 million Facebook users were acquired via the 270,000 Facebook users who used a Facebook app called "This Is Your Digital Life." By giving this third-party app permission to acquire their data, back in 2015, this also gave the app access to information on the user's friends network; this resulted in the data of about 87 million users, the majority of whom had not explicitly given Cambridge Analytica permission to access their data, being collected. The app developer breached Facebook's terms of service by giving the data to Cambridge Analytica.
On 1 May 2018, Cambridge Analytica and its parent company filed for insolvency proceedings and closed operations. Alexander Tayler, a former director for Cambridge Analytica, was appointed director of Emerdata on 28 March 2018. Rebekah Mercer, Jennifer Mercer, Alexander Nix and Johnson Chun Shun Ko [zh], who has links to American businessman Erik Prince, are in leadership positions at Emerdata.
The most gripping facet of all this murky business is the use of Facebook data from millions of Facebook users to build copious psychological profiles. The uses of such data are very interesting. Despite claims that the data were used for commercial purposes, it seems more than likely that they had political uses.
It is claimed by many mainstream media organisations that the use of “Behavioural Micro-targeting” was very instrumental in helping Donald Trump to win the 2016 US presidential election.
Facebook has made a mint by enabling advertisers to identify and reach the very people most likely to react to their messages. Ad buyers can select audiences based on details like a user’s location, political leanings and interests as specific as the Museum of the Confederacy or online gambling. And they can aim their ads at as few as 20 of the 1.5 billion daily users of the social network.
Brands love it. So do political campaigns, like those for President Trump and former President Barack Obama, which tailored their messages to narrow subsets of voters.
But microtargeting, as the technique is called, is coming under increased scrutiny in the United States and Europe. Some government officials, researchers and advertising executives warn that it can be exploited to polarize and manipulate voters. And they are calling for restrictions on its use in politics, even after Facebook, in response to criticism, recently limited some of the targeting categories available to advertisers.
Even advertisers don’t like it!
“It has essentially weaponized ad technology designed for consumer products and services,” said Sarah Golding, the president of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, an industry organization in Britain. Her group recently called for a moratorium on political microtargeting. “There is a danger that every single person can get their own concerns played back to them,” she said.
Facebook is just one player among tech giants like Google and Twitter that also offer data-mining services to try to influence consumer and voter behavior. But Facebook’s gargantuan reach, vast holdings of user data and easy-to-use self-service advertising system have made it a lightning rod for political microtargeting.
Much of the new attention being paid to microtargeted advertising has emerged from investigations into how Russian groups interfered in elections and how the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica harvested the data of millions of Facebook users. Microtargeting, they have found, was a central tool for foreign groups trying to interfere in elections.
In Britain, a report in July on political campaigning from the Information Commissioner’s Office, the government data protection authority, called for an “ethical pause” on the use of personal information in political microtargeting so that regulators and companies could consider the technology’s implications.
“These techniques raise fundamental questions about the relationship between privacy and democracy, as concerns about voter surveillance could lead to disengagement with the political process,” Elizabeth Denham, the British information commissioner, wrote in the report.
Last month, a report from a British Parliament committee investigating fraudulent news criticized the “relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views, which play to the fears and prejudices of people, in order to influence their voting plans and their behavior.” It also called for curbs on some microtargeting.
New research on how groups tied to the Kremlin exploited the technology during the 2016 presidential election in the United States is also raising concerns.
A report this week from Young Mie Kim, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, described how a Kremlin-linked group, called the Internet Research Agency, used Facebook’s ad system to identify nonwhite voters. Then the group tried to discourage those people from voting.
A week before the election, for instance, the Russian group paid Facebook to aim an ad at users interested in African-American history, the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X with a seemingly benign post. The ad included a photo of Beyoncé’s backup dancers. “Black girl magic!” the ad said, according to Facebook ads recently released by federal lawmakers.
Then on Election Day, the same Russian group sent the same Facebook user demographic an ad urging them to boycott the presidential election.
“No one represents Black people. Don’t go to vote,” the ad said.
A history of the use of Psychology in advertising
Documentary maker Adam Curtis produced a fascinating series (The Century of the Self) reviewing the life and works of Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays was a pioneer in the development of advertising aimed at the deep psychological needs and wants of the populace, focusing on guilt, desires to be accepted in society and even lusts.
Education and Manipulation
The use and manipulation of social media to manipulate members of the public to consume is simply an extension of the influence of Eric Bernays from the 1930’s. Bernays was a pioneer in the use of deep psychological urges, insecurity, greed, desires to be liked and admired in order to cause consumers to buy. This has been the wellspring behind the huge advertising industries in such countries as USA and UK, which have commercial TV systems. But the growth of enormous social media organisations has led to a more sinister development, the use of media to sway political affiliations and voting intentions. That has been the work of such organisations as Cambridge Analytica.
One clue to the effectiveness of “fake news” lies in the education systems of both Britain and America, which focus on cramming facts rather than fostering critical thought. The Finnish education system by contrast does highlight Critical Appraisal as an important part of the Curriculum.