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Meet Cambridge Analytica: the Big Data communications company responsible for Trump & Brexit

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In September 2016 at the Concordia Summit, a man called Alexander Nix (above) gave a ten minute presentation called “The Power of Big Data and Psychographics”.


It was essentially a demonstration of the extent to which his company Cambridge Analytica is now able to harness the power of ‘Big Data’ (the online and digital fingerprints we all leave behind) to influence global elections.

The company boasts “a revolutionary approach to audience targeting, data modelling and psychographic profiling”  that has made them “a leader in behavioural micro-targeting for election processes around the world”.

If you’re still reeling from #Brexit and #Trump and wondering how on earth we got here you really need to watch the video of this talk.

In it, Nix explains how his company used this cutting edge combination of technology and psychological profiling to propel Republican nominee candidate Ted Cruz from total obscurity to being the main rival to Trump. At the end of the talk he reveals that, in light of Cruz pulling out, one of the two remaining contenders in the race for the Whitehouse is now using their technology.

That contender, it transpires, was Donald Trump.

It further transpires, according to an investigation by Das Magazine reporters Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus, that Cambridge Analytica’s services were also hired by Nigel Farage’s ‘Leave EU’ campaign.

Much more on the company, the origins of the technology and details of how it was deployed during the EU referendum and US presidential election can be found here.

The upshot is this: for a price – literally millions – this company can, and does, use the vast amount of online data that exists on us all, in conjunction with advanced psychological profiling methods and existing social media algorithms, to profile, target and then push the buttons of millions of people in order to get them to vote – or not vote – however their paymasters want them to.

And that’s exactly what they did. This is not a conspiracy theory. There’s really no mystery to it. This is what modern ‘democracy’ has become.

It appears that in both cases, Cambridge Analytica profiled and targetted people who are susceptible to propaganda and well presented political messages, then ruthlessly exploited them, resulting in a spike in engagement on polling day among their paymasters supporters and a drop off among supporters of their opponents. Many a Remain and Clinton supporter has since bemoaned the fact that they didn’t vote for the simple reason that they believed the result to be a foregone conclusion.

What this means, above all else, is that neither Brexit or Trump’s victory had anything to do with any organic ‘movements’ to ‘take back power/control’ from any establishment as they are routinely portrayed. They were bought about, ultimately, by cynical, calculating, undemocratic, mass manipulation of the general population via targetted psychological profiling.

In spite of the non-racist, honourable intentions of many of those who backed Brexit and Trump, there can be no doubt that these election results have empowered the far right, to the point of it being able to rebrand itself as ‘Alt-Right’ and swell its ranks.

So, in a very real sense, this company and these campaigns (in conjunction with the programming of much of the mainstream media over many years, of course) could be said to be largely responsible for not only the results of these two crucial elections but also the rise of the so called ‘Alt-Right’ and the ‘Fake News’ / ‘Post Truth’ hysteria that has ensued since those results were announced. Without this intervention, it is entirely conceivable that the extreme fascist views of the far right would still be firmly in the fringes. Instead, they are now very much in the mainstream, barely concealed in the rhetoric of its most prominent cheerleaders.

What a pity these tech geniuses never use their powers for good. Imagine if, rather than just selling themselves out to the highest bidder with no concern for morals or ethics, they were to put their efforts behind genuinely progressive, pro-democracy campaigns.

Like ours.

MAYBE THEY ALREADY ARE…

I greatly doubt it.

Seriously though, it’s bad enough that our electoral systems are fundamentally undemocratic and ensure that only representatives of the same political class can ever get in, and that the partisan, deeply biased and hugely powerful mainstream media actively seek to control the electorate and directly influence our elections.

Now, on top of all that, unless you are aware of the dangers and take steps to avoid them, the apparently free and open internet is now also fully at the mercy of powerful undemocratic forces seeking to steal our elections.

Needless to say, we’re up against it. And needless to say, the need for truly democratic reform of our electoral systems and systems of government has never been greater.

Legislatively, much more needs to be done, clearly, if for the right price an Orwellian communications company can be drafted in to ensure an election victory for whoever can afford them, regardless of any moral or ethical concerns. But a formal, binding None of the Above (NOTA) option on ballots remains the logical, systemic starting point for this process. Find out why here.

