The New York Times and London’s Observer broke a joint story yesterday that proves Trump’s primary 2016 election data company, Cambridge Analytica, obtained hacked Facebook records to illegally harvest the data of 50 million American voters.
Data scientist Chris Wylie built the Cambridge Analytica data company into “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindf*ck tool,” and he has the proof that his tools were built on illegally obtained Facebook data. (video below)
They turned Facebook “likes” into a political weapon exploited by the Republican Party to help install Donald Trump into the White House.
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That’s why Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey just launched a new investigation into the UK-based data company formed by hedge fund billionaire GOP kingmaker Robert Mercer, who owned Breitbart News.
The Trump campaign used Cambridge Analytica to micro-target voters and to attempt to persuade them to vote against their own interests or to stay home on election day.
— Maura Healey (@MassAGO) March 17, 2018
Today’s reporting, based on Carole Cadwalladr‘s dogged reporting in the Times, explains how Cambridge Analytica used unlawfully obtained information from Facebook to create psychographic profiles of every US voter, then conduct information warfare to help get Donald Trump elected.
Jared Kushner infamously told a group of interns that the Trump Campaign was too disorganized to collude with Russia, but the August 2016 shakeup following indicted campaign manager Paul Manafort’s departure changed everything.
Trump hired Cambridge Analytica VP Steve Bannon to replace him (who also ‘worked for free’) at the direction of GOP megadonor Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer.
Bannon and Mercer’s development of Cambridge Analytica stretched back to two years and relied on a dark secret. The Times reports:
The firm had secured a $15 million investment from Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, and wooed his political adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, with the promise of tools that could identify the personalities of American voters and influence their behavior. But it did not have the data to make its new products work.
So the firm harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission, according to former Cambridge employees, associates and documents, making it one of the largest data leaks in the social network’s history.
The breach allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.
Amazingly, CEO Alexander Nix lied to multiple UK investigations about using stolen Facebook data, which his whistleblowing Canadian colleague can prove because he’s got a postcard from Facebook in August 2016 asking him to delete the information.
That’s why Facebook suddenly announced late on Friday night that they’ve cutoff Cambridge Analytica and parent company SCL.
The social media giant denies calling their illicit activities a “hack,” but it represents the largest known systematic misuse of Americans personal data since the advent of Mark Zuckerberg’s revolutionary internet platform:
We are suspending Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), including their political data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, from Facebook.
In 2015, we learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our Platform Policies by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica, a firm that does political, government and military work around the globe. He also passed that data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, Inc.
In addition to the obvious moral and ethical outrage raised by the revelation of Republicans using stolen data to create a propaganda machine and use it to help elect a white nationalist as America’s president, there are serious legal problems.
It’s illegal for non-US citizens or green card holders to hold decision making roles in a vendor working on American federal elections, but that didn’t stop Bannon and Mercer from doing just that; totally ignoring election law and leaving CEO Alexander Nix in charge of most of the company’s operations.
“This story is more evidence that the online political advertising market is essentially the Wild West.” says Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), who has been at the forefront of Congressional investigations into the devious use of social media in elections – when he hasn’t been busy helping Republicans deregulate the financial industry and roll back the Dodd-Frank Act, that is.
“Whether it’s allowing Russians to purchase political ads, or extensive micro-targeting based on ill-gotten user data, it’s clear that left unregulated, this market will continue to be prone to deception and lacking in transparency.”
If only those same concerns were extended to the finance industry.
Most of America’s election laws date back to the post-Watergate era, but a withering legal assault since then has allowed dark money to pour into the democratic process from all angles, and enforcement action takes years and can easily be hindered.
But the Republican Party’s disgusting marriage between a few American oligarchs and their propaganda machines has come about as a direct result of the utter absence of democratic norms in highly influential 1%ers, people who made their fortunes on the backs of US citizens for whom today they show nothing but contempt.
“If you do not respect the agency of people,” remarked Wylie the data scientist to The Guardian, “anything you do after that point is not conducive to democracy.”
Shamefully, the Republican Party has no respect for democracy, or the agency of individuals to make choices based on facts rather than lies.
Watch Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie tell all about the propaganda machine that spawned Brexit and helped Donald Trump get elected: