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”.
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 were results of an organic movement to ‘take back control’ from the establishment as they are routinely portrayed. They were largely bought about by cynical, calculating, undemocratic mass manipulation of the general public via targetted psychological online 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.
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.
Introducing 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:
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.
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 was, until recently, also on the board of the company. It is now reportedly being lined up to handle all of the Trump administration’s digital communications, meaning it will be working closely with many departments across government. A detailed and extremely worrying analysis of what all this means for the future can be found here.
UPDATE: 27/02/17 – When I originally posted and shared this blog, many people instantly dismissed it as a ‘conspiracy theory’. Understandable, perhaps, as you’d think something like this would be headline news. Well, it’s not quite there yet, but elements of the mainstream media are finally reporting it. This excellent investigative piece appeared in The Observer on 25/02/17, confirming the story and revealing even more details.