Tag: Facebook

Tory racism is embedded in policy and clearly evident in Tory social media groups

racism

A Conservative councillor has been suspended by the Conservative Party after a Facebook group he moderates was found to contain several Islamophobic and racist comments.

Martyn York, a Conservative councillor in Wellingborough, was a moderator for “Boris Johnson: Supporters’ Group”, which included  members whose comments called for the bombing of mosques around the UK. Dorinda Bailey, a former Conservative council candidate, has also been accused of supporting Islamophobia with her comments following a post in the group calling for mosques to be bombed.

Furthermore, the group, which has 4,800 members, can only be joined after receiving approval from moderators, and its guidelines explicitly call on members not to post hate speech. 

Comments in the group, however, seriously violate these rules, with several referring to Muslims as “ragheads” and calling immigrants “cockroaches”.

In one comment, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is called a “conniving little muzrat”, and Muslim Labour MP Naz Shah is also targeted with abuse and told to “p*** off to [her] own country”.

Someone posted in the group that any mosques “found to preach hate” should be shut down, another group member responded: “Bomb the f****** lot.” 

Bailey responded, without a trace of irony: “I agree, but any chance you could edit your comment please. No swearing policy.”

There were also comments in the group telling an African solider to “p*** off back to Africa” and for Labour MP Fiona Onasanya to be “put on a banana boat back home”.

After the offensive posts were brought to his attention, Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis confirmed York’s suspension and said Bailey was no longer a member of the party.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, said this was further evidence of a “significant problem”.

“A Facebook group led by Conservative politicians containing unashamed bigotry has made it completely apparent that there is a significant problem with racism and Islamophobia within the party of government,” a spokesperson for the MCB said.

“Polls revealing that half of all Conservative voters in 2017 believe Islam to be a threat to the British way of life have shown how widespread this sentiment is. We reiterate our call for the government to launch an inquiry into Islamophobia and lead by example by committing to tackle bigotry everywhere, not just where it’s politically convenient.”

There government were happy enough to ensure an inquiry into the allegations of antisemitism in the Labour party, and ‘inappropriate’ posts on social media took place. However, the conclusions of the Home Office Committee contradicted the claims being made on the right and among the neoliberal centrists, about the Labour party.

Nonetheless, the claims have continued, indicating a degree of underpinning political expedience and media misdirection.commons-select-committee-antisemitism

That is not to say there is no antisemitism at all among Labour party members, and where allegations arise, those MUST be addressed. However, it does indicate that political and media claims that the party is ‘institutionally antisemitic’ are completely unfounded. 

It is also absolutely reasonable to point this out. 

Unlawful and discriminatory Conservative policy

Meanwhile the Conservatives have continued to embed their prejudices and racism in  discriminatory policies. For example, in 2014 Theresa May was the Home Secretary who introduced the disgraceful Hostile Environment legislation that ultimately led to the Windrush scandal.  On March 1st 2019 a central mechanism of that legislation was ruled unlawful by the High Court because of the way it has unleashed a wave of racism, and because it was found to violate the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Judge Martin Spencer found the policy caused landlords to discriminate against both black and ethnic minority British people and foreign UK residents.

He also ruled that rolling out the scheme in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland without further evaluation would be “irrational” and breach equality laws.

“The evidence, when taken together, strongly showed not only that landlords are discriminating against potential tenants on grounds of nationality and ethnicity but also that they are doing so because of the scheme,” Mr Justice Spencer told the court on Friday.

He added “It is my view that the scheme introduced by the government does not merely provide the occasion or opportunity for private landlords to discriminate, but causes them to do so where otherwise they would not.”

The changes that came into force in 2016 required private landlords to check the immigration status of potential tenants, or face unlimited fines or even prison for renting to undocumented migrants, coercing landlords into becoming agents of the state, effectively.

Judge Martin Spencer said: “The government cannot wash its hands of responsibility for the discrimination which is taking place by asserting that such discrimination is carried out by landlords acting contrary to the intention of the scheme.”

He also said he had found that Right to Rent had “little or no effect” on controlling immigration and that the Home Office had “not come close” to justifying it.

The legal challenge was launched by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) and Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which called Right to Rent a “key plank of Theresa May’s hostile environment” policy.

Chai Patel, JCWI legal policy director, said: “Now that the High Court has confirmed that Ms May’s policy actively causes discrimination, parliament must act immediately to scrap it.

“But we all know that this sort of discrimination, caused by making private individuals into border guards, affects almost every aspect of public life – it has crept into our banks, hospitals, and schools. Today’s judgment only reveals the tip of the iceberg and demonstrates why the Hostile Environment must be dismantled.” 

John Stewart, policy manager for the RLA, called the ruling a “damning critique of a flagship government policy”. 

He added : “We have warned all along that turning landlords into untrained and unwilling border police would lead to the exact form of discrimination the court has found.” 

Rather than accept the High Court’s findings, a Home Office spokesperson has said that an independent mystery shopping exercise found “no evidence of systemic discrimination”.

“We are disappointed with the judgement and we have been granted permission to appeal, which reflects the important points of law that were considered in the case. In the meantime, we are giving careful consideration to the judge’s comments,” he added.

I have written at length about the prejudiced, discriminatory and unlawful policies that the Conservatives have directed at ill and disabled people over the last few years. I also submitted evidence to the United Nations on this matter. However, the UN’s findings of “grave and systematic violations” of disabled peoples’ human rights, and the examples of structural violence inflicted on our politically marginalised community currently fails to get the media attention that mere allegations of antisemitism within the Labour party attracts.

People are suffering harm and psychological distress, and increasingly, some are dying, as a direct consequence of oppressive, cruel, illegal and dangerously authoritarian Conservative policies, while shamefully, much of the media prefers to look the other way.

That is, where the state directs them to ‘look’. 

If you’ve ever wondered how some societies have permitted conscious cruelty to flourish, to the point where entire groups are targeted with oppressive and discriminatory policies resulting in distress, harm and death, I have to tell you that it’s pretty much like this.

Allport's ladder

 


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Facebook fined a mere £500,000 for lack of transparency and failing to protect users’ information

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Facebook has been been fined for the massive data leak to Cambridge Analytica, which broke the law. I can almost hear the echoing laughter around Silicon Valley from my house.

The fine is for two breaches of the Data Protection Act. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) concluded that Facebook failed to safeguard its users’ information and that it failed to be transparent about how that data was harvested by others. Facebook breached its own rules and failed to make sure that Cambridge Analytica had deleted the harvested personal data.

Elizabeth Denham, the information commissioner, said “Facebook has failed to provide the kind of protections they are required to under the Data Protection Act. Fines and prosecutions punish the bad actors, but my real goal is to effect change and restore trust and confidence in our democratic system.”

Kyle Taylor, director of campaigning group Fair Vote UK said “Under new GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) laws, the ICO could fine Facebook £479m.

Unfortunately, because they had to follow old data protection laws, they were only able to fine them the maximum of £500,000. This is unacceptable,” he said.

Denham said “this is not all about fines,” adding that companies were also worried about their reputation.

She said the impact of behavioural advertising, when it came to elections, was “significant” and called for a code of practice to “fix the system”.

The fine was issued along with scathing report from the ICO, which issued the maximum fine allowable under old data protection laws – £500,000. The social network was accused of failing to protect user data and failing to be transparent about how it shared information with third parties.

The ICO investigation also highlighted the extent to which political parties were using personal data sold on by data brokers without consent. It was announced that the ICO is expanding its 14-month investigation into data and politics, which has centred on the Facebook data leak, into whether Arron Banks, a major donor to the campaign for the UK to leave the EU, improperly gave pro-Brexit groups data about voters obtained for insurance purposes.

The ICO is also investigating whether Banks’ Eldon Insurance Limited’s call-centre staff used customer databases to make calls on behalf of Leave.EU. The official Remain campaign, Britain Stronger In Europe, is also being investigated over how it collected and shared personal information.

The ICO opened its inquiry in May 2017 “to explore practices deployed during the UK’s EU referendum campaign but potentially also in other campaigns”. Elizabeth Denham,  said the ICO had been “astounded” by the amount of personal data in the possession of Britain’s political parties. (See The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign, which details the many subterranean companies that the government employed during the run-up to last year’s general election. I sent the ICO a copy).

