— Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) March 19, 2018
If accurate, this is a very good question from the journalist who broke the Cambridge Analytica story. It follows an announcement by the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, that she intends to search CA’s offices for evidence:
The UK’s Information Commissioner is to apply to court for a warrant to search the offices of London-based political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica.
The company is accused of using the personal data of 50 million Facebook members to influence the US presidential election in 2016.
Its executives have also been filmed by Channel 4 News suggesting it could use honey traps and potentially bribery to discredit politicians.
The company denies any wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been summoned to give evidence about the company’s links to Cambridge Analytica to a UK parliamentary committee.
Damian Collins MP, who is leading the committee’s inquiry into fake news, accused Facebook of giving answers “misleading to the committee” at a previous hearing which asked whether information had been taken without users’ consent.
The announcement might as well have been a warning to both companies – Cambridge Analytica and Facebook: “Get rid of anything incriminating before we turn up.”
For balance, This Writer should make it clear that Cambridge Analytica denies any wrongdoing:
We strongly deny the claims recently made by the New York Times, the Guardian and Channel 4 News. Read our latest press release: https://t.co/G8cnv5G8oc
— Cambridge Analytica (@CamAnalytica) March 19, 2018
But then there’s this, from Channel 4 News reporter Krishnan Guru-Murthy:
The "claims" broadcast tonight are THEIR claims. As recorded by undercover investigators. Not #c4news claims, just Cambridge Analytica bosses, talking about themselves and what they have done and could do. https://t.co/Rs1eOk6HIS
— Krishnan Guru-Murthy (@krishgm) March 19, 2018
The announcement has been criticised, particularly by Labour MP David Lammy, for precisely the reasons I mention above:
Why did Information Commissioner tell the world that she is going to court and seeking a warrant to search Cambridge Analytica's office? Giving CA and Facebook a warning to delete files, servers and evidence? https://t.co/yB56H2Wuzw
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) March 20, 2018
Outrageous. And we are supposed to believe that they won’t be deleting files and clearing servers that implicate them? We owe a debt of gratitude to these journalists who have taken on these powerful transnational empires that act with such impunity and disregard. https://t.co/Z4UY2KAocW
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) March 19, 2018
Facebook reckons it was carrying out its own investigation into why information farmed from the platform was misused. Apparently its people left the Cambridge Analytica offices on the orders of the Information Commissioner. Mischief managed?
Ms Denham is investigating the company over claims it influenced the US presidential election in 2016. There is also an aspect to this that affects the UK, though:
Look forward to hearing how Cambridge Analytica influenced the Brexit vote & British elections….🍿
— Dr Lauren Gavaghan (@DancingTheMind) March 20, 2018
Yes indeed – especially as it seems the Conservative Party has also been in talks with the company about ways to subvert democracy here:
The Tories in it up to their necks yet again.
— Bevan Boy (@mac123_m) March 20, 2018
Meetings have taken place, it seems:
Cambridge Analytica. The story unravels. Elections influenced in the US, Kenya and recently meetings in London between Steve Bannon & Jacob Rees-Mogg & Farage to talk strategy.
No wonder Gavin Williamson is telling Russia to “go away and shut up”
Trump tactics are popular. https://t.co/fn0B3ncRu4
— Dr Lauren Gavaghan (@DancingTheMind) March 20, 2018
Sue Jones explains why governments would want to employ a company like Cambridge Analytica in her in-depth article here:
Within the neoliberal framework, it seems that anything which may be commodified and marketised is, including our behaviours, cognitive habits, perceptions, and decisions. If companies like Cambridge Analytica could mine and sell our souls, they would do so in much they same way they did their own collective conscience.
Cambridge Analytica is just the tip of a very dirty, subterranean iceberg. It’s worth keeping in mind that without paying clients, among which are governments, antidemocratic companies like this would not thrive.
Most of these companies use ‘behavioural science’ strategies (a euphemism for psychological warfare) to do so. It’s a dark world where governments pay to be advised not to talk about “capitalism,” but instead talk about “economic freedom” or the “free market”. Austerity is simply translated into “balancing the budget” or “living within our means”. The political coercion of sick and disabled people to look for work by cutting their lifeline support is “helping to move them closer to employment”. Propaganda and deception is “strategic communications” and “PR”. Coercion is “behavioural science”. The democratic opposition are described as “virtue signallers”, “snowflakes”, “marxists, “militants” and “the hard left.”
Do you recognise any of those lines? I do.
Ms Jones continues:
The fact that governments are paying – using taxpayers’ money – to attempt to manipulate the electorate – regardless of whether or not the methodologies used actually work – speaks volumes about government intentions, their lack of transparency, their disregard of citizens’ agency, their disdain for human rights, lack of respect for civil liberties and utter contempt for anything remotely resembling democratic accountability.
How does Cambridge Analytica work? Here’s some evidence from whistleblower Christopher Wylie:
Wylie says Cambridge Analytica had tested Trump campaign slogans since 2014: "I was surprised when I saw the Trump campaign and it started, you know, talking about building walls or draining the swamp. And I’m remembering in my head, wait, we tested this." https://t.co/3u8JNn3DlO pic.twitter.com/7ftRpIiivI
— CNN (@CNN) March 20, 2018
Further revelations were made in a Channel 4 News report yesterday (March 20):
The company at the centre of the Facebook data breach boasted of using honey traps, fake news campaigns and operations with ex-spies to swing election campaigns around the world, a new investigation reveals.
