Cambridge Analytica: Big Data and The Psychological Manipulation of Society – Information Warfare


Future elections in the United States will not be based on policy or the will of the people, rather future politics will be based on how well a populace can be manipulated by Big Data and Psychologists. Cambridge Analytica utilized millions of people’s personal, private data to manipulate the psychology of a single voter and replicated it to use on hundreds of millions of people.

In 2016, Bloomberg published a report on a company that had built a profile for every American adult, no, it’s not Facebook; rather it’s a three-year-old company called IDI. The company boasts a data-set for ninety-five percent of the American adult population.

Everything from the politicians you donate to, what you spend on groceries, and whether it’s weird that you ate in last night has been recorded in their datasets. That data is then used by marketers, analysts, and algorithms, built on artificial intelligence, to predict your behavior.

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“We just have so much data, and such a rich amount of data and we’ve gotten really good at predicting behavior we ended up predicting our final vote in Florida within 0.05% and we didn’t miss any state more than 0.5% and that data was used over 4 years, I appointed our data analytics director for the 2012 campaign on November 06, 2008. And they literally moved and started building these things because we wanted to reinvent it…”Jim Messina Former Campaign Manager for President Barack Obama, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff.

Data-driven campaigns are not a new phenomenon, rather Big Data has been around for several years now. However, the implementation of data-psychology into politics is rather new and extremely dangerous.

Over the Weekend, the Guardian published a bombshell report, detailing that the Trump Campaign, headed by Steve Bannon, utilized a company called Cambridge Analytica. CA, for short, allegedly stole the profile data of roughly fifty to sixty million American Facebook profiles. After which psychologists analyzed the data to craft a personal campaign for Donald Trump that was impactful to the individual voter.

Originally, both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica denied the accusations revealed by The Guardian and other Media Outlets. Going forward, the accusations have given lawmakers and Special Investigators reasons to believe there may be more to the story than what is currently public.

The Guardian, as detailed in the leak by Christopher Wylie, reported that Cambridge Analytica used applications that gave the developer access to their Facebook profile data. It goes further, Facebook granted organizations with the credentials access not only to their respective profile but the entirety of each individual friend of the target’s Facebook profile data as well. Furthermore, if one individual utilized an application, made by CA affiliates, and used their Facebook profile to log in, their entire network on Facebook was then released to the developer of that application.

Dig deeper, think Facebook is the only organization interested in our data? Think again, it’s time to introduce you to ‘The Enlightened Ones.’

According to The Guardian, many of the access points were through gaming applications, or those wonderful personality quizzes online.

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 center 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.

“There are agencies that fund research on behalf of the intelligence services. And they were all over this research. That one was nicknamed Operation KitKat.”

The defense and military establishment were the first to see the potential of the research. Boeing, a major US defense contractor, funded Kosinski’s Ph.D. and Darpa, the US government’s secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is cited in at least two academic papers supporting Kosinski’s work.

But when, in 2013, the first major paper was published, others saw this potential too, including Wylie. He had finished his degree and had started his Ph.D. in fashion forecasting, and was thinking about the Lib Dems. It is fair to say that he didn’t have a clue what he was walking into.

“I wanted to know why the Lib Dems sucked at winning elections when they used to run the country up to the end of the 19th century,” Wylie explains. “And I began looking at consumer and demographic data to see what united Lib Dem voters, because apart from bits of Wales and the Shetlands it’s weird, disparate regions. And what I found is there were no strong correlations. There was no signal in the data.

“And then I came across a paper about how personality traits could be a precursor to political behavior, and it suddenly made sense. Liberalism is correlated with high openness and low conscientiousness, and when you think of Lib Dems they’re absent-minded professors and hippies. They’re the early adopters… they’re highly open to new ideas. And it just clicked all of a sudden.”   — The Guardian (Reference In Works Cited)

What Christopher did by granting corporations access to millions of user profiles across the country is profoundly reprehensible, but what Steve Bannon did with what CA provided to him isn’t much better either.

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Cambridge Analytica is not the only company or organization involved in this massive ordeal, rather if we glance past the 2016 elections all the way back to roughly 2008, Big Data crafted Obama’s original campaign as well, the biggest impact of such utilization wasn’t until the 2012 elections when Mitt Romney and then-President Barack Obama were going head to head.

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Jim Messina reveals that Obama’s re-election campaign was also run largely on information, but it was unusual in that day for a Presidential Campaign to utilize data in this manner. Instead, as per the aforementioned video of Jim Messina, they utilized the same methodology that Cambridge Analytica used by accessing a users Facebook profile through logging into the application after being granted access. However, being that Facebook was early on, and data was early on, it is reasonable to consider that data-psychology, the same method used by the Trump administration, was originally utilized by Barack Obama.

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Data-driven warfare is the newest avenue for corporations and organizations to utilize to game the individual voter and or customer into purchasing their product or voting for their politician. Information warfare is not a new tactic, it’s just changed methods over the years. Regardless of your stance on this particular matter, the combination of psychology and Big Data spells the end of privacy for the individual citizen and details the value of your intellectual data.

Works Cited

Carole Cadwalladr. “‘I made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’: meet the data war whistleblower .” The Guardian. . (2018): . .

David Gauvey Herbert . “This Company Has Built a Profile on Every American Adult.” Bloomberg. . (2016): . .