Cambridge Analytica as the Matrix: Information Dominance and the Next Level of Fake News

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The 1999 film “The Matrix,” written by Lana Wachowski (formerly Laurence “Larry” Wachowski and Lilly Wachowski (formerly Andrew Paul “Andy” Wachowski), depicts a future in which human beings have been imprisoned by machines in capsules that siphon off their heat and energy and which create the illusion of everyday life to fool them into thinking they are at liberty.

The film falls into the genre of cyberpunk, begun by Canadian author William Gibson with his “Neuromancer” in 1984, and ironically enough written on a mechanical typewriter.

The genre recognizes that cyberspace is a form of consciousness, and that conflict in that realm takes the shape of struggles to influence perceptions of reality.

“The Matrix” appears inadvertently to have predicted the rise of the data mining firm, Cambridge Analytica, founded by white nationalist billionaire Robert Mercer (a perfect Bond villain) and for a while having as its vice president the neo-Fascist pooh-bah Steve Bannon (who went on to chair the Trump campaign and to serve as White House chief strategist, and who has expressed admiration for Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini–whose army killed or wounded 300,000 US and British troops).

Although much of the current brouhaha over CA has to do with its predatory use of the predatory Facebook, the big scandal should be that mainstream US politicians were willing to hire a firm founded by people with a very smelly ideology that reeks of Mein Kampf.

Cambridge Analytica staffers have been caught on tape admitting to using dirty tricks to discredit rival politicians, including providing them with “Ukrainian girls” or offering them bribes and videotaping the response. The company has been employed by political campaigns in dozens of countries around the world.

Those techniques aren’t new.

What’s new is that the firm used techniques like a Facebook app (invented by a Russian scientist) that offered psychologically to profile you and which scooped up all your friends’ information as well, creating a database of 50 million individuals.

That data told CA whether a person was a liberal or a conservative, an extravert or an introvert, and allowed a relatively thick profile to be created.

The firm then used the characteristics of the internet, according to AP, where one click leads to another click, to surround individuals with a false reality.

The Matrix.

The way this works is that say you know that someone is an unemployed auto worker and you make up phony internet placards misrepresenting Bill and Hillary Clinton as anti-labor.

And you set it up so that once the person clicks on one such piece of propaganda, they are presented with several more links of the same ilk. And then so are all their Facebook friends. So you create a Matrix world in which auto workers should give Trump a chance because the Democratic Establishment has failed them (which, even if the second part of this proposition is true, is a non sequitur). And you set it up so that that is what people in Detroit and Flint and Ypsilanti are talking about with one another, on line and off line, what they are liking on Facebook, what they are sharing on their timeline.

And then Trump wins Michigan.

AP notes that Chris Wylie, a Cambridge Analytica co-founder, told NBC, “This is based on an idea called ‘informational dominance,’ which is the idea that if you can capture every channel of information around a person and then inject content around them, you can change their perception of what’s actually happening.” He called it “fake news to the next level.”

The Matrix.


Bonus video:

Channel 4 News: “Cambridge Analytica Uncovered: Secret filming reveals election tricks”

11 Responses

  1. Cambridge Analytica’s pawprints were all over the campaign to take the UK out of the European Union – another political catastrophe

  2. While “camanal” may be the whitehouse of info, the www remains the pablum for people; What was once info-sharing has become an advertising and commercial goldmine.
    50million/7billion is about fear mongering and consumer attraction.
    The only defence is mindfulness.

  3. Scarily insightful. More like ‘Divide & Conquer’ taken to the next level. Is any semblance of participatory democracy any longer possible?

    • Democracy relies on rules that can be hacked. And once the hacking is known, everyone will be trying to do it. You can’t get the genie back in the bottle.

      The story of the hacking of Athenian direct democracy by demagoguery and factionalism was well indoctrinated into 20 centuries’ worth of Western intellectuals, a good way to keep them from getting any ideas. But finally they started to develop a new set of rules around representative democracy. Now the tragedy has happened again. Either we all stand by for 20 centuries again while an inherited oligarchy regains official control, or we move on to the next experiment. The Zapatistas and the Kurdish militias in Syria are working on a more consensual democracy that appear to have an antidote to factionalism by having many different bodies dealing with different issues that mix together different groupings of people.

  4. In truth, all social media has become a matrix, and some people were talking about this years back. Online literacy, and overall education particularly about researching, questioning assumptions, conclusions and critical thinking such as recognizing fallacy from fact (simple casual wikipedia reading on what type of arguments and ideologies exist goes a long way), really is important. I really should credit university courses for recognizing some pitfalls.

    But to tell you the truth, looking at some of the well produced photoshopped propaganda that ran in the States, I could have also been conned by one or two of them which could have swayed my biases. Hate and lies travel far. Not surprised this issue is worse elsewhere, like places like Burma, India, Pakistan, be it facebook, whatsapp, twitter, etc. Now the real fear of fake videos, called ‘deepfakes’, looms.

    Usually come here for part of my red pill diet…unfortunately now a termed hi-jacked by brainwashed misogynists’ and conspiracy theorists part of the extremist alt-right.

  5. I appreciate the internet and never would have discovered some profound and influential thinkers without it, such as Prof. Cole. However, as President Trump might say, there is plenty of blame to go around, “on many sides, on many sides.” Maybe the first wave of users were blind to the danger, but no one can claim ignorance today. I’d rather have my organs harvested than sign up for Facebook. Online personality tests? I didn’t even realize until today that was the genesis of the plot. Actually, I can now narrow down the list of people to blame to only include those who filled out an online personality profile.

    • The ONLY blame to be assigned belongs solely to those perpetrators who endeavor to STEAL personal information sufficient to make a profile from which individuals can be exploited in significant ways for profit and/or influence.

      Blaming the victims is bad form.

  6. “And you set it up so that once the person clicks on one such piece of propaganda, they are presented with several more links of the same ilk.”

    That’s sort of an inexact description. As it reads to me, it means facebook had to collaborate to bump the otherwise default shares the individual would have wound up with in the next minute or in the next 24 hrs. Whenever they wound up in the person’s newsfeed, were they all consecutive or was there some kind of randomizing algorithm to camouflage outright tampering with the previous algorithm, or what?

    Maybe a representative from “Stand Up for America” would like to chime in here, and clear their source from C.A. shenanigans?

    • studies have shown that social media algorithms favored political extremes over time and herded people toward Alex Jones.

  7. Thanks. That seems true AFAICS with youtube too. If for instance you start off with a D.R. Griffin youtube [on A.N. Whitehead [I’m not into trutherism]] and let it go a few hrs, you can wind up with Jones or someone like him.

    Re facebook, I picture something like a nudge dial. AIPAC buys a big bunch of advertising and says, “If we buy this, you must nudge everyones’ algorithms to allow shares-copisetic-with-our-doctrines, AND that they will push a strict/verbatim interpretation [of our doctrines] X distance.” Or OTOH, the other weirder picture I have, is that AIPAC or CA would be telling facebook which users to turn the dial on. So, in that case it wouldn’t be facebook running facebook, but outside plutocrats?

    Or do they just go in there and hack facebook?

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