Executives from Cambridge Analytica spoke to undercover reporters from Channel 4 News about the dark arts used by the company to help clients, which included entrapping rival candidates in fake bribery stings and hiring prostitutes to seduce them.
In one exchange, the company chief executive, Alexander Nix, is recorded telling reporters: “It sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don’t necessarily need to be true as long as they’re believed.”
After the report was aired, Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix was suspended:
What about Facebook, the platform from which Cambridge Analytica harvested so much information? Here’s what shares in that company have been doing:
Gobsmacking. And a bit terrifying.
Facebook stock now $50 billion down…"more than the market valuations of Ford, eBay or Delta." pic.twitter.com/FWFFzZ88i5
— Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) March 20, 2018
And Facebook creator Steve Zuckerberg is being summoned to Parliament to give evidence (although whether he turns up seems in question. There’s currently a hashtag called “#WheresZuck”).
— Mirror Politics (@MirrorPolitics) March 20, 2018
Some commentators have drawn rather premature conclusions:
I agree. There's a socially responsible #SocialNetwork waiting to be born. Would be @BlueOceanStrtgy principles at work @WIRED @CNET #CSR #TheAntiFacebook @SharkTankABC @ariannahuff @Janefonda @LilyTomlin @DollyParton @RoddenberryFdn @larrynemecek @astroengine
— SteveBrant (@SteveBrant) March 20, 2018
And there’s even a campaign to get people to #DeleteFacebook from their computers. Tom Clark of Another Angry Voice has written an article pointing out why this would be monumentally silly:
Deleting Facebook rather than using it as a platform to fight back against the Tories is a spectacularly poor idea.
— Another Angry Voice (@Angry_Voice) March 20, 2018
Of course Facebook has some very serious problems, including the alleged misuse of Facebook data to create psychological warfare tools to rig elections, their hosting of disgusting terrorism-inspiring extreme-right hate chambers like Britain First for years, their continued promotion of fake news, and their willingness to allow political parties and campaigns to spread outright lies through targeted dark ads.
I’m clearly not denying Facebook has serious problems, but to focus on all of the problems and refuse to recognise that Facebook was the scene of a massive left-wing victory during the 2017 General Election is wilful myopia.
After decades of hard-right neoliberalism completely dominating the means of communication, suddenly Facebook provided a voice to people to express an alternative.
Analysis by The Guardian found that every single one of the 30 most viral political stories on Facebook during GE2017 was pro-Corbyn, anti-Tory, or both.
My own analysis demonstrated that a small rag-tag bunch of left-wing political bloggers completely annihilated the Tories and the mainstream press for Facebook virality during the final week of the GE2017 campaign.
This Site’s own experience bears out Mr Clark’s analysis. Hits on Vox Political articles took a significant leap upwards in the run-up to the election.
Mr Clark continued:
Nobody who is on Facebook to keep in touch with their friends and family is going to delete it over a load of Cambridge Analytica scandals they probably don’t even understand that well.
The right obviously won’t care a jot that a dodgy company allegedly misused Facebook data to deliver Britain to a the Brextremists and the White House to Trump, so it’s going to be predominantly lefties and liberals who go along with this #DeleteFacebook campaign.
So the only people who are going to strop off Facebook are politically active people on the left.
What could actually be a worse idea than left-wing people abandoning the largest and most effective social media platform of all, and leaving it to the Tories and the extreme-right?
Facebook’s troubles have already prompted questions about involvement by the mainstream media moguls:
In 3 years we’ll find that Murdoch & Dacre forced govt to cut a deal & bust Cambridge Analytica – to get Facebook off the map & re-exert control of the media.
After all, even despite the Conservative dark ads & paid for FB likes, they only scraped through with DUP#DeleteFacebook
— Dr Lauren Gavaghan (@DancingTheMind) March 20, 2018
Essential to investigate and deal with any subverting of democracy by the tech giants and outfits like #CambridgeAnalytica
But let’s not forget those old-style subverters of democracy, Murdoch, Dacre and co. We need #Leveson2
— Tom London (@TomLondon6) March 20, 2018
And what about the fact that Cambridge Analytica is only a small part of a larger conglomerate which – well, I’ll let Liam O’Hare list the damning evidence:
He’s written an article about it, in which he states:
SCL Group says on its website that it provides “data, analytics and strategy to governments and military organizations worldwide.”
The organisation boasts that it has conducted “behavioral change programs” in over 60 countries and its clients have included the British Ministry of Defence, the US State Department and NATO.
A freedom of information request from August 2016, shows that the MOD has twice bought services from Strategic Communication Laboratories in recent years.
In 2010/11, the MOD paid £40,000 to SCL for the “provision of external training”. Meanwhile, in 2014/2015, it paid SCL £150,000 for the “procurement of target audience analysis”.
In addition, SCL also carries a secret clearance as a ‘list X’ contractor for the MOD. A List X site is a commercial site on British soil that is approved to hold UK government information marked as ‘confidential’ and above. Essentially, SCL got the green light to hold British government secrets on its premises.
International deception and meddling is the name of the game for SCL. We finally have the most concrete evidence yet of shadowy actors using dirty tricks in order to rig elections. But these characters aren’t operating from Moscow intelligence bunkers.
Instead, they are British, Eton educated, headquartered in the city of London and have close ties to Her Majesty’s government.
Do you feel safe?
If not, perhaps you can take solace from Harry Leslie Smith’s comment. He reckons this scandal is just part of the usual bread-and-circuses for the masses, and will be superceded by something different in the very near future:
— John Smith (son of Harry Leslie Smith) (@Harryslaststand) March 20, 2018
Are we really that shallow?