It’s understood that the ICO sent warning letters to 11 political parties and notices compelling them to agree audits of data protection practices, and started a criminal prosecution against SCL Elections – parent company of Cambridge Analytica, after accusing the company of failing to deal properly with a data request.

SCL Elections declared bankruptcy in May, two months after the Observer reported that 50m Facebook profiles had been obtained. Denham said the ICO was examining whether the company’s directors could be still be pursued now that SCL Elections had been placed into administration.

The investigation also found that Aggregate IQ, a Canadian electoral services company, had “significant links” to Cambridge Analytica, Denham said, and “may still retain” data about UK voters; the ICO has filed an enforcement notice against the company to stop processing that data.

Facebook had sought to draw a line under the data privacy scandal after revelations that it allowed data from up to 87m US voters to be harvested and then passed to Cambridge Analytica, a company employed in the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

Denham said: “We think they broke the principle of fair processing; we think it was unfair processing. Data controllers are supposed to have reasonable safeguards in place to process data and we felt they were deficient in that and in their response on questions and follow up about the data leak.”

“Most of us have some understanding of the behavioural targeting that commercial entities have used for quite some time. To sell us holidays, to sell us trainers, to be able to target us and follow us around the web.

“But very few people have an awareness of how they can be micro-targeted, persuaded or nudged in a democratic campaign, in an election or a referendum.

“This is a time when people are sitting up and saying ‘we need a pause here, and we need to be sure we are comfortable with the way personal data is used in our democratic process’.”

He said: “This cannot by left to a secret internal investigation at Facebook.

“If other developers broke the law we have a right to know, and the users whose data may have been compromised in this way should be informed.”

“We were significantly concerned around the nature of the data that the political parties had access to,” said Steve Wood, the deputy information commissioner, “and we followed the trail to look at the different data brokers who were supplying the political parties.

Responding to the ICO report, Christopher Wylie said: “Months ago, I reported Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to the UK authorities.

“Based on that evidence, Facebook is today being issued with the maximum fine allowed under British law.

“Cambridge Analytica, including possibly its directors, will be criminally prosecuted.”

The ICO intends to carry out an audit of the University of Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre. The department carries out its own research into social media profiles. The ICO said it had been told of an alleged security breach involving one of the centre’s apps and had additional concerns about its data protection efforts.

The watchdog also calls for the government to introduce a code of practice limiting how personal information can be used by political campaigns before the next general election.

They will also make an effort to ensure ex-staff from SCL Elections and Cambridge Analytica do not illegally use materials obtained from the business before its collapse

The ICO said it is expected that the next stage of its investigation to be complete by the end of October.

The problem of data mining and psychographic profiling far exceed the revelations about the wrong doings of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Psychological manipulation of citizens by both corporate entities and governments is now the norm. 

The moment that we accept that it is legitimate for governments to ‘influence citizen decision-making’ and impose a ‘behavioural change’ agenda on a non-suspecting, non-consenting public, it becomes a slippery slope from there into a cesspit of private vested interests, one-party states, corporatocracy, tyranny and ultimately, to totalitarian forms of governance.

The Cambridge Analytica/Facebook scandal is the first ‘case study’. It’s a symptom of a much more fundamental problem. Mass surveillance, data profiling and behavioural modification strategies are embedded in the corporate sector and are now being used in a way that challenges the political canon of liberal democratic societies, where citizens are traditionally defined by principles of self-determination.

The political integrity and the future of democratic sovereignty has been seriously undermined because of the fundamental erosion of citizens’ right to self determination.  Power imbalances are being created, recreated and amplified via the non-transparency of corporate and political practices, aimed at surveillance, data collection, psychological profiling and psychologically tailored messages, aimed at manipulating citizens’ perceptions, decision-making and behaviours, which serves to ultimately profoundly limit the choices available to them.

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Related

The government hired several murky companies plying the same methods as Cambridge Analytica in their election campaign

 


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The revelations about Cambridge Analytica indicate clearly that western governments are subverting democracy

Image result for PR companies manipulation

I wrote an article about Cambridge Analytica, the commodification of voter decision making and the marketisation of democracy, along with previous articles about western government strategies for subverting democracy. I have also extensively criticised governments’ use of ‘behavioural economics, and the authoritarian neuroliberal turn more generally. 

Within the neoliberal framework, it seems that anything which may be commodified and marketised is, including our consummer preferences, Facebook likes, behaviours, emotions, subconscious inclinations, 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.

The CEO of Cambridge Analytica has been suspended, Alexander Nix, has been suspended. However, Nix is a symptom of a problem, rather than being the problem itself. 

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 and profit. The extensive Public Relations (PR) and ‘strategic communications’ industry, along with the ‘behavioural economics’ technocrats, are all working on sustaining power relations and extending corporate and right wing political interests. 

The hidden persuaders behind the Conservative government

During last year’s general election, the government used a number of companies that bear a lot of similarity to Cambridge Analytic during their election campaign.

textor

From the Crosby Textor Group site

The government used data from Experian (paid £683,636.34),
Reed Consultancy (paid £178,558.03),
G
oogle Analytics  (paid £1,020,232.17),
Facebook 
(paid £3,177,416.68),

Twitter was paid £56,504.32, to “research, canvass and advertise” their party ‘brand’. And £76,800 was spent advertising through Express Newspapers.

Another company that the Conservatives used for their campaign, paying them £120,000 for market research and canvassing, is OutraJim Messina is the executive director, and the team includes Lynton Crosby.

outra.png

However, Crosby Textor (listed as CTF) also earned £4,037,400 for market research/canvassing.

The Messina Group Inc were also paid £544,153.57 for transport, advertising, market research and canvassing. This company uses data analytics and ‘intelligence’ services. The company conducts “Targeted Ads Programs [….] ensuring precise targeting via Facebook, geo-targeting, zipcodes, IP addresses, and other tactics”.

Crosby and Messina made staggering amounts of money from the Conservative’s election campaign, using three separate, listed companies between them.

The company also says:

MGI.png

Apparently, the Messina Group are in a strategic partnership’ with Outra, “serving as one of Outra’s primary advisors on data, analytics, and ‘customer engagement’.”

(See also: World leaders across 5 continents trust TMG with the highest stakes in politics.)

British electoral law forbids co-ordination between different campaign groups, which must all comply with strict spending limits. If they plan tactics or co-ordinate together, the organisations must share a cap on spending.

Combobulate Limited, which is listed as a management consultancy, earned £43,200 for research/canvassing and for ‘unsolicited material to electors’.

The director is listed as Nicholas Jack Walton Mason, also listed as the director of Uplifting DataMason is also listed as Director of Mason Investment Consultants Limited, which was dissolved via compulsory strike-off . However, I couldn’t find an information site for Combobulate, the only site I found bizarrely took me here. I can’t find any other website.

combob

Another similar company, An Abundance Limited, which is listed as a ‘behaviour change’ agency, were paid £2,400 for market research and canvassing by the Conservatives in the run-up to the election. 

Populus Data Solutions, who say they provide “state of the art data capture”, were paid £196,452 for research/canvasing and ‘unsolicited material to electors’. This company have also developed the use of biometrics – facial coding in particular.

St Ives management services (SIMS) were paid £3,556,030.91, for research/canvasing, ‘unsolicited material to electors’, advertising, overheads and general administration, media and rallies, and manifesto material.

sims

Edmonds Elder Ltda digital consultancy, were paid £156,240.00 for advertising. The site  says the company also provides services in vague sounding ‘government affairs’ “We use cutting-edge digital techniques to help government affairs teams make the case for their policy and regulatory positions – harnessing support from communities across the country to ensure a positive outcome.”   

Craig Elder is also the Conservative party’s digital director. Tom Edmonds was the Conservative party’s ‘creative director’ between 2013 and 2015.

Hines Digital  who is a partner of Edmonds Elder Ltd, is a conservative digital agency that builds strong brands, huge email lists, and big league fundraising revenue for our clients, helping conservative campaigns & causes, and companies, achieve their goals.”

