Tag: PR

Government changes to Mental Capacity Act threatens human rights of vulnerable citizens

DoLs

Under the Conservative government, applications for the Deprivation of Liberty of citizens have soared. (Source: Court of Protection hub.) 

In 2014, a Supreme Court judgment significantly widened the definition of deprivation of liberty, meaning more people were subsequently considered to have their liberty deprived. There was a ten-fold increase in the number of deprivation of liberty applications following the judgment. Services struggled to cope, deadlines were “routinely breached” and the Law Commission decided that the system should be replaced. 

Law Commissioner Nicolas Paines QC said the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards were designed at a time when fewer people were considered deprived of their liberty and now it was “failing” people it was set up to protect.

“It’s not right that people with dementia and learning disabilities are being denied their freedoms unlawfully,” he said.

“There are unnecessary costs and backlogs at every turn, and all too often family members are left without the support they need.”

Over the last eighteen months, the Law Commission – a statutory independent body created by the Law Commissions Act 1965 to keep the law of England and Wales under review and to recommend reform where it is needed – has been reviewing the framework that is called Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLs) which is put in place when a person who lacks capacity is placed in a care home.

Deprivation of Liberty, which is defined in part of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, is there to ensure that there are checks and balances for the person placed in care, that decisions are made in their best interest and that an independent advocate can be appointed to speak on their behalf in these decision making processes.

The Commission made recommendations to change the law, following public consultation. The recommendations included:

  • Enhanced rights to advocacy and periodic checks on the care or treatment arrangements for those most in need.
  • Greater prominence given to issues of the person’s human rights, and of whether a deprivation of their liberty is necessary and proportionate, at the stage at which arrangements are being devised.
  • Extending protections to all care settings, such as supported living and domestic settings, therefore removing the need for costly and impractical applications to the Court of Protection.
  • Widening the scope to cover 16 and 17 year olds and planned moves between settings.
  • Cutting unnecessary duplication by taking into account previous assessments, enabling authorisations to cover more than one setting and allowing renewals for those with long-term conditions.
  • Extending who is responsible for giving authorisations from councils to the NHS if in a hospital or NHS healthcare setting.
  • A simplified version of the best interests assessment, which emphasises that, in all cases, arrangements must be necessary and proportionate before they can be authorised.

However, the Law Commission recognised that many people who need to be deprived of their liberty at home benefit from the loving support that close family can provide. These reforms, which aimed to widen protections to include care or treatment in the home, were designed to ensure that safeguards can be provided in a simple and unobtrusive manner, which minimises distress for family carers.

Importantly, the Commission also recommended a wider set of reforms which would improve decision making across the Mental Capacity Act. This is not just in relation to people deprived of liberty. All decision makers would be required to place greater weight on the person’s wishes and feelings when making decisions under the Act.

Professionals would also be expected to confirm in writing that they have complied with the requirements of the Mental Capacity Act when making important decisions – such as moving a person into a care home or providing (or withholding) serious medical treatment. 

The government responded and put forward proposals for changing the Mental Capacity Act. However, though this new legislation has been worded carefully, its effect will be to risk the removal of key human rights; it also ignores the entire concept of best interests and has put decision making power over people’s liberty and rights in the hands of organisations and their managers with a commercial interest in decisions and outcomes.  

Any statutory scheme which permits the state to deprive someone of their liberty for the purpose of providing care and treatment must be comprehensible, with robust safeguards to ensure that human rights are observed. 

In July 2018, the government published the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill, which if passed into law, will reform the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS), and replace them with a scheme known as the Liberty Protection Safeguards (although the term is not used in the Bill itself).

The Bill draws on the Law Commission’s proposals for reforming DoLS, but generally does not address some of the wider Mental Capacity Act reforms that the Law Commission suggested. Proposed reforms around supported decision making and best interests are not included, for example, and these omissions are very controversial.

In a statement accompanying the proposals the government claims that £200m per year will be saved by local authorities under the new scheme, though the increased role of the NHS and independent sector providers will lead to increased costs elsewhere.

The new responsibilities being imposed on care homes, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and hospitals will need some thought, resources and training.

Members of the House of Lords have already warned that the Bill to reform the law on deprivation of liberty does not adequately secure the rights of people subject to restrictive care arrangements. In Parliament’s first debate on the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill on 16 May this year, peers questioned several elements of the legislation. 