NOTA, properly implemented, is a democratic pre-requisite, representing as it does the essential ability to be able to formally withhold consent and reject all that is on offer at an election, if deemed necessary, in a way that can affect the result if enough people do it. This mechanism, in its fully fledged form (as opposed to the token gesture, watered down versions in India and Nevada, for example), is currently absent both in the US, the UK and indeed everywhere, when it should be central to any and all systems claiming to be truly democratic. When understood this way, you cannot argue against NOTA and still be pro-democracy, meaning that all the while there is a need to present the various systems we have as paragons of democracy, even if they aren’t, NOTA is 100% achievable.

A form of NOTA is already UK Green Party policy. We now need to get this essential, transformative reform seriously recognised and firmly on the table across the board. In my view, as a matter of urgency.

With this in mind, I implore anyone reading this to familiarise yourself with the current state of play and recent articles on our website and start the all important conversations with your friends and families about how coming together and campaigning for NOTA presents a golden opportunity for us all to meaningfully push things forward at this surely critical time.

You can support the campaign for formal, binding NOTA in the UK by following the links below and signing our petition:

Facebook
Twitter
YouTube
NOTA UK website

If you live in the US, you can support and help draw attention to the need for a formal, binding NOTA option on ballot papers here.

Onwards…

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
02/02/17

UPDATE: 14/02/17 – Cambridge Analytica’s Trump and Cruz campaigns were specifically bankrolled by  billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer. It transpires that prominent Trump advisor Steve Bannon is also on the board of the company. It is now reportedly lining up to handle all of the Trump administration’s digital communications, meaning it will be working closely with many departments across government. A detalied and extremely worrying analysis of what all this means for the future can be found here.



 

Response to our open letter to Caroline Lucas

 

So I finally received a reply to our open letter to Caroline Lucas of the Green Party of England and Wales. Here it is with my response:

Caroline Lucas MP

“Dear Jamie,

Thank you for getting in touch and apologies for not replying sooner – I get a lot of correspondence and give priority to that from my constituents.

As you know, the Green Party fully backs having a “re-open nominations” option on the ballot paper and I’d agree that a “none of the above” option is in the same spirit. It’s not possible for us to campaign on everything and I don’t think we’ll be doing anything proactive on this in the immediate future, but I’ll let the campaigns coordinators know about the open letter and your calls.

In terms of changing policy, that’s done by members and the policy coordinators, copied in above, should be able to tell you whether there’s ever been any proposals along these lines.

Best wishes, Caroline”
—————————————————————————————–

“Dear Caroline,

Thank you for your reply.

A couple of things, firstly Re-Open Nominations and NOTA are more or less the same thing, my issue with the current Green Party policy is that to many RON will be seen as a needlessly technical and jargonistic term, the preserve of political parties, student unions and the like. Most voters, as you know, are not necessarily members of such groups and generally like things to be simplified as much as possible. RON would constantly need explaining, where as None of the Above is a recognised, self-explanatory phrase. For this reason, we feel strongly that the wording of the policy should be changed so that it is clear that the proposed reform is a formal, binding NOTA option, perhaps with RON in brackets, it could then go on to explain what is meant by RON for the avoidance of doubt.

Secondly, it is clear from your response that NOTA/RON, while recognised as necessary, is not a priority for the Green Party. I feel strongly that this is missing a trick. As outlined in the open letter, there are solid, irrefutable reasons why NOTA is the logical starting point for full democratisation of a plainly undemocratic electoral system such as the UK’s.

In a true democracy, it is essential to be able to formally withhold consent at an election, as voting is the formal giving of consent and consent is only measurable if it is possible to withhold it in an equally impactful way. NOTA is the only way to do this, as ballot spoiling / abstaining are informal acts that can in no way affect the result. NOTA would therefore be achievable, in the short to mid term, with enough widespread understanding of this fact and support for it among the general public, as it is not possible to argue against a democratic pre-requisite without arguing against the concept of democracy itself. As undemocratic as the Westminster elites are in practice, they can never be seen to be. Therefore, all it would take to get NOTA in place would be for some mainstream politicians and parties to come out in favour of it and join us in making the case for it in a high profile way. From that point, NOTA would become inevitable. There is also quite probably a legal case to be made for inclusion of NOTA (see here: https://nota-uk.org/…/guest-blog-is-nota-a-legal-requireme…/ )

The same cannot be said of PR, because as desirable a democratic improvement as it may be, it simply cannot ever be argued that PR is a democratic pre-requisite in a system where securing a mandate hinges on seat share, not vote share. In my view, it does not matter how many high profile parties and people are calling for PR, if the party in power benefits directly from FPTP, as is always the case because of the very nature of FPTP, why on earth would they do anything other than pay lip service to calls for a new voting system then ultimately ignore them?