It says on the site that “Hines worked with conservative campaigns & causes in fifteen U.S. states and nine countries.” The company designed the ‘digital infrastructure’ of Theresa May’s leadership campaign launch in 2016, they built her website (but aren’t listed in election expenses.) Hines says: 

That timely initial website launch proved invaluable. Approximately 35% of her overall email list signed up on that first day, a significant shot in the arm on Day One made possible because her team — led in part by our partners at Edmonds Elder—was prepared to capitalize on the day’s earned media through effective online organizing.

Overall, the initial holding page saw a 18% conversion rate on day one — meaning nearly 1/5 people who visited the website signed up to join the campaign. That’s a fantastic response to a site optimized for supporter recruitment.”

eldre

And“We are experts at identifying people online – and targeting them to drive the activity your organisation needs.”

With political adverts that are targeted and ‘dark’, which aren’t fact checked as only the person targeted gets to see them. 

Walker Media Limited are a digital marketing and media company, they facilitate Facebook adverts and campaigns, among other services. They were paid £798,610.21 from the Conservatives’ election campaign. One of their other social media marketing campaigns listed on their site is for “The Outdoor and Hunting Industry”.

Simon Davis serves as the Chief Executive Officer at Walker Media Holdings Limited and Blue 449. Davis served as Managing Director of Walker Media at M&C Saatchi plc, a global PR and advertising company, who have worked for the Conservatives before, designing campaign posters and anti-Labour adverts – including the controversial ‘New Labour, New Danger’ one in particular.

There are a few subsidaries of this company which include “harnessing data to find, engage and convert customers efficiently through digital media.” M&C Saatchi acquired the online media ‘intelligence agency’ Human Digital, whose “innovative approach marries rich behavioural insight with robust metrics.”

Under the 1998 Data Protection Act, it can be illegal to process ‘sensitive’ data – a category that includes ‘political opinions’ – without explicit consent from the individuals concerned, though consent is only one of a number of conditions under which sensitive personal data may be legally processed. Despite numerous attempts to contact Conservative HQ last week, the party refused to say if they used any data, modelling or insight gathered during either the election or the referendum campaigns.

There is a whole submerged world of actors making huge profits from data mining and analytics, ‘targeted audience segmentation’, behaviour change techniques, ‘strategic communications and political lobbying. Much of the PR industry is built upon the same territory of interests: financial profit, maintaining power relations and supporting the vested interests of the privileged class. The subterranean operations of the surveillance and persuasion industry and citizen manipulation has become the establishment’s normative tool of authoritarian control, and it is hidden in plain view.

Blue Telecoms were paid £375,882.56 for ‘unsolicited material to electors’ and ‘advertising’. It says on their site that Blue Telecoms is a trading name for Direct Market Solutions Ltd. The company director is Sascha Lopez , a businessman who stood as a local council candidate for the Tories in the 2017 local elections. He is also an active director of the Lopez Group, although that company’s accounts are very overdue, there is an active proposal to strike off on the government’s Companies House page. If directors are late in filing their company accounts, and don’t reply to warnings from Companies House, their company can be struck-off the Companies House register and therefore cease to exist. Other companies he was active in have been liquidated (3) and dissolved (2).

A Channel Four investigation uncovered underhand and potentially unlawful practices at the centre, in calls made on behalf of the Conservative Party. These allegations include:

● Paid canvassing on behalf of Conservative election candidates – illegal under election law.

● Political cold calling to prohibited numbers

● Misleading calls claiming to be from an “independent market research company” which does not appear to exist

The Conservative Party have admitted it had commissioned Blue Telecoms to carry out “market research and direct marketing calls” during the campaign, but insisted the calls were legal.

The government is attempting to align citizen perceptions, decisions and behaviours with the desired outcomes of the government, turning democracy on its head

The internet has rapidly become an environment in which citizens and populations are being sorted, profiled, typed, categorised, ranked and “managed”, based on data mining  mass surveillance and psycho-profiling.

It was only a matter of time before the powerful tools of digital tracking and corporate surveillance, including techniques designed for  manipulating opinions and behaviours, shifted from the realm of PR, product and service marketing to politics and voter targeting. The markets for personal data have always been markets for behavioural control also. And markets of behavioural control are composed of those who sell opportunities to influence behaviour for profit and those who purchase such opportunities.  

Daily Mail article showing that Theresa May wanted to work with Cambridge Analytica back in 2016

Profit-seeking private PR companies are paid to brand, market, engineer a following, build trust and credibility and generally sell the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organisation (such as a business, government agency, the media) and the public.

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 discuss “economic freedom” , “business friendly policies” 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 “equality and social justice” or “helping to move them closer to employment”. Propaganda and deception is “strategic communications” and “PR”. Psychological coercion is “behavioural science”. The democratic opposition are described as “virtue signallers”, “snowflakes”, “marxists”, “militants” and “the hard left.” 

Chris Wylie on Cambridge Analytica, microsurveilance, information weapons and the politics of psychological warfare.

PR is concerned with selling products, persons, governments and policies, corporations, and other institutions. In addition to marketing products, PR has been variously used to attract investments, influence legislation, raise companies’ public profiles, put a positive spin on policies, disasters, undermine citizens campaigns, gain public support for conducting warfare and to change the public perception of repressive regimes.

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The revolving door of mutually exclusive political and corporate favour operates by keeping up the spin.

The company at the centre of the Facebook data breach has boasted of using honey traps, fake news campaigns and operations with ex-spies to swing election campaigns around the world, the recent Channel 4 investigation has revealed. 

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 filmed 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.”

The excellent Channel 4 News investigation, broadcast on Monday, despite threats of legal action from the company, comes two days after the Observer reported that Cambridge Analytica had unauthorised access to tens of millions of Facebook profiles in one of the social media company’s biggest data breaches. 

Nix detailed the deception, glorified propaganda techniques, entrapment and other dirty tricks that the company would be prepared to pull for money behind the scenes to help its clients. When the Channel 4 reporter asked if Cambridge Analytica could offer investigations into the damaging secrets of rivals, Nix said it worked with former spies from Britain and Israel to look for political dirt. He also volunteered that his team were ready to go further than an ‘investigation’. 

“Oh, we do a lot more than that,” Nix said. Deep digging is interesting, but you know equally effective can be just to go and speak to the incumbents and to offer them a deal that’s too good to be true and make sure that that’s video recorded.

“You know these sort of tactics are very effective, instantly having video evidence of corruption.”

Nix suggested one possible scenario, in which the managing director of Cambridge Analytica’s political division, Mark Turnbull, would pose as a wealthy developer looking to exchange campaign finance for land. “I’m a master of disguise,” Turnbull said.

Another option, Nix suggested, would be to create a sex scandal. “Send some girls around to the candidate’s house, we have lots of history of things,” he told the reporter. “We could bring some Ukrainians in on holiday with us, you know what I’m saying.

Facebook’s own little investigation

Facebook in CA s office

Facebook seems to have missed its opportunity to get a handle on the Cambridge Analytica scandal, having been told to stay out of its offices by the UK Information Commissioners Office.

Digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg was hired by Facebook yesterday “to conduct a comprehensive audit of Cambridge Analytica,” according to a Facebook announcement. Apparently the private company at the centre of the scandal was happy to give Facebook full access to its servers and systems but the UK Information Commissioners Office (ICO), which is ‘sponsored by the governmental department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, apparently had other ideas.

On 7 March, my office issued a Demand for Access to records and data in the hands of Cambridge Analytica,” said Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

Cambridge Analytica has not responded by the deadline provided; therefore, we are seeking a warrant to obtain information and access to systems and evidence related to our investigation.

On 19 March, Facebook announced that it will stand down its search of Cambridge Analytica’s premises at our request. Such a search would potentially compromise a regulatory investigation.”

It’s not known how long Facebook, via its proxies, had access to Cambridge A’nalytica‘s files and how much investigating it managed to do, but being kicked out by the ICO is presumably a major inconvenience.

The Information Commissioner, Denham, has criticised Cambridge Analytica for being “uncooperative” with her investigation, and she confirmed that the watchdog will apply for a warrant to examine the company’s activities.

