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    • Cambridge Analytica, FaceBook And Inevitable Abuses That Inevitably Happen
      So, you’re probably aware of the furor over Cambridge Analytica. They scraped Facebook’s database, and used the psychological information to craft their campaign. They have also been caught on tape admitting they do dirty tricks like honey traps, and propaganda (knowing lies). And there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. First of all, it […]
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Cultural Learnings 2018

This is how history will remember us:

Mary Beard discusses enormous statues of Ramses II (but we know who she’s talking about):

Trevor Noah explains that Cambridge Analytica is not a Harry Potter spell that does your homework:

Pittsburgh’s The Incline checked Trump’s claim that Conor Lamb said “very nice things” about him while campaigning for PA 18.

The Incline checked with Lamb’s campaign and it said:

Weigel added, “What Lamb did instead, as you probably saw, was not mention the president and make the election more about the Republicans who run Congress.”

Barely a word about the president, which confirms the old adage that the worst thing you can do to your enemy is be indifferent and ignore him:

When asked about Trump directly, Godfrey wrote that Lamb offered this response: “We need the office of the presidency to succeed if we’re gonna make any progress on these issues. The number-one thing people talk about is wanting to get someone down there who’s actually gonna attack the problem, not attack the other side.”

Godfrey wrote that Lamb “never mentioned the president by name” in the course of their conversation.

It must be driving him crazy.


Facebook privacy misunderstandings.

I’ve been listening to the news on and off today and there seems to be some misdirection, intentionally or unintentionally, about why Facebook’s lax privacy policy is so important.

It’s not because any personal financial data has been exposed, unless you *like* to put that stuff in your profile. This is never explicitly stated but without the proper context, a typical Facebook grandma and her family may draw the wrong conclusion. It’s not identity theft.

No, what is at risk is your privacy from undue influence. The reason why your information is valuable to Cambridge Analytica, its spin offs and whoever else it sold that data to (and I’m fairly confident they’ve got clients who will pay a LOT of money for their secret sauce dataset) is because every record in that dataset is a target for which an individualized and unique message can be crafted to push the Facebook user to behave in a certain way. And Cambridge Analytica has been phenomenally effective at doing this. Intuitive con men, marketers and ad agencies have been doing this stuff for years but never with so much psychological data, insight or precision. Here’s Hillary Clinton’s clip from Channel 4’s Cambridge Analytica’s expose where she sums it up:

In other words, from the Facebook personality test and other information from your profile, Cambridge Analytica had a pretty good idea of what made you afraid, what made you uneasy, what made you angry. And they created ads specifically designed to elicit those emotional responses from you, lead you to their other sites where you would receive messages and conditioning that would persuade you very effectively to stop being politically correct, to think liberals were going to take away your guns and that Hillary Clinton was mishandling classified information. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m sure they got inside the inner corners of people’s heads and turned off their warning systems that would alert them to how dangerous and deceptive Donald Trump was.

As a canvasser, I was surprised at how many undecided middle aged women there were who were waiting for Hillary Clinton to be arrested over her email server. Those voters would have been her natural constituents in 2008. It was spooky. But elderly 70-90 year old guys on the same street would be some of her most enthusiastic supporters. It’s hard now to not see how Facebook’s open door policy and ad business model didn’t have an effect.

So people should not be panicking over whether their identities are about to be stolen. That’s not the part that’s scary. The part that’s worrisome is each Facebook user can be mobilized to carry out the desires of some unknown entity without realizing it’s happening.

The first thing we need to do is identify the right problem before we can even think about proposing a solution. Otherwise, hanging Mark Zuckerberg by his junk will give us only fleeting satisfaction.

Cambridge Analytica Tentacles and Facebook.

If you haven’t seen the most recent episode oh the Cambridge Analytica story from ITN Channel 4, well, prepare yourself. This is where we start to connect all of the pieces with the Trump campaign.

Now, some of you may be asking, have any other candidates used these kinds of methods before? And I would have to say that all campaigns use data driven marketing to reach their target voters. That’s what creates those soft focus upbeat Clinton ads, the Uber cool Obama “Si Se Puede” ads and Bernie’s “Look for America” ads. They analyze the groups they want to appeal to and then craft a message that appeals to that demographic.

The problem with Cambridge Analytica is that it took a crude personality profile and ran a giant survey on Facebook. We can disagree with how useful the personality profile was but if you have been following any of my posts on Steve Hassan’s BITE model, indoctrination and techniques to shape a person’s behavior have been around for a long time and there were a flurry of studies in the wake of WWII that sought to understand how whole populations could be persuaded to do the unthinkable. Bob Altemeyer also has written extensively about the mindset of the authoritarian follower. Fox News is a constant source of fear and anxiety to its lower to middle class older viewers. There’s a reason for that. Fear, uncertainty and dread (FUD) works.

