While some journalists fret foolishly about truth and facts, there is another war being waged, using big data, artificial intelligence and social media manipulation. With some success, it must be said. It might be worthwhile putting down your smartphone for 15 minutes to read this story.
And if you haven’t read “Dark Money”, now would be a good time to catch up on big money, and its chilling hard-right agenda, which pops up regularly in speeches by the US’s current president.
And here’s one front in this effort, thanks to the Guardian.
On its website, Cambridge Analytica makes the astonishing boast that it has psychological profiles based on 5,000 separate pieces of data on 220 million American voters – its USP is to use this data to understand people’s deepest emotions and then target them accordingly. The system, according to Albright, amounted to a “propaganda machine”. . .
Facebook was the key to the entire campaign, Wigmore explained. A Facebook ‘like’, he said, was their most “potent weapon”. “Because using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert. And you knew there would also be other people in their network who liked what they liked, so you could spread. And then you follow them. The computer never stops learning and it never stops monitoring.” . . .
But then there’s increasing evidence that our public arenas – the social media sites where we post our holiday snaps or make comments about the news – are a new battlefield where international geopolitics is playing out in real time. It’s a new age of propaganda. But whose? This week, Russia announced the formation of a new branch of the military: “information warfare troops”.
Sam Woolley of the Oxford Internet Institute’s computational propaganda institute tells me that one third of all traffic on Twitter before the EU referendum was automated “bots” – accounts that are programmed to look like people, to act like people, and to change the conversation, to make topics trend. And they were all for Leave. Before the US election, they were five-to-one in favour of Trump – many of them Russian. Last week they have been in action in the Stoke byelection – Russian bots, organised by who? – attacking Paul Nuttall. . . .
“Politics is war,” said Steve Bannon last year in the Wall Street Journal. And increasingly this looks to be true. . . .
Many of the techniques were refined in Russia, [Oxford Internet Institute’s Unit for Computational Propaganda… director, Phil Howard] says, and then exported everywhere else. “You have these incredible propaganda tools developed in an authoritarian regime moving into a free market economy with a complete regulatory vacuum. What you get is a firestorm.”