Someone is currently editing the information about Cambridge Analytica on  Wikipedia: re-writing history

CA editing wiki

The Conservative election guru Lynton Crosby had his staff engage in an ‘edit-war’ to delete details of his links with the tobacco industry and his election strategies from Wikipedia. Channel 4 News investigation found that substantial sections were removed from the Wikipedia page of Lynton Crosby, an Australian political strategist, by staff at the Crosby Textor consultancy firm that he co-founded. On 15 July 2013, accounts linked to Crosby Textor staff deleted multiple times sections on the controversy when the Conservative party dropped its policy for plain cigarette packaging. 

In 2015, Wikipedia also blocked a user account on suspicions that it was being used by the Conservative party chairman, Grant Shapps, “or someone acting on his behalf” to edit his own page along with the entries of Conservative rivals and political opponents.

The online encyclopedia, where pages are edited and created by readers, had tracked the changes made by a user calledContribsxthought to be a sock puppet who had systematically removed embarrassing references on Shapps’ Wikipedia page about the Tory chairman’s business activities as Michael Green, the self-styled millionaire web marketer.

wayback machine

Screenshot from The Wayback Machine – an initiative of the Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, building a digital library of Internet sites and other cultural artifacts in digital form. Other projects include Open Library and archive-it.org.

A sharp-eyed friend, Hubert Huzzah, has spotted that there are currently lots of edits and re-writes on the Cambridge Analytica entry page on Wikipedia. Curiously, it is also possible to trace a Wikipedia edit in a linked reference being deleted on another website. It seems that in editing Wikipedia someone (or a group), is somehow then using what they have edited to take down the information “in the wild”.

It appears that the availability of the information is being removed more generally elsewhere on other sites.

What seems evident is that someone has gone through the links in the Wikipedia article and removed them from the Wikipedia article. It’s possible to simply cut and paste the link into a browser and go to the original. But quite a number of the originals now do not exist. Or they exist with different content.

Here is a snapshot of the Wikipedia entry from 3 January, 2018.

This is one taken on 19 March 2018 (one of five)

And another today (one of ten)It’s reasonable to expect the page to be updated, but you can see from some of the edits that this is rather more that a simple updating of information. 

It’s something of a Winston Smith moment…

The bottom line

It is fundamentally wrong for private companies and authoritarian governments to use alter public information, use personal information, data mining, psychological profiling, targeted ‘strategic communications’ (a euphemism for propaganda) , ‘behavioural science’, ‘social science insights’ and military grade psyops – in short, deception – in order to manipulate citizens’ decision-making, perceptions and behaviours in order to profit and maintain their power.

All of this has profound and dark implications for democracy, or at least what is left of it. Totalitarians throughout history have sought to change the perceptions, decisions and behaviours of populations. These are the intentions and actions of tyrants.

Governments in so-called democratic nations are assumed to seek to be elected or remain in office on the basis of the preferences of voters, their accountable policies and their capacity for public representation – based on those meritocratic principles that they preach to everyone else.

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.

The Channel 4 News exposé  of Cambridge Analytica

 


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Cambridge Analytica, the commodification of voter decision making and marketisation of democracy

CA data

“We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of profiles. And built models to exploit that and target their inner demons”. Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower, Christopher Wylie.

Neuroliberalism 

It’s been a longstanding major area of concern, of course, that neurotechnologies and ‘behavioural change’ techniques may be used to redirect citizen decision making without their explicit permission. After all, neuromarketing – the idea that the brain, behaviours, emotions and preferences can reveal hidden and profitable truths – is founded on the development of strategies of persuasion in order to profit.

This doesn’t just raise ethical concerns in the market place, since neuromarketing strategies are being used in wider contexts, such as in shaping political narratives and communications, election campaigning, policy making and within the media. The motive for employing these techniques is nonetheless about gaining a profit, if not financially, then certainly in terms of advantage and power. 

I have criticised behavioural economics extensively and frquently on previous occasions, for precisely the same reasons. Since 2010, it has somehow become acceptable for governments to exercise an influence on the decision-making and behaviours of citizens. Libertarian paternalism, under the guise of ‘behavioural science’, has normalised a manipulative, authoritarian approach for state micro-management of the perceptions, decisions and behaviours of populations. However, being a political doctrine itself, libertarian paternalism is not value-neutral or ‘objective’.   

Behavioural economics is a flagrant political misuse of psychology, a form of manipulation without the publics’ knowledge and consent. This of course has profound implications for democracy, as the state is ‘acting upon’ citizens in ways that they won’t recognise to change their behaviours and to manipulate their decision-making. In fact the government’s use of behavioural economics turns democracy completely on its head.

It’s accepted uncritically that people can pay companies and organisations to change people’s minds and persuade them to change their decisions and behaviours, be it simply aimed politically at individuals’ perceived ‘faulty’ decision-making, allegedly involved in their circumstances of poverty, claiming welfare support, or voting for a party that hasn’t paid a PR company to manipulate your voting decision.

Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, (co-author of “Nudge” and one of the founders of behavioural economics), wrote a controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-independent advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.

Sunstein also proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as false and damaging “conspiracy theories” about the government. Ironically, the very same Sunstein was  named by Obama to serve as a member of the NSA review panel created by the White House, one that – while disputing key NSA claims – proceeded to propose many cosmetic reforms to the agency’s powers (most of which were ignored by the President who appointed them).

Back in 2014, GCHQ documents released from the Edward Snowden archive by Glenn Greenwald, were the first to prove that a major western government is using some of the most controversial techniques to disseminate deception online and harm the reputations of targets. The ultimate aim, of course, is to shape public perceptions, decisions and behaviours.

Under the tactics they use, the state is deliberately spreading lies and misinformation on the internet about whichever individuals it targets, including the use of what GCHQ itself calls “false flag operations” and emails to people’s families and friends. The Snowden archive outlines how western intelligence agencies are attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction.

Who would possibly trust a government to exercise these powers at all, let alone do so in secret, with virtually no oversight, and outside of any cognizable legal framework?

Then there is, as I’ve discussed, the political misuse of psychology and other social sciences to not only understand, but shape and control, how online activism and discourse unfolds.

Glenn Greenwald’s published document on the Intercept touts the work of GCHQ’s “Human Science Operations Cell,” devoted to “online human intelligence” and “strategic influence and disruption.” Under the title “Online Covert Action”, the document details a variety of means to engage in “influence and info ops” as well as “disruption and computer net attack,” while dissecting how human beings can be manipulated using “leaders,” “trust,” “obedience” and “compliance”.

It’s not such a big inferential leap to conclude that governments are attempting to manage legitimate criticism and opposition while stage-managing our democracy.

I don’t differentiate a great deal between the behavioural insights team at the heart of the Conservative cabinet office, and the dark world of PR and  ‘big data’ and ‘strategic communications’ companies like Cambridge Analytica. The political misuse of psychology has been disguised as some kind of technocratic “fix” for a failing neoliberal paradigm, and paraded as neutral “science”. 

However, its role as an authoritarian prop for an ideological imposition on the population has always been apparent to some of us, because the bottom line is that it is all about influencing people’s perceptions and decisions, using psychological warfare strategies

The Conservatives’ behaviour change agenda is designed to align citizen’s perceptions and behaviours with neoliberal ideology and the interests of the state. However, in democratic societies, governments are traditionally elected to reflect and meet public needs. The use of “behaviour change” policy involves the state acting upon individuals, and instructing them how they must be.

Last year, I wrote a detailed article about some of these issues, including discussion of Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in data mining and the political ‘dark’ advertising that is only seen by its intended recipients. This is a much greater cause for concern than “fake news” in the spread of misinformation, because it is invisible to everyone but the person being targeted. This means that the individually tailored messages are not open to public scrutiny, nor are they fact checked.

A further problem is that no-one is monitoring the impact of the tailored messages and the potential to cause harm to individuals. The dark adverts are designed to exploit people’s psychological vulnerabilities, using personality profiling, which is controversial in itself. Intentionally generating and manipulating fear and anxiety to influence political outcomes isn’t a new thing. Despots have been using fear and slightly less subtle types of citizen “behaviour change” programmes for a long time. 