They would not be able to do this if NOTA were the ’cause célèbre’, for the reasons stated. Once in place, a post-NOTA electoral system would be much easier to reform and improve with additional changes such as PR.

If full democratisation of the UK system is the aim, rather than just figuring out how to get one’s own party into power or the continued justification of one’s organisation and funding (ERS, for example), then campaigning for NOTA has to be the start point. Any mainstream political party with the courage and foresight to acknowledge this and get behind our campaign fully would be making history. Until that happens, the issue of electoral reform is likely to continue going round in circles as it has done for decades.

Again, I would be more than happy to consult with policy makers on this issue with a view to making NOTA a central plank of any future Green Party manifesto.

Yours sincerely,
Mr J Stanley
NOTA UK
26/09/2016″



TOP NOTA FAQ: What happens if NOTA ‘wins’?

This post will hopefully clarify an issue that has come to the fore recently in light of a recent upsurge of interest in our campaign.

By far the most common question asked when people engage with us is: “But what would happen if NOTA ‘wins’?”

Well firstly, that depends on how NOTA is implemented. In India, for example, there is what we like to call NOTA-lite, or faux-NOTA. In this scenario, NOTA is merely a symbolic protest option with no formalised consequences for the result if it ‘wins’. In other words, even if NOTA were to poll the most votes, nothing would happen. The next placed candidate would take office anyway.

It is difficult to see the point of this. Without ‘teeth’, there is surely no more incentive for disillusioned voters to formally withhold their consent this way than if there were no NOTA option at all. This, in our  view, accounts for why the NOTA option in India recently only polled 1.1% of the nationwide vote.

To be an effective check and balance in the system, there must be formalised consequences in the event of a NOTA win. Specifically, a re-run election (nationally, if applicable) or by-elections wherever NOTA has polled the most votes.

This is the NOTA ‘with teeth’ that we at NOTA UK are campaigning for. If implemented this way, we feel sure millions of people who currently feel unrepresented at the ballot box would be re-engaged. This in itself ought to be enough to trigger an organic cleaning up of politics, as would-be MP’s and political parties would be forced to try to win over these newly engaged potential voters and not just their core demographics.

The next logical question then is: “But won’t the re-run/by-elections be a logistical nightmare?”

This is a legitimate question. At NOTA UK have come up with a proposal that we feel covers all bases and is the fairest and most workable solution.

Our proposal is that to avoid political instability and voter fatigue, rather than have an immediate re-run general election (if NOTA ‘won’ nationally) and/or immediate by-elections in constituencies where NOTA has ‘won’, the second placed party / candidates should be allowed to take office temporarily for six to twelve months while the logistics of the re-run/by-elections are put in place.

Some people have expressed scepticism as this proposal so I think it’s important to explain the rationale behind it.

There are two issues that the prospect of re-run/by-elections raise: voter fatigue and political instability.

Some have suggested that instant re-runs/by-elections would be better. We feel that voter fatigue would be a real problem in that scenario. It’s hard enough to get people out to vote once every couple of years as it is, asking people to do so twice in quick succession is probably a bridge too far. The likely consequence would be a much lower turnout for the re-run/by-elections, skewing the result significantly, possibly even allowing in a party or candidate who polled terribly first time round. For this reason, we feel it makes lots of sense to have a delay.

Then there is the issue of political instability. Most voters would agree that it is not right to have an empty parliament or empty seats with no-one representing their interests while the logistics of the next round of voting are put in place. So it makes sense for there to be a caretaker government or MP’s holding the fort, so to speak.

Some have suggested that if NOTA has ‘won’ the election, the caretakers should be non-political and independent administrators, say civil servants, rather than rejected politicians from rejected political  parties. It’s a nice idea, but it raises serious questions: In all honesty, who is truly independent and non-political? And will voters accept people being in power, even temporarily, who no-one even voted for in the first place?

For this reason, we feel it makes much more sense to allow whoever has polled the most votes after NOTA to take office but strictly on a temporary, caretaker basis, for no more than 12 months, while the second round of voting is organised.

This will obviously not please everybody. But we feel it is the best compromise available once all considerations are taken into account. The caretaker, who would still have polled well, would have an opportunity to prove themselves worthy ahead of the second round of voting while their opponents would have a chance to regroup.

The important thing to remember is that all concerned would then surely be minded to address NOTA voters concerns and try to win them over in the meantime, or face further rejection at the ballot box.

This is democracy in action.

The knock on effect of this ought to be that more people not only become more engaged, but actually feel they have something worth voting for in the first place. The beauty of NOTA is that it is a check and balance whose very presence could eventually render it obsolete.