So Cambridge Analytica got their profiles and then made sure that their targets got their message, designed specifically for that person, in Facebook, on TV, on flyers. They sprinkled it like mustard seeds all over the place where it was never expected and then sat back and watched as people dropped their pretenses about being nice to people in other groups, donned their MAGA hats, and started chanting “lock her up” about Crooked Hillary.

I think the campaign that first showed how effectively it could be done was Obama’s. Those of us who were thrown off DailyKos when the Obama bots took over saw it happen in real time. Obama’s campaign also used Facebook data though on a smaller scale, and no personality test. But they didn’t really need the test when they had a lot of left wing blogs where they could test their pitches to a Democratic and liberal focus group. When these memes popped up on DailyKos, they were all about Hillary the War Hawk, Hillary the DLC member, Hillary the corporatist or neoliberal. And from all of that followed a lot of nasty primary season shenanigans that pushed Hillary out of the race and deprived her out of the floor vote she had earned (don’t want it to look too close on TV. That would ruin the illusion).

I saw Michelle Goldberg shift uncomfortably in her seat when Chris Hayes brought it up last night on All In. Oh, that was different. Because it was Obama. Everybody loved him. Um, after his scorched earth primary tactics in 2008 that left the Clintonistas battered or forced to convert under duress, deliberately alienating us from our party if we didn’t denounce Hillary as a corporate shill, war loving, racist? No, not all of us loved him.

And it was. Cambridge Analytica was a much more targeted and effective operation and it converged with what the Russians did and the media stupidly amplified it because I’m sure that even THEY were targeted with messages about how calculating, cold, devious, non-transparent and bitchily ambitious Hillary was and there’s nothing journalists loathe and envy more than a woman getting so much attention. The news business is all about journalism’s celebrities and she wasn’t giving them proper respect. So they would show her.

But let’s not forget that Obama did it first. And while most of the country saw a sunny, optimistic, aspirational symbol of civil rights triumph, the Hillary supporters of 2008 were subjected to a barrage of name calling, accusations of racism and deliberate mischaracterization of us as toothless, stupid, post menopausal idiots. Unfuckable women and therefore, unnecessary to listen to. It continues to this day.

Yes, Trump was worse. Far, far worse. Bigger, unethical, probably illegal, collusive, conspiratorial and possibly treasonous. Facebook should be punished for its amoral pursuit of profit, probably to satisfy shareholders and meet quarterly earnings. There a topic for an entirely different series of blog posts.

And let’s not forget that on top of violating a consent decree dating back to 2011, Facebook may have also violated election law by charging Clinton much more for its soft focus ads. It did this because Cambridge Analytica was so effective at generating clicks from its emotionally charged targets that it quickly had enormous amounts of ad volume on Facebook and the price of those ads dropped. So they were able to buy much more advertising at a much lower price than Clinton did. If I were a Congressman, I’d be livid that my opponent could carry that out and cost me so much more in the upcoming election. It wouldn’t matter what party that candidate was from. And now we can get an idea of what Jeff Flake types were up against. Because a Trump affiliated opponent would most likely have the Facebook lists and could target the desired constituency with ease and with a lot less campaign cash.

That might be why some Republicans have chosen to retire or sit quaking in their boots, not daring to take on the president. ITN Channel 4 might have done us all a big favor by showing us exactly what they may be up against.

But let’s not forget that Obama’s pilot experiment went there first in 2008 and many, many Clintonista Democrats will never forgive or forget.

Tweet du Jour

Yes, that Jim Carrey

It looks a lot like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Ummm, I think it is. Anyone want to speculate on HER personality type?


FiveThirtyEight podcast speculates about what happens if Trump fires Mueller. Summary: it would be a big deal, moving some reluctant Trump voters to jump ship, and tanking his poll numbers. Republicans in Congress don’t want to protect him now but probably would if Trump fires Mueller (I think this is optimistic but, hey, they’re the data people). If Trump is going to do it, he’d better do it soon so that the fury will dissipate by November. It will probably be good for Democrats like Claire McCaskill who are running in redder states.

If he were going to do it, when would it happen? Best guess, after 6:00pm on Friday or on a Tuesday. If I were Trump, I’d do it on Friday this week because the #Marchforourlives March in Washington and cities around the country is happening this Saturday. It gives him cover to do what he wants and the fury over Mueller’s firing will be conflated with the fury over the NRA.

So, I invite you, oh best beloveds, to intellectually masturbate on Mueller’s firing. It seems like a ‘when’ and not ‘if’ scenario now.


Good stroll to work music. Try not to dance in the street:

How Cambridge Analytica manipulated the Trump voter.

Once upon a time in a career a long time ago, a computational chemist with an interest in informatics took a short course in data analysis from a company in NJ that had developed an application that made it easy to take a bunch of descriptors, a desired outcome and make predictions. The chemist had an interest in politics and an imagination that tended to act like a kid on chocolate frosted sugar bombs running around with a pair of scissors.