About Cambridge Analytica: political psyops approach verified by a whistleblower

Controversy has arisen concerning Cambridge Analytica‘s use of personal information acquired by an external researcher, who claimed to be collecting it for “academic purposes”. The use of personal data collected without knowledge or permission to establish sophisticated models of user’s personalities raises ethical and privacy issues.

In a somewhat late response, Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica from advertising on its platform. The Guardian has further reported that Facebook had known about this security breach for two years, but did nothing to protect its millions of users.

It is well-known that Cambridge Analytica (CA) collects data on voters using sources such as demographics, consumer activity and internet activity, among other public and private sources. It has been reported that the company is using psychological data derived from millions of Facebook users, largely without users’ permission or knowledge. In short, the company operates using political voter surveillance and strategies of psychological manipulation.

The data analytics firm is a private company that offers services to businesses and political parties who want to “change audience behaviour”. CA combines data mining and data analysis with ‘strategic communication’ for the electoral process. It was created in 2013 as an offshoot of its British parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories Group, to participate in US politics. 

The company claims to use “data enhancement and audience segmentation techniques” providing  “psychographic analysis” for a “deeper knowledge of the target audience”. The company is known to use the ‘big five’ OCEAN scale of personality traits, among other methods of psychographic profiling. 

The company also claims to use “behavioural microtargeting” and indicates that it can predict ‘needs’ of subjects and how these needs may change over time. Services then can be individually targeted for the benefit of its clients from the political arena, governments, and companies providing “a better and more actionable view of their key audiences.”

CA, who worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the Brexit campaign, has harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in one of the technological giant’s biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to psychologically profile, predict and influence citizens’ voting choices. The managing director of CA’s controversial political division is Mark Turnbull, who spent 18 years at the communications firm Bell Pottinger before joining Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL), which is a British ‘behavioural science’ company.

The SCL Group, that once advised Nato on so-called ‘psy-ops’, is a private British behavioural research and strategic communication company. The company describes itself as “global election management agency”.  SCL’s approach to propaganda is based upon a methodology developed by the associated Behavioural Dynamics Institute (BDI). 

Nigel Oakes founded the latter and also set up SCL and using the new methodology from BDI, ran election campaigns and national  communications campaigns for a broad variety of international governments.

BDI say: “The goal of the BDI is to establish Behavioural Dynamics as a discipline for the study of group behaviour change.”

There isn’t much information around about BDI’s connection with military operations, though links with NATO are well-established – see Countering propaganda: NATO spearheads use of behavioural change science, for example. From the article: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

SCL on the other hand, has a clearly defined defence and military division who: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

SCL has different ‘verticals’ in politics, military and commercial operations. All of those operations are based on the same methodology (Target Audience Analysis) and, as far as can be discerned from the outside, SCL and affiliates have very obscure corporate structures with confusing ownership.

In the United States, SCL has gained public recognition mainly though its affiliated corporation Cambridge Analytica. It was created in 2013 as an offshoot of its British parent company (the SCL Group,) to participate in US politics. In 2014, CA was involved in 44 US political races.

Their site says: Cambridge Analytica uses data to change audience behavior.” 

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of political will or respect on the right when it comes to the publics’ privacy, autonomy in decision making, citizens’ agency and civil liberties.   

The current controversy

Working with a whistleblower and ex-employee of Cambridge Analytica, the Observer and Guardian have seen documents and gathered eyewitness reports that lift the lid on the data analytics company that helped Donald Trump to victory. The company is currently being investigated on both sides of the Atlantic.

It is a key subject in two inquiries in the UK – by the Electoral Commission, into the company’s possible role in the EU referendum and the Information Commissioner’s Office, into data analytics for political purposes – and one in the US, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Trump-Russia collusion.

Previous articles by Carole Cadwalladr in the Observer and Guardian newspapers, respectively published in February and May 2017, speculated in detail that CA had influenced both the Brexit/Vote Leave option in the UK’s 2016 EU membership referendum and Trump’s 2016 US presidential campaign with Robert Mercer’s backing of Donald Trump being key. They also discuss the legality of using the social data farmed. CA says it is pursuing legal action over the claims made in Cadwalladr’s articles.

The whistleblower, Chris Wylie, claims that the 50 million mostly American, profiles were harvested in one of Facebook’s biggest data breaches has caused outrage on both sides of the Atlantic, with lawmakers in both the UK and America, and a state attorney general calling for greater accountability and regulation. The profiles were harvested by a UK-based academic, Aleksandre Kogan, and his company, Global Science Research (GSR).

Wylie said the personal information mined was used to build a system to influence voters. The Canadian, who previously worked for Cambridge Analyticahas lifted the lid on this and other practices at the company, which he describes as a “full-service propaganda machine”.

Shortly before the story broke, Facebook’s external lawyers warned the Observer that it was making “false and defamatory” allegations and reserved Facebook’s legal position. Facebook denies the harvesting of tens of millions of profiles by CA, working with Cambridge academic Aleksandr Kogan and his firm GSR, was a data breach. 

While Facebook insists that it wasn’t a data breach, claiming it was a violation by a third party app that abused user data, this responsibility offloading speaks volumes about Facebook’s approach to its users’ privacy.  

Private companies benefit from a lack of transparency over how profits are made from our personal data. Their priority seems to be to silo and hoard our data, prioritising its more commercial uses. Yet we need to think about data differently, moving away from ideas of data as a commodity to be bought and sold, and used to generate profit for a few people – be it financial or political profit.

The internet, and later the World Wide Web, was originally intended to be a democratising force, accessible to all and without walls or ownership. But the reality today is rather different. The inequalities in wealth and power inherent in neoliberalism have seeped online, marketising and commodifying our personal details, choices, views, dispositions, likes and dislikes.  

Personal data has become the driving force of the online economy, yet the economic and social value which can be generated from data is not remotely fairly distributed. In fact it isn’t being redistributed at all.

Facebook shoot the messenger

Facebook have also suspended the whistleblower Chris Wylie from the platform “pending further information” over misuse of data, along with his former employer, CA and its affiliates, and the academic they worked with, Aleksandr Kogan.

The public attack on Wylie came after he had approached Facebook about the data breach, offering to help investigate. He described it as a “chilling attack” on someone acting in the public interest.

“They acknowledged my offer but then turned around and shot the messenger. I’m trying to make amends for my mistakes and so should Facebook,” he told the Guardian.

“Facebook has known about this for at least two years and did almost nothing to fix it. This is not new. And it’s only by coming forward that Facebook is now taking action. People need to know this kind of profiling is happening.”

Kogan assembled the harvested information through an app on the site – it collected details of American citizens who were paid to take a personality test, but also gathered data on those people’s Facebook friends.

Kogan apparently had a deal to share this information with CA. But according to Wylie, most of this personal information had been taken without authorisation. He said Cambridge Analytica used it to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.

Last month, both Facebook and CA CEO Alexander Nix told the parliamentary inquiry into fake news that the company did not have or use private Facebook data, or any data from Kogan’s firm, GSR.

But in its statement on Friday night, explaining why it had suspended CA and Wylie, Facebook said it had known in 2015 that profiles were passed to Nix’s company. 

“In 2015, we learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our platform policies by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica,the statement said.

CA is heavily funded by the family of Robert Mercer, an American hedge-fund billionaire. I’ve mentioned Mercer in a previous article about the right’s undue influence on the media and on voting behaviour. Mercer made his money as a pioneer in the field of Computational Linguistics.

The company was headed by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon. CA used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with ‘personalised’ persuasive  political ‘advertisements’.

It’s scandalous that documents seen by the Observer, and confirmed by the Facebook statement, show that by late 2015 the Facebook had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale and failed to alert users, taking only limited steps to recover and secure the private information of more than 50 million individuals.

Last year, Dr Simon Moores, visiting lecturer in the applied sciences and computing department at Canterbury Christ Church University and a technology ambassador under the Blair government, said the Information commissioners Office’s recent decision to shine a light on the use of big data in politics was timely. He said:

“A rapid convergence in the data mining, algorithmic and granular analytics capabilities of companies like Cambridge Analytica and Facebook is creating powerful, unregulated and opaque ‘intelligence platforms’. In turn, these can have enormous influence to affect what we learn, how we feel, and how we vote. The algorithms they may produce are frequently hidden from scrutiny and we see only the results of any insights they might choose to publish.”

He goes on to say: ”They were using 40-50,000 different variants of an ad every day that were continuously measuring responses and then adapting and evolving based on that response.”

The head of the parliamentary committee investigating fake news has accused CA and Facebook of misleading MPs in their testimony. 

After Wylie detailed the harvesting of more than 50 million Facebook profiles for CA, Damian Collins, the chair of the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee, said he would be calling on the Facebook boss, Mark Zuckerberg, to testify before the committee.

He said the company appeared to have previously sent executives able to avoid difficult questions who had “claimed not to know the answers”.

Collins also said he would be recalling the CA’s CEO, Alexander Nix, to give further testimony. “Nix denied to the committee last month that his company had received any data from [his firm] GSR,” he said. “We will be contacting Alexander Nix next week asking him to explain his comments.”

Collins has attacked Facebook for appearing to have been “deliberately avoiding answering straight questions” in to the committee.

“It is now clear that data has been taken from Facebook users without their consent, and was then processed by a third party and used to support their campaigns,” Collins said. “Facebook knew about this, and the involvement of Cambridge Analytica with it.”

CA claimed that its contract with GSR stipulated that Kogan should seek “informed consent” for data collection and it had no reason to believe he would not. 

GSR was “led by a seemingly reputable academic at an internationally renowned institution who made explicit contractual commitments to us regarding its legal authority to license data to SCL Elections”, a company spokesman said.

The Observer has seen a contract dated 4 June 2014, which confirms SCL, an affiliate of CA, entered into a commercial arrangement with GSR, entirely premised on harvesting and processing Facebook data. CA spent nearly $1m on data collection, which yielded more than 50 million individual profiles that could be matched to electoral rolls. It then used the test results and Facebook data to build an algorithm that could analyse individual Facebook profiles and determine personality traits linked to voting behaviour.

The algorithm and database together made a powerful political tool for the right. It allowed a campaign to identify possible swing voters and craft messages more likely to ‘resonate’.

“The ultimate product of the training set is creating a ‘gold standard’ of understanding personality from Facebook profile information,” the contract specifies. It promises to create a database of 2 million ‘matched’ profiles, identifiable and tied to electoral registers, across 11 states, but with room to expand much further.

CA responded to the Observer story on Twitter before Collins had said Nix would be recalled. “We refute(s) these mischaracterizations and false allegations,” it said:

“Reality Check: Cambridge Analytica uses client and commercially and publicly available data; we don’t use or hold any Facebook data,” the company said. “When we learned GSR sold us Facebook data that it shouldn’t have done, we deleted it all – system wide audit to verify.”

CA

CA not coercive

In response to the series of  defensive Tweets put out by CA, I quoted several claims from CA’s own site, which I had cited in an article last year. 

For example, the company offers to: “More effectively engage and persuade voters using specially tailored language and visual ad combinations crafted with insights gleaned from behavioral understandings of your electorate.”

And boasts:Leveraging CA’s massive team of data scientists and academics, CA is able to provide optimal audience segments based on big data and psychographic modeling. Then, using a sophisticated electronic data delivery system, CA is able to provide TV advertising campaign data that may be used to inform media buyers about shows that have the highest concentrations of target audiences and the least amount of waste; all of which leading to higher media ROI [return on investment] and more voter conversions.”

“Psychographic Modeling”? “Conversions”?  “[…] specially tailored language and visual ad combinations crafted with insights gleaned from behavioral understandings of your electorate” ?

That language doesn’t sound like “advertising” to me. It sounds like microsurveilance and psychological manipulation, using the vulnerabilities that make us susceptible to all kinds of manipulations, including the intentional manipulations performed by the political machinery of our culture.

If CA genuinely thought “people are smarter than that”, then their boasts about their service of psychographic modeling, behavioural science; “understandings of the electorates’ behaviour”, “changing voter behaviours” and increasing “conversions”, “driving” voters to the polls to win campaigns and so on is nothing more than an eloborate  scam. Why bother attempting to manipulate people you think are not susceptible to manipulation?

Either way, this company has transgressed ethical boundaries, either as snake oil merchants, or as peddlers of snake oil on behalf of governments and other clients, while exploiting our personal data.

CA Political will equip you with the data and insights necessary to drive your voters to the polls and win your campaign. We offer a proven combination of predictive analytics, behavioral sciences, and data-driven ad tech.”

“With up to 5,000 data points on over 230 million American voters, we build your custom target audience, then use this crucial information to engage, persuade, and motivate them to act.”

And offers to help to: “More effectively engage and persuade voters using specially tailored language and visual ad combinations crafted with insights gleaned from behavioral understandings of your electorate.”

One of our fundamental freedoms, as human beings, is that of owning the decision making regarding our own lives and experiences, including evaluating and deciding our own political preferences. To be responsible for our own thoughts, reflections, intentions and actions is generally felt to be an essential part of what it means to be human.

When David Cameron said that “knowledge of human behaviour” was part of his vision for a “new age of government” I was one of a few who didn’t see behavioural economics as the great breakthrough in social policy-making that it was being hailed as. Even the name ‘behavioural insights team’ suggests secrecy, surveilance and manipulation. It was only a matter of time before libertarian paternalism morphed into authoritarianism, hidden in plain view. 

We are being told what our ‘best interests’ are by a small group of powerful people whose interests are that want to stay powerful, despite being dogmatic, self-righteous and wrong. Despite the fact that they need specialists in techniques of persuasion, rather than rational and democratic engagement, to appear credible to the electorate.  

CA pivotal role
It seems that the overarching logic of New Right neoliberalism has led to the privatisation of citizens’ decision making and behaviour and a new form of exploiting the population by misuse of their trust and their personal information.

Also, it seems democracy has been commodified and marketised.

Update

Cambridge Analytica are trying to stop the broadcast of an undercover Channel 4 News report in which its chief executive talks unguardedly about its practices. Channel 4 reporters posed as prospective clients and had a series of meetings with Cambridge Analytica that they secretly filmed — including at least one with Alexander Nix, its chief executive.

Channel 4 declined to comment. Cambridge Analytica’s spokesman also declined to comment on the undercover Channel 4 report. The company is under mounting pressure over how it uses personal data in political and election campaign work. It was banned by Facebook on Friday, which claimed it had violated the social network’s rules by failing to delete Facebook user data collected by an app supposedly for ‘research purposes’.

Facebook is now investigating ties between one of its current employees and Cambridge Analytica. Joseph Chancellor, currently a researcher at Facebook, was a director of Global Science Research, a company that provided data to Cambridge Analytica.

The nature of Chancellor’s role as a director of Global Science Research and his knowledge of Kogan’s data collection practices are not clear. A spokesperson for Cambridge Analytica said “there was no recollection of any interactions or emails with” Chancellor.

Facebook didn’t mention Global Science Research. But Cambridge Analytica said on Saturday that it contracted the company in 2014 to “undertake a large scale research project in the United States.”

Global Science Research was incorporated in May 2014 and listed Kogan and Chancellor as directors, according to UK government records. (The records show that Global Science Research was dissolved in October 2017.) 

Channel 4 News went ahead to broadcast the Cambridge Analytica exposé despite the legal threat.

From Channel 4Revealed: Trump’s election consultants filmed saying they use bribes and sex workers to entrap politicians 

Watch Channel 4′s excellent undercover documentary.

Related 

Cambridge Analytica questioned on fake news  – UK parliament

Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach

Cambridge Analytica: links to Moscow oil firm and St Petersburg university

More allegations of Tory election fraud, now we need to talk about democracy

The anti-social public relations of the PR industry

The Nudge Unit’s u-turn on benefit sanctions indicates the need for even more lucrative nudge interventions, say nudge theorists

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations – Glenn Greenwald

Controversial GCHQ Unit Engaged in Domestic Law Enforcement, Online Propaganda, Psychology Research – Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman


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Censorship: the F word is neoliberalism

images

 

I was locked out of my Facebook account earlier today, for allegedly “misusing” the share feature on my WordPress site. I shared a political article in political discussion groups, some of which I co-manage. Facebook conducted “security checks”, made me change my password, and when I was finally permitted to log back in, I found a notice telling me that my account was temporarily “restricted” for the fourth or fifth time this year. I can’t post or comment in any Facebook groups. Furthermore, the few posts that I made cannot be read, as people tell me they can’t open the link. They are getting a notice that says “content is unavailable.” Some of my previous posts have been completely removed, too. Not for the first time, either.

I made ten shares from my WordPress site, and I’ve since watched a friend make at least twenty shares of an article, she posted in some of the same groups as I had. She wasn’t booted from her account or given a temporary ban from posting like I was.

I posted this article on my own Facebook wall after I published it, and was asked to go through another security check …

Previously I had assumed that Facebook imposes account restrictions which are based on an algorithm. But now, I don’t believe this is the case.

Facebook is a business, is motivated by profit and can handle and disseminate its news any way it likes, and it does in much the same way as any newspaper or cable news channel. What is disappointing is that Facebook has long professed its political neutrality, and the manipulation of computer-driven trending news flies in the face of that promise to its billions of users.

Last Thursday, the Guardian reported that a team of news “editors” working in shifts around the clock were instructed on how to “inject” stories into the trending topics module on Facebook, and how to “blacklist” topics for removal for up to a day over reasons including “doesn’t represent a real-world event,” left to the discretion of the editors.

Facebook relies heavily on just 10 news sources to determine whether a trending news story has editorial authority.  The report said that “editors” were told: “You should mark a topic as ‘National Story’ importance if it is among the 1-3 top stories of the day,” reads the trending review guidelines for the US. “We measure this by checking if it is leading at least 5 of the following 10 news websites: BBC News, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, NBC News, The New York Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Yahoo News or Yahoo.”

Yet the allegation, made by Gizmodo, which is a commercial enterprise that is a part of Gawker Media, whose founder and proprietor is Nick Denton, a British Internet entrepreneur, (who has also featured in the Sunday Times Rich List 2007) was that there is an inclination to censor Conservative stories. The BBC, Fox News (created by Australian-American right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who hired former Republican Party media consultant and NBC executive Roger Ailes as its founding CEO), CNN (with its prominent anti- Sanders bias), NBC, the controversial New York Times, Wall Street Journal (former The Wall Street Journal reporters have said that, since Rupert Murdoch bought the paper, news stories have been edited to adopt a far more Conservative tone, critical of Democrats), can hardly be described as having a “left-wing bias.”

I mean, come ON! What, with the BBC being such a veritable hotbed of communism, a bastion for ardent lefties such as Chris Patten and his successor, Rona Fairhead, in charge of strategic direction, for example.

Yeah, just kidding with you. 

Facebook’s policy to artificially inject stories, as long as they were validated by coverage from these outlets reflects the platform’s clear connection to perpetuating dominant, establishment narratives, replicating the same mainstream media biases, censorship and distortions. As one former curator said, “If it looked like it had enough news sites covering the story, we could inject it—even if it wasn’t naturally trending.

The practice clearly violates Facebook’s claims to make the trending news feed appear as strictly topics that have recently become popular on the site.

The criticism of “liberal bias” sounds to me much like Duncan Smith’s lament and subsequent rabid crusade to “closely monitor” the BBC for a non-existent “left-wing bias” a couple of years back, because the Conservatives don’t tolerate challenges and criticism, especially those made publicly, very well at all. Perhaps the critics meant “neoliberal.”

Strict guidelines are enforced around Facebook’s “involved in this story” feature, which pulls information from Facebook pages of newsmakers – say, a sports star or a famous author. The guidelines give editors ways to determine which users’ pages are appropriate to cite, and how prominently.

 I don’t agree that Facebook has a liberal or left-wing bias. It’s a business and its central motivation is to make a profit. However, I do believe that far from democratising how we access global information, the web has in fact restricted those information sources, reflecting a minority interest in much the same way that mainstream media outlets have. Much as large national chains and globalization have replaced the local shops with megastores and local trade and craftsmanship with assembly line production, the internet is centralising and gatekeeping information access from a myriad of websites and local newspapers and radio/television shows to a handful of single behemoth social platforms that wield universal global power and control over what we consume, shape what we desire and curate what we see. 

Indeed, social media platforms appear to increasingly view themselves no longer as neutral publishing platforms but rather as active mediators and curators of what we may be permitted to see. 

My site, though fairly popular among social media users, is clearly not considered to be “relevant” to Facebook’s increasingly tatty, diversionary  and outright censorship approach to news “editing.” However, Facebook doesn’t have any scruples about asking me for money to “boost” the reach of posts on my Politics and Insights community page, including for two articles that have each earned me a temporary ban for sharing in groups, Facebook actually removed those articles from the groups I had managed to post in. Then asked me to pay to increase the audience for them.

Although Facebook have been accused of a “liberal bias,” a second list, of 1,000 trusted sources, was provided to the Guardian by Facebook following the allegations. It includes prominent Conservative news outlets such as Redstate, Breitbart, the Drudge Report and the Daily Caller. I think that the Conservatives get FAR more than the alleged thin end of the partisan wedge space allocated on social media platforms.

Facebook has become a destination for fluff and nonsense, diverting interest from the real news and pressing social issues, favoring gossip-mongering about celebs, advertising and other trivia. 

Meanwhile, the Conservatives continue to shape our conceptual landscape with a ferocious level of control freakery, effectively airbrushing over anything that challenges and contradicts their hegemonic stranglehold.

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Image courtesy of Robert Livingstone 

Update: The restriction on my Facebook account was lifted less than two hours ago.  I shared my latest article in four groups from my Facebook homepage. I then went onto my WordPress sharing feature to get a shortlink for the article, only to discover that the share link with Facebook had somehow been disconnected, there was a warning notice informing me that I needed to reconnect with Facebook. I did so, and then posted the shortlink, pasting it manually, in just two groups… and immediately got another Facebook ban from posting and commenting in groups, including the ones I set up or co-run, until 12.55am tomorrow (Thursday).

I’ve just submitted details about my recent experiences of Facebook censorship to this survey: https://onlinecensorship.org/ty

See also – http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/34872506/facebook-censorship-had-a-post-removed-and-dont-know-why

Second update: A few hours after the last ban was lifted, I tried to share my post written for Scisco Media via that site to ONE group just ONCE and was booted off my account, and had to prove my identity AGAIN and go through security checks, change my password AGAIN, logged back in, and my account is restricted AGAIN. I’ve a ban from posting and commenting in groups until tomorrow afternoon. Facebook sent me a notice saying that they detected “suspicious activity” on my account, and said it’s likely I used my password to log into a site that looked like Facebook. The notice said the problems on my account are probably because of “phishing.” But I changed my password at their request earlier this week, I have not logged out of Facebook since, and don’t use the same password on other sites. I never click on dubious links, I have decent security on my PC and never open emails unless I know where they are from. I don’t believe Facebook, though I suppose I could be wrong. I feel they really are taking the proverbial now. 

How does any of their line of reasoning regarding potential “phishing”, locking down my account, the ID and security checks, which would have been reasonable measures had my account actually been compromised, justify another ban from posting in my groups? It’s not a coherent explanation for the ban on posting in groups at all. I ran my security software, no problems were detected.

Fuckbook

Third update: My ban lifted. I shared two different posts in just four groups. I also tried to share my latest article about human rights for Scisco Media, directly from the site. I posted in just two human rights discussion groups and was immediately banned again, with a notice from Facebook that said: “Looks like you are misusing this feature.”  Today I have seen people posting articles in up to fifteen groups and they didn’t get a ban or a notice telling them that posting in multiple groups is “misuse” of the share feature. This is my fifth ban in six days. Absolutely ridiculous. I’m wondering why Facebook bothers encouraging people to set up discussion groups when people get banned for simply posting in them.

Actually, I’m now wondering, what is the point of Facebook?

Related

The BBC expose a chasm between what the Coalition plan to do and what they want to disclose

Lynton Crosby’s staff deleted valid criticism from Wikipedia

Cameron’s pre-election contract: a catalogue of lies

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late.

The bias in our mainstream media makes a lot more sense when you see who owns and runs it – Kerry-Anne Mendoza (The Canary)

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations – Glenn Greenwald (The Intercept)

Controversial GCHQ Unit Engaged in Domestic Law Enforcement, Online Propaganda, Psychology Research – Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman

FACEBOOK ISN’T CENSORING CONSERVATIVE VIEWS – IT’S PUSHING A PRO-CORPORATIST AGENDA THAT IS STIFLING ROBUST DEBATE – Ivy Bader (Scisco Media)

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Covert agents gaming Facebook to suppress political dialogue and censor information

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Here is an illustrative list of tactics from the latest GCHQ document.

 

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Yesterday morning whilst I was sharing this post in groups on Facebook, I received a notification informing me that my account was temporarily restricted, and that I wasn’t allowed to comment or post in Facebook groups for three days. No reason for the ban was provided, though the notice allowed me to click on “appeal,” which I did. But Facebook staff never read and respond to appeals or feedback.

This is the third such ban I have had from Facebook in the last twelve months, I have never been given any reasons for the restrictions on my account, and I have asked several times for them. There is provision for flagging up errors by following a link that says “if you think you are seeing this notice by mistake.” Facebook have never once provided any explanation of their actions, nor have they responded to my appeal or to any accounts of my experience. 

My post had been removed in some of the groups I’d posted in and people informed me that where it remained, when they tried to open the link, it said “Content not available.”

There is nothing in the article that breaches Facebook’s “Community Standards” or that is offensive. There was nothing in the previous blogs that earned me a ban which could be deemed abusive or offensive either.

My previous bans happened the day after the election and earlier this month. Both times I was posting one of my own articles when the account restrictions were applied. I wasn’t even informed of the duration of the ban on the previous occasions. Just prior to the last ban, someone reported a meme by Robert Livingstone that I used as a group photo in a Facebook group I set up. Facebook notified me that the person complaining had said it contained “graphic violence”, though in fairness, it wasn’t removed.

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The “offending” meme

The group in question is all about criticising Conservative anti-welfare policies, exposing Iain Duncan Smith and the government’s anti-humanist ideological prescriptions. Someone clearly shouldn’t have joined.

At the same time, someone also reported several of my personal photos on my own page as “offensive” and my account as “fake” so this is looking like a targeted campaign to try and restrict the sharing of my posts. It’s not the first time this has happened. I also know that I’m not the only person this has happened to. My site is reasonably popular, with 1, 143, 370 readers so far, and my articles also get quite widely shared. However, someone somewhere clearly doesn’t like what I write.

I left a couple of groups last year because Facebook sent me a notification whenever I tried to post an article on those sites that the content had been reported as “abusive or offensive” by members. They were groups claiming to support the Labour Party. As far as bloggers go, I’m probably amongst the top ten most pro-Labour commentators. But regardless of which party you support, censorship should bother everyone. It’s not only humble bloggers that are being silenced. It’s not so long ago that government agents marched into a Guardian office and smashed up the hard drives storing the Snowden leaks. Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late.

Someone told me that the article earning me the ban has probably been reported by a group of people determined to trigger a Facebook algorithm in order to get the ban imposed.

Political gaming and manipulating group discussion outcomes on Facebook by using an algorithm for the censorship of reasonable and factual comments or information that you disagree with is a very problematic and particularly totalitarian tactic. If that’s what you have to resort to, it means that you have no credible arguments, can’t engage in mature dialogue and it reflects very badly on your opinions, world-view, personal integrity and ethics more generally.

Most groups I am a member of are left-leaning political debate groups – if you can’t debate democratically and have to resort to such oppressive and cowardly tactics to shut down discussion then it really is time for you to leave. With articles, you always have the option of not reading them. Especially recommended for those of you with right-wing fragile ego syndome, incoherent ideologies and non-robust views and prejudices. And GCHQ.

Now for the punchline. I have a Facebook Community page – Politics and Insights – where Facebook regularly offer to “boost” my posts for a fee. I don’t make any money from writing and so don’t have cash to invest in promoting my site. The post that got me the ban was shared a lot from my page, and so Facebook offered to boost it, only if I paid money, of course … 

Last year I was harrassed by the charming Tommy Robinson, co-founder of the far-right English Defence League (EDL), on Twitter. I told him to stop mithering me and to go peddle far-right myths elsewhere. He then designed a meme that used my account photograph and details, claiming I had said that “child abuse is a far-right myth”, which of course is untrue. I didn’t mention child abuse at all. There was also an invitation on the meme for people to “let her know what you think of this” and details of my account were on there with the comment “she can be found here.”

The meme was circulated repeatedly by Britain First, some UKIP groups, on the National Front page, amongst others. As a consequence I received numerous death threats, threats of rape and a threat involving Combat 18, a neo-Nazi organisation, that is the armed branch of Blood and Honour. My crime? Simply being a Labour Party supporter and irritating Tommy Robinson by telling him to do one from my Twitter page. It’s also possible that my involvement with the Rock Against Racism movement back in the eighties marked my card.

I involved the police, and reports were made to Facebook about Tommy Robinson’s nasty design by a police officer and others regarding the malicious content of the meme and concerns about my personal safety. Guess what? Facebook did not remove the meme or ban any of the posters. The meme wasn’t just malicious, nor did it compromise just my own safety – my children also received threats – it was illegal, too. 

Perhaps it’s time for an alternative to Facebook, a large social media platform where the Tories can’t buy favours and power, and where free speech is actually permitted. I don’t think Facebook banned my post and restricted my account because of a political motivation to do so. But those who reported my article to trigger the ban definitely have a political agenda, and Facebook don’t care about that, nor do they apply “Community Standards” consistently, fairly and when they actually ought to.

Meanwhile I’m not sure about the value of complaining to Facebook, I have yet to have a response from them. However it may be done at the Feedback link. It may also be useful to report the algorithm as a bug.

Further reading

Coup engulfs Facebook’s largest Corbyn group

Letter to the Guardian from Amnesty International and other Human Rights Organisations –Inquiry needed into GCHQ’s spying on us

“Government plans to monitor and influence internet communications, and covertly infiltrate online communities in order to sow dissension and disseminate false information, have long been the source of speculation.

Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, [co-author of “Nudge”], a close Obama adviser and the White House’s former head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, wrote a controversial paper in 2008 proposing that the US government employ teams of covert agents and pseudo-independent advocates to “cognitively infiltrate” online groups and websites, as well as other activist groups.

Sunstein also proposed sending covert agents into “chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups” which spread what he views as false and damaging “conspiracy theories” about the government.” Glenn Greenwald – How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations

The banned post. Please share widely – Doctors bribed with 70-90k salaries to join Maximus and “endorse a political agenda regardless of how it affects patients.”

TORIES SPENT £114,000 ON FACEBOOK LIKES AND ADS IN JUST ONE MONTH – Political Scrapbook

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone

Article originally posted on Political Scrapbook, 13 Jan, 2014.

They’ve already been accused of trying to “buy the General Election” by quietly raising the legal spending limit by £6.2 million to £32.7m in the face of concerns from the Electoral Commission over ‘undue influence’. The party has reportedly amassed a war chest of more than £70 million.

So if you want a flavour of how much cash Tories could be splashing on their bid to retain power, have a look at the document below. It’s a £114,000 invoice from Facebook to the Conservative Party — and that’s for just one month.

The bill (which Scrapbook obtained as part of the spending returns for the Rochester and Strood by-election) is dated 2 December and lists its ‘billing period’ as ‘NOV-14′.

Tory Facebook invoice

The invoice is itemised as follows:

  • “Email Collection New” — £71,147.25
  • “Page likes – Conservatives” — £23,998.82
  • “4040 Likes” — £12,713.38
  • “Kelly Tolhurst for Rochester and Strood” — £3,084.41
  • “Video advertising” — £4,014.35

If this is representative, it means they could be spaffing around £1 million per year on Facebook alone.