Cast your minds back to before the big Facebook algorithm change in 2014. Before a new smart algorithm appeared, refreshing a Facebook newsfeed brought up a whole stack of new posts from friends appearing in chronological order. Or so it seemed.
Then there seemed to be a dramatic change? The news feed had become editorialized, as if social media was deciding what each person could see.
This is a new and emerging aspect of technology, which seem to be straight out of a science fiction novel, which we are now learning about because of a few brave people.
To be aware of what is going on is to not allow yourself to be controlled or dictated to by it.
Since the run up to the Presidential election in the United States, social media has been awash with press stories with a seemingly increased political bias. The source of these has now been revealed.
Today, it is possible to pull the various threads of isolated reports together to get a bigger story. Journalists essentially learn how to see through bias and seek truth through media in much the same way that a scientist is able to work with laboratory research findings.
How the Russians were involved
The Internet Research Agency was set up in Russia. In the wake of Trump’s election as president, reports of social media being flooded with Pro-Trump media stories have appeared in British and American newspapers.
The contract that Cambridge Analytica made with Trump’s campaign was to influence the vote by micro-targeting “persuadables”. These were people whose online behaviour suggested that their vote could be influenced by seeing various news stories. The paid advertising and other posts by disingenuous profiles that appeared in their Facebook news feed was to lead them towards voting for Donald Trump. On his campaign trail, Trump was presented as the candidate who could fix the problems this person that had been told were a threat to the American nation. Apparently, 70,000 swing voters in a few states caused the result.
The same tactic was used for the Leave campaign to persuade British voters to vote for Brexit. This result was won using a distortion of the truth, which left many voters a little dazed and confused after the results were announced.
There was a point made by Brittany Kaiser recently on Netflix’s documentary The Great Hack. Brittany started as an enthusiastic intern working for the Obama administration to initiate engagement between the voting public and the President. When Barack Obama was elected to his second term it seemed as if the White House followed everyone on Twitter.
Unpaid by both Obama and Clinton, Brittany then found work with Cambridge Analytica in 2014. Meanwhile, Facebook hosted a quiz, which gave users a chance to find out their personality type. This quiz mined data on millions of people.
Harvesting data was made possible with Facebook
Cambridge Analytica was a new type of communications company, made possible by new technologies such as social media. It would be considered incorrect for a company to turn down a client because it did not agree with their politics. Therefore, various nefarious agendas began to roll out over social media, targeting people whose behaviour patterns revealed that they could be influenced by media.
Cast your minds back to the United Kingdom in 1983. We had a general election, which was won by Margaret Thatcher. Political historians have now suggested that it was media that swung this election for Thatcher. At the time, unemployment was rising steeply and Thatcher was unpopular with the working classes and those on a lower income. However, with the advent of Breakfast Television and cosy chats on the talk show sofa, the public got to see the human side of politicians for the first time. This greatly influenced the vote.
If you look at Britain’s Registry of Ministers’ Interests, a pattern emerges. Start in 2005 with the Conservative Party leadership contest, won by David Cameron. This blog post sums it up: Cameron was funded by all sorts of private donors with money and other means to aid his campaign.
Beating Big Money
In contrast today, it was wonderful to see Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez’ victory in the 14th District of the Bronx in New York as portrayed in Knock Down the House on Netflix. This shows that grassroots campaigns can still beat big money.
The above story about Ocasia-Cortez reminds us why people working together can still triumph over big budgets.
It can appear to be very hard to keep confidence in doing what you think is right today. The media is used to discredit, call out or shame people through money passing hands in secret. However, a Dan Backer article in the Washington Examiner article on 21st February 2019 states:
Money is simply a tool used to disseminate ideas to the public.
There is much evidence to say it is not that simple at all. Money has been spent on manipulating people through their social media accounts. They have been influenced because they have not been given all the facts on a whole range of life issues that govern their lives.
The motives for writing this article are justice, fairness, equality, doing what feels right and to remind us of the magnificence of our humanity. The phrase “follow the money” can be applied to determine any ulterior motive for a story appearing in any form of media.
What has happened?
The following BBC article provides a timeline for micro-targeting through social media. In the United States of American, Mueller is investigating the effects of political manipulation and media influencing through the purchasing of data gleaned from millions of people via social media.
This political manipulation started, as the Guardian reports, with Ted Cruz’s campaign. Three years ago, the Guardian’s Harry Davies reported:
Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign is using psychological data based on research spanning tens of millions of Facebook users, harvested largely without their permission
American political campaigns have often played quite dirty. Digging up dirt and slinging mud at the opposition has been witnessed. However, never have people been manipulated to this degree to act against their true selves.
In conclusion, the whole scandal involving Facebook, Russia’s Internet Research Agency, Cambridge Analytica, British strategic communications firm SCL working for Nigel Farage’s Leave Campaign, Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign and other elections can be called a gross manipulation of voters. Evidential fact and truth have been lost in a sea of fake news. However, there is an upside. People such as Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez can still beat much richer opponents.
However, what we ought to be aware of and protect ourselves against is a military-style tactic of weaponizing communications and using social media campaigns to influence and manipulate people. Particularly, when this results in crime, hate and harming other people. The rise in gun culture in America could be the impact.
The manipulation of voters in your own country to achieve your political ambitions takes political bias to a whole new level. With print media bias, they are exposed to stories which favour one political leaning over another. One side gets more column inches than the other. One set of leaders appear in photographs more than the other. One side is asked for quotes or invited onto TV more than the other. One side is simply mentioned more than the other. This report by the London School of Economics demonstrates political bias in recent British politics and media.
However, with the more recent development, articles devoid of journalists’ standards of balance and objectivity, which convey predominantly right wing views have flooded social media. People in disagreement have circulated these stories to criticize them and people who agree have shared them widely amongst their networks.