The Liberty Protection Safeguards are designed to provide a much less bureaucratic system than DoLS for authorising health and social care arrangements that involve a deprivation of liberty to which a person cannot consent.

The proposed Bill has been widely criticised because it contains insufficient safeguards and is not fit for purpose in its current form. It requires serious reconsideration and extensive revision.

applications for DoLs

The vast majority of both home care and residential care in England is now provided by private companies. Both the quality of care in adult social care and the terms and conditions of the workforce have declined over the past two decades as a result of privatisation. 

The Department of Health’s review of Adult Social Care in 2015/16 discussed the introduction of red tape reduction options in non-statutory areas of DoLS applications, in the private sector, and concluded that these had been ‘exhausted’.

The review report (page 30) says: “As such, the Department has funded the Law Commission (as the experts in law reform) to perform a fundamental review of DoLS “with a view to minimising pressures on care providers.” 

That must not come at the expense of safeguarding adults from exploitation for private profit.

In October 2017, the Prime Minister also commissioned a review of the Mental Health Act 1983, seeking to address concerns about how the legislation is currently being used. 

The government called for an Act in step with a ‘modern mental health system’, giving special attention to rising rates of detention and the disproportionate number of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds being detained under the Act. Terms of reference for the review are available to view online. The review was tasked to appraise existing practice and evidence, formulating recommendations to improve legislation and/or practice in the future. 

The chair of the review is Simon Wessely.  He said “The Mental Health Act goes to the core of the relationship between the individual and the state.

“It poses the question: ‘When is it legitimate to deprive someone of their liberty, even when they have done nothing wrong?’ It sets rules that require professionals to judge if a mentally ill person poses a risk to themselves or others, and hence needs to be detained in order to safely receive treatment. It tries to strike a fair bargain with the detained person, giving them safeguards like second opinions and tribunals to ensure due process.

Reviewing the Act isn’t just about changing the legislation. In some ways that might be the easy part. The bigger challenge is changing the way we deliver care so that people do not need to be detained in the first place. In my experience it is unusual for a detention to be unnecessary – by the time we get to that stage people are often very unwell, and there seems few other alternatives available.

“But that does not mean this was not preventable or avoidable. The solutions might lie with changes to the legislation, but could also come from changes in the way we organise and deliver services. It would also be naïve to deny that much wider factors, such as discrimination, poverty and prejudice, could be playing a role.”

Wessely said his final report will make recommendations that require ‘significant’ new investment in the sector. However the government is looking to save money.

Wessely has played a notorious key role in the demedicalisation of  myalgicencephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) research. Serving as an advisor to the hugely controversial PACE trial, Wessely has defended the study of these illnesses, and the proposed treatment regime of CBT and graded exercise, stating “this trial was a landmark in behavioral complex intervention studies.” Wessley’s purely psychological approach to these physiological illnesses has been widely criticised, he has been accused of “unsupported conclusions derived from faulty analyses.” 

In 1988 the public water supply in Camelford in England was accidentally contaminated with aluminium sulfate. Wessely published a paper in 1995 playing down the effects of the pollution and suggesting ‘significant psychological factors’ were involved. The government formally and unreservedly apologised in 2013, 25 years later, to those whose health was affected by the water supply contamination. 

Things Wessley has said about ME/CFS include “The worst thing to do is tell them to rest”, “exercise is good for these patients” and  “[Welfare] Benefits can often make patients worse”.  See Notes on the involvement of Wessely et al with the Insurance
Industry and how they deal with ME/CFS claims .

I’m not confident that either the stated aims or in the outcome of this ‘independent’ review. The government have already amended the Mental Capacity Act, removing Practice Direction 9, which provided safeguards for people with degenerative illnesses and brain injury in the event of the proposed withdrawal of nutrition and hydration by doctors (See British Medical Association proposals deemed passive ‘euthanasia by stealth’ for disabled people with degenerative illnesses).

See also: Independent review of the Mental Health Act: interim report

The Law Society’s condemnation of the government’s Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill 2018

The Law Society has issued a rather damning briefing on the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill 2018 that moved to a Lords committee stage in early September.

The Society says that the Bill is not fit for purpose: “While agreeing that simplification is needed and acknowledging that there are resource constraints, these constraints are “insufficient justification for not implementing fully the safeguards recommended by the Law Commission.” 