I hope this answers some questions. Feel free to ask more in the comments, I or someone else will try to answer them as best we can.

Jamie Stanley
NOTA UK
11/12/14




July 2013


 

Before bulgarian parliamant

Bulgaria is in political crisis for many months now. Under people’s pressure, right-wing Prime Minister B. Borisov had to resign, and anticipated parliamentary elections have been hold in May. However, bad habits remained and the parties’ coalition that is actually in power does not satisfy quite a large portion of Bulgarians. Since 14th of June, they organize every day protests in the heart of Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital city. As far, this movement is not manipulated by any political force or syndicate. The participants in these demonstrations are clearly pro-Bulgarian and pro-European: what they reject is the political elite incapable, or unwilling, to go beyond small plays and low level political calculations. Their claim is direct democracy, that people’s voice is heard, and applied, by the highest power structures. Despite its utopist character, this is the salutary reaction of a population which has enough from corrupt politicians and a ruling elite unable to elevate itself above intrigues and small party interests.

The protesters do not raise claims for the white ballot. However this electoral weapon could be useful in the short term, against professional politicians who know very well that time and erosion are the greatest enemy of such a spontaneous mobilization.

In general, journalists who, in their majority, are part of the political elite and against the white ballot – like recalling that very few countries recognize the white ballot. That is normal, given that in our democracies the parliamentary representatives are the only who can decide about elections: as far as the white ballot is not serving their immediate interests, they are opposed to its recognition. In the same time, they remain silent about recent evolutions in the issue of White ballot in other continents, and the raising interest for it in non-European countries. The increasing number of countries that see such spontaneous demonstrations does also participate in the global reinforcement of the white ballot.

* Resignation in bulgarian



Sir,

On September 16, 2009, the EU representatives have re-elected the president of the EU Commission. The fact that there was only one candidate for such a key position is not typical for a democracy. On the opposite, the latter thrives on the dialectics of contradiction and dialogue. The European Union, which is expected to be a guiding force in the democratic evolution of Europe, should not appear in such a posture. Some EU representatives could not share the vision and convictions the only candidate; the negative vote allowed them showing their disapproval. Others considered him as the right person for this position, and felt the Yes vote corresponding to their choice. But their might be a third category of people: those not convinced by the man and his ideas who, without necessarily rejecting him – and above all, people for whom the unique choice is a nonsense… Those people had nothing to express their opinion. They have chose abstention. This time, 117 EU representatives have abstained from voting, to compare to the 44, the highest level of abstention recorded in 2004. It seems that the white ballot does not exist in the society – still under construction- of an enlarged and United Europe.

The white ballot should have been a valid option. More, it should be considered as a real expression of voting intentions, equivalent to the Yes or No vote. The EU representatives are not common voters; being themselves elected, they have (or are supposed to have) a very high sense of responsibility. Why limit them to a binary vote? Is expressing subtlety in political opinions and choices contrary to the principles of the EU? Or, the EU political elites distrust to such a degree ‘the people’ that they limit the choice of its representatives? It would be more courageous, we suggest, leaving more freedom of choice.

Could you say, Sir, why the question of white ballot is missing from the political agenda of the European construction?

Please accept all my best regards.


The Right to Interfere Politically

 

All organizations for Human Rights are aimed at the defence of the rights of Mankind.

Our approach to Human Rights is characterized not only by the will to defend them, but also to extend the notion of Human Rights.

For us, Human Rights are a permanent conquest accompanying advancement in every domain of human activity: economy, science, industry, culture …Human rights are a dynamic process: not to go forward is to go backwards.

Our action is a philosophical one, since it rests upon the conviction that freedoms are not fixed once and for ever. It is based on the French Declaration of Human Rights as well as on the 1948 Universal Declaration of the United Nations. From now on, our duty is to continue the work in process and to achieve it, building upon all that has been acquired.

The Declarations of 1789 and 1948 define a social project in terms of freedom . This social project has to be firmly rooted.

Our goal is, by using the same method, to reach the next stage: defining a social project for the third millennium.

The new rights can be recognized only by national parliaments, the United Nations, or their regional organizations (the Council of Europe, the Organization of African Union, the O.E.A.) We do not deem it useful to impose a list of new rights. It would be more judicious to include an article that would guarantee to each active individual/ citizen that making use of such rights would move forward the evolution of our societies.

Our proposal is: “It is everyone’s right, and duty, to participate in the life and management or his or her own society. The latter must be committed to take into account each individual’s opinion”.