Cambridge Analytics’s social media campaign is credited by some IT professionals and psychologists for creating the anomalous election last year in which just enough people were surprise voters to tip the electoral college for Trump.  The people who describe the psychometric scoring of social media point out the areas in which it violates the ethics of the professionals in IT and psychology, two somewhat ethically challenged fields already.

Berit Anderson and Brett Horvath write for the new long-form online magazine, Scout.

Berit Anderson and Brett Horvath, Scout: The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine

Despite the AI label, the real innovation is applying personality psychology metrics to individual voters as disclosed through their social media advertising profiles and all those silly games that crowd in among the shared and retweeted content.

My recommendation for progressives is not to allow the normalization of this as and extension of the marketing communication of campaigns.  We are well through the looking-glass of politicians selecting their voters and winning through multiple unreconciled messages.

By leveraging automated emotional manipulation alongside swarms of bots, Facebook dark posts, A/B testing, and fake news networks, a company called Cambridge Analytica has activated an invisible machine that preys on the personalities of individual voters to create large shifts in public opinion. Many of these technologies have been used individually to some effect before, but together they make up a nearly impenetrable voter manipulation machine that is quickly becoming the new deciding factor in elections around the world.

Most recently, Analytica helped elect U.S. President Donald Trump, secured a win for the Brexit Leave campaign, and led Ted Cruz’s 2016 campaign surge, shepherding him from the back of the GOP primary pack to the front.

The company is owned and controlled by conservative and alt-right interests that are also deeply entwined in the Trump administration. The Mercer family is both a major owner of Cambridge Analytica and one of Trump’s biggest donors. Steve Bannon, in addition to acting as Trump’s Chief Strategist and a member of the White House Security Council, is a Cambridge Analytica board member. Until recently, Analytica’s CTO was the acting CTO at the Republican National Convention.

When winning takes the place of any principles at all, you have a lot of time to figure out how to manipulate voters into your column through nonconsensual means.

It makes one look on Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders with a sense of lost innocence.  Indeed, Packard’s whole corpus attains new relevance as we look back to when “America was great”. (From Wikipedia, “Vance Packard”)

1946 How to Pick a Mate – a guide co-authored with the head of the Penn State marriage counseling service
1950 Animal IQ – a popular paperback on animal intelligence
1957 The Hidden Persuaders – on the advertising industry
1959 The Status Seekers – describing American social stratification and behavior
1960 The Waste Makers – criticizes planned obsolescence describing the impact of American productivity, especially on the national character
1962 The Pyramid Climbers – describes the changing impact of American enterprise on managers, the structured lives of corporate executives and the conformity they need to advance in the hierarchy
1964 The Naked Society – on the threats to privacy posed by new technologies such as computerized filing, modern surveillance techniques and methods for influencing human behavior
1968 The Sexual Wilderness – on the sexual revolution of the 1960s and changes in male-female relationships
1972 A Nation of Strangers – about the attrition of communal structure through frequent geographical transfers of corporate executives
1977 The People Shapers – on the use of psychological & biological testing and experimentation to manipulate human behavior
1983 Our Endangered Children – discusses growing up in a changing world, warning that American preoccupation with money, power, status, and sex, ignored the needs of future generations
1989 The Ultra Rich: How Much Is Too Much? – examines the lives of thirty American multimillionaires and their extravagances.

Packard in these books was mostly reporting on recent social science research.  Packard would have been 103 this year.  A retrospective of his work would be interesting in the current situation as almost all of the players were born within his writing years and not doubt quite a few read him at some point or another.

I can see Steve Bannon reading The Hidden Persuaders and exclaming, “I wanna do this!”

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