“This thing is really cool. But can it be used in elections? You know, to figure out how people will vote? And if you could do that, could you do some design of experiments to make people vote for one candidate over another?”, she asked, just musing aloud while her inner kid’s shoe laces untied themselves as the kid was picking up speed and careening around corners.

The data scientist looked at her horrified. “No, I don’t think it could be done.”, he said in his lilting Swedish accent. “Why would anyone want to do that??”

The chemist saw that he avoided her for the rest of the week. So she put the brakes on the inner kid and tried to concentrate.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Until Cambridge Analytica unleashed its own inner kid:

I’m sure they didn’t stop with manipulating users on Facebook. Once they had a personality profile, they probably figured, what the heck, let’s see how well it works on Fox News viewers. They seem like the fearful, closed, neurotic types.

(I’d just like to point out that Cambridge Analytica used psychometricians who were experts on personalities. So, if you didn’t think the person who voted for Trump would ever vote for Trump, maybe you don’t know that person as well as you thought. The internal wiring for that vote has been there all along.)

But wait! There’s more.

Remember the Steele Dossier? Christopher Steele was hired by a conservative group to do opposition research on Trump in Russia. Then after the primaries, the Clinton campaign paid to fund the same research. Steele was so disturbed by what he found, he contacted the FBI. And what did he find? He thought that the Russians had potentially blackmailable material on Trump.

Turns out that the FBI was already on the case.

And who might have set those politicians up for extortion? If you said, Cambridge Analytica, you are correct. This is how they do it:

And the rest is history.

This is going to be an interesting week. Mueller is getting closer to Trump, the BBC Channel 4 is opening the kimono on Cambridge Analytica, and the whole thing will climax on Sunday with the Stormy Daniels interview, pun intended.

MoveOn just texted me. Protests may be imminent. Text “ALERT” to 668366 to get notified.

Pass it on…



They mined you.

The Guardian has a long article about how Cambridge Analytica acquired data on Facebook users and then used it to help get Trump elected. I figured as much. If you took a personality test on Facebook, which millions of users did, 40% of you allowed Facebook to use that information in order to target ads to you. In 2016, Steve Bannon teamed up with Cambridge Analytica to change your mind about Trump. Here’s what Cambridge’s Christopher Wylie says Brannon’s philosophy and goal:

“[Bannon] got it immediately. He believes in the whole Andrew Breitbart doctrine that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture. And fashion trends are a useful proxy for that. Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically. So how do you get from people thinking ‘Ugh. Totally ugly’ to the moment when everyone is wearing them? That was the inflection point he was looking for.”

How do they do it? How did they target Facebook ads, and probably the whole Trump message directly to you, their targets? It’s all psychology and statistical analysis:

“at Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre, two psychologists, Michal Kosinski and David Stillwell, were experimenting with a way of studying personality – by quantifying it.

Starting in 2007, Stillwell, while a student, had devised various apps for Facebook, one of which, a personality quiz called myPersonality, had gone viral. Users were scored on “big five” personality traits – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism – and in exchange, 40% of them consented to give him access to their Facebook profiles. Suddenly, there was a way of measuring personality traits across the population and correlating scores against Facebook “likes” across millions of people.

The research was original, groundbreaking and had obvious possibilities. “They had a lot of approaches from the security services,” a member of the centre told me. “There was one called You Are What You Like and it was demonstrated to the intelligence services. And it showed these odd patterns; that, for example, people who liked ‘I hate Israel’ on Facebook also tended to like Nike shoes and KitKats.

So, if you are a Nike shoe buyer who likes KitKats, you probably didn’t get a pro-Israel message. On the other hand, if you were a mom who likes designer fashion and buys a status car, you probably got a lot of warm and fuzzy stories about Ivanka.

It was all very well designed to target you. I think the difference in what Cambridge did compared to what other political data and marketing companies did was that they were able to target people very specifically as well as all their Facebook friends. Most marketing companies go after just the neighborhoods or regions based on income etc. But who knows who will be scrutinized next? Maybe the info that you give Giant Eagle every time you buy a certain kind of apple or avoid the steaks can be used as well. That information is very important to people who want to influence you.

Well, at least Cambridge Analytica knew that Trump was an Ugg and they were going to have to push people to vote for him anyway. The question is, why were they trying to force this uniquely unfit man down our throats in order to ruin the country? Was it in service of Brannon’s chaos theory or was it in order to help the Russians? Or are we seeing a convergence of two efforts to get Trump elected that just happened to be reinforcing and synergistic?

Put that into your PLS model and spit out some principle components.

Happy Paddy’s Day.

Don’t think I forgot. I’m watching a live performance of Corned Beef and Curry and drinking more Guinness than is good for me


They just played this song. Scottish not Irish, still one of my favorites: