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31.3.18

We Don't Get Fooled Again


Everyone is jumping on the Bash SCL/Cambridge Analytica bandwagon, and especially those whose agenda is to paint the conservative/nationalist movement as being somehow evil and nefarious.
The video linked above is slick and subtle. It first casts the process of demographic analysis as a black art, with ominous background music and an astounded tone. It then goes on to talk only about the Trump and Brexit campaigns, as if these were the only organizations that used such tools.
Now, I'm not saying that SCL/CA and the techniques of mass market manipulation (MMM) aren't evil and nefarious, but they are by no means limited to Trump and Brexit. In fact, they are just the latest iteration of the study and science of Marketing/PR pioneered by Edward Bernays at the beginning of the 20th century. In other words, SCL/CA may have invented better tools for MMM, but the basic formulae and tenets they use are a century old, and more if you include Sigmund Freud (Bernay's uncle).
The idea of polling people voluntarily, using seemingly innocuous questions, and then applying matrices to cross-reference the responses to build a psychological profile have been the mainstay of MMM for decades. These types of analyses have shown up in women's magazines and online since at least the 1950s.
People are offered the perceived benefit of getting to know themselves better, and thus freely hand over all kinds of data about themselves to complete strangers, who then plug the answers into mathematical formulae and derive a complex profile of the individual. The film Blade Runner opens with a scene of an interviewer applying a psychological profile to one of the characters, and that film was released in 1982. The infamous LBJ Daisy ad, released in 1964, used the same techniques and led to the candidate being swept into office.
Every single public figure, organization, political party, corporation, and movement has used these exact same techniques to manipulate mass audiences since before anyone reading this was born. In fact, advertising was created to advance future sales into the present by manipulating the viewer by pursuading him/her that a product is vital and/or bestows status on the owner. Listen to Bill Moyers interviewing Edward Bernays several decades ago, and see if you don't hear the exact same thing that the "documentary" at the top of this article says, and from the mouth of the man who invented it.
What is import to keep in mind as we hear SCL/CA lambasted over the next few weeks is that it is an effort to taint Donald Trump. It is a sophisticated attempt to target an issue that crosses party and political divides. This is not to say that Trump or Brexit are good or bad, but they did garner the majority of votes. In other words, Bernays' techniques were used to win those elections, and are now being used to taint them. It is amazing to watch this if you are aware of what is being done to the mass audience.
In other words, digital privacy is an issue that crosses political affiliations. SCL/CA, and by extension Facebook, is a convenient whipping boy around which the political left is building a narrative that appeals to both sides of the spectrum. Once a sufficient mass indignation and panic has been achieved, the political left will offer themselves as the solution to this problem, even though they are as much to blame as anyone else.
The problem here is not SCL/CA, it is the entire MMM industry itself. Consumers are so woefully ignorant of how these things function that they fall prey to them repeatedly and are never even aware of it. This is not a left/right, globalist/nationist, nor racist/diversity issue. It is one that pervades every single aspect of modern life. We are ALL targets from ALL directions using the same time-tested tools and techniques that have worked so well for the past 100 years. Cambridge Analytica is just one single organization in a vast sea of similar companies, all offering the same "benefit" of manipulating mass markets, and each with their signature matrices and algorithms.
If universities stopped devoting so much class time to gender and racial diversity studies, and more time to the PR/MMM industry and its methods, we would all be much better off - at least less likely to fall for these manipulations.
But then, students would suddenly realize how they've been manipulated and the entire advertising and PR industry would collapse and governments would lose the ability to steer entire populations.
Can't have that, can we?

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