The Briefing also sets out six recommendations for change, reflecting what the authors feel should be the principles underpinning the new framework and why they are concerned that the Bill does not meet those principles, as it includes:

  • an already overly complex scheme being further complicated by a replacement scheme which instead of placing the cared-for person at the centre of the process, significantly dilutes and even removes the existing protections for them
  • the risk of increased burdens on local authorities who will bear ultimate responsibility for mistakes and poor implementation rather than building on the learning from the problems with DoLS and retaining those elements that have been effective whilst removing those which are unnecessary and bureaucratic
  • the cared-for person will not be at the centre of the process but side-lined with decisions being made without proper or even basic protections
  • the removal of the invaluable role of Best Interests Assessors and Relevant Person’s Representatives would leave vulnerable people without protection from unnecessary detention.

You can read the Law Society’s full Briefing here: Parliamentary briefing: Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill – House of Lords committee stage (PDF 196kb).

Junior health and social care minister Lord O’Shaughnessy opened the debate at the Bill’s second reading in the House of Lords by saying the Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS) would be less burdensome than DoLS on people, carers and local authorities, saving the latter an estimated £160m a year.

He said it would do this by making consideration of restrictions on people’s liberties a part of their overall care planning and eliminating repeat assessments and authorizations. However, peers from across the House of Lords agreed that several aspects of the bill risked weakening safeguards for people deprived of their liberty.

Labour peer Lord Touhig, vice-president of the National Autistic Society (NAS), voiced concerns about the rights of autistic people under the bill’s proposals, insisting that many of the problems with the existing system had not been addressed.

He cited, as particularly problematic, the removal of the best interests assessment currently provided under DoLS, which ensures that arrangements to deprive a person of their liberty are in the individual’s best interests, necessary to protect them from harm and proportionate to the likelihood and seriousness of that harm.

Under the LPS, the equivalent requirement would be to establish that the arrangements are ‘necessary and proportionate’, one of three criteria that must be met for a LPS authorisation, the others being that the person lacks capacity to consent and is of ‘unsound mind’.

Touhig said: “The new criteria risk losing sight of what is best for the individual and what the individual wants.

“Let us be wary of enacting legislation that pays scant regard to the individual, in particular an individual who is perhaps the most vulnerable in society.”

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Barker highlighted problems with the ability of bodies authorising LPS arrangements to rely on historic assessments of mental capacity, which may have been carried out for other purposes.

She said: “There is a danger that we might end up with decisions being made about a person’s capacity to make one decision which rests on information that was gathered for a wholly different purpose. That would not be right.”

Under the new title, ‘Liberty Protection Safeguards,’ the proposals mean that the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguard is removed from the Mental Capacity Act 2005, with a new administrative scheme for authorising arrangements when it comes to the deprivation of liberty.

In the Bill it says that the person responsible for decision making should ‘reasonably believe’, action to deprive someone of liberty is necessary to prevent ‘serious deterioration.’ One problem is that there is no guarantee in place that ensures a sharp focus on ensuring decisions are made in the best interest of  vulnerable individuals. It is also important to ensure the new legislation allows for deprivation of liberty to be a very last resort.

There is also nothing in the Bill that explores what training will be made available to  acting mental capacity professionals and where the costs of this will fall.

While the new system aims to remove the problems associated with getting authorisation when moving between a care home and hospital setting will be welcomed, whether this places new pressures on the sector will also need some consideration. It is therefore expected that the debate will consider the cost of new arrangements, with close attention being paid to the £200m a year the government project the system will save local authorities.

The government’s recent amendment is regressive and the changes, instead of looking after people’s best interests, appear to have become a cost-cutting exercise that can only lead to people’s human rights being removed.

In summary, key features of the Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS) include:

  • Like DoLS (but contrary to the Law Commission’s suggestion) they start at 18. There is no statutory definition of a deprivation of liberty beyond that in the Cheshire West and Surrey Supreme Court judgement of March 2014 – the acid test.
  • Deprivations of liberty have to be authorised in advance by the ‘responsible body’
    • For hospitals, be they NHS or private, the responsible body will be the ‘hospital manager’.
    • For arrangements under Continuing Health Care outside a hospital, the responsible body will be the local CCG (or Health Board in Wales).
    • In all other cases – such as in care homes, supported living schemes (including for self-funders), the responsible body will be the local authority.
  • For the responsible body to authorise any deprivation of liberty, it needs to be clear that:
    • The person lacks the capacity to consent to the care arrangements
    • The person is of unsound mind
    • The arrangements are necessary and proportionate.
  • To determine this, the responsible body must consult with the person and others, to understand what the person’s wishes and feelings about the arrangements are.
  • An individual from the responsible body, but not someone directly involved in the care and support of the person subject to the care arrangements, must conclude if the arrangements meet the three criteria above (lack of capacity; unsound mind; necessity and proportionality).
  • Where it is clear, or reasonably suspected, that the person objects to the care arrangements, then a more thorough review of the case must be carried out by an Approved Mental Capacity Professional.
  • Where there is a potential deprivation of liberty in a care home, the Bill suggests the care home managers should lead on the assessments of capacity, and the judgment of necessity and proportionality, and pass their findings to the local authority as the responsible body. This aspect of the Bill has generated some negative comment, with people feeling that there is insufficient independent scrutiny of the proposed care arrangements.
  • Safeguards once a deprivation is authorised include regular reviews by the responsible body and the right to an appropriate person or an IMCA to represent a person and protect their interests.
  • As under DoLS, a deprivation can be for a maximum of one year initially. Under LPS, this can be renewed initially for one year, but subsequent to that for up to three years.
  • Again, as under DoLS, the Court of Protection will oversee any disputes or appeals.

The new Bill also broadens the scope to treat people, and deprive them of their liberty, in a medical emergency, without gaining prior authorisation.

A critical summary of changes from Law Commission proposals

Although the Bill is based on the proposals produced last year by Law Commission following a government-commissioned review of the law on deprivation of liberty in care, the government has not included several of the commission’s key proposals in the Bill.

Those in government working on the bill had “selectively picked” from the Law Commission’s proposals in place of accepting the “whole package of measures” that had been created to produce “a robust defence” for individuals.

Among Law Commission proposals that have been omitted are the application of the LPS scheme to 16- and 17-year-olds, reforming the best interests test under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 to place a greater weight on people’s wishes and feelings and reforming section 5 of the Mental Capacity Act to restrict the availability of the defence from liability for care staff acting in relation to a person whom they reasonably believe lacks capacity to consent to the actions concerned. 

Some amendments have already been tabled to the Bill by Labour shadow health minister Baroness Thornton. These would apply the reforms to people 16- and 17-year-olds and specify that the provisions must be read in a way which is compatible with Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which secures the right to liberty.

With several questions regarding the Bill and the government’s decision to stray from the Law Commission’s proposals, it is expected that there will be more challenges.

The changes include:

  • The Commission’s original reference to necessity/proportionality is no longer tied specifically to risk of harm/risk to self, but simply, now, necessity and proportionality; 
  • The Law Commission’s proposed tort of unlawful deprivation of liberty (actionable against a private care provider) has gone; 
  • The LPS ‘line’ of excluding the LPS from the mental health arrangements has been changed, and the current status quo (i.e. objection) as regards the dividing line between the MCA/MHA in DOLS is maintained.

Lord O’Shaughnessy appeared to address this fact in his final comments during the second reading, saying the government would “reflect on” whether changes could be made.

“It has been clear from this debate that there is still much work to be done to provide the right kind of reforms that we all want to see,” O’Shaughnessy said.

Some amendments have already been tabled to the bill by Labour shadow health minister Baroness Thornton. These would apply the reforms to people 16- and 17-year-olds and specify that the provisions must be read in a way which is compatible with Article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which secures the right to liberty.

The first day of the Lords Committee stage of the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill took place on 5 September. The Hansard transcript can be found here and here.

‘A backward step’

Sarah Lambert, head of policy and public affairs at the National Autistic Society (NAS), reiterated the arguments of those inside the House of Lords, saying: “NAS has substantial concerns that the bill, as drafted, does not put autistic or other individuals, who lack capacity, at the centre of decisions about their care.”

“Firstly, the bill moves away from the current position, where decisions should be made in someone’s ‘best interests’ and so risks losing sight of what is best for the individual, or what that individual wants.”

“Even though someone may lack capacity to make a decision about their living arrangements, their preferences or wishes should be a central factor in any decision about their lives. This makes it a backward step in protecting the rights people who lack capacity to consent to their care.”

“We will be working with members of the House of Lords and MPs as the bill passes through Parliament to make sure substantial amendments are made to secure the rights of autistic people and others.”

The Bill is so contentious as it does, in places, significantly depart from the recommendations of the Law Commission. Furthermore, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) provided a report on the Law Commission’s proposals in July, and this report raised other issues that will need to be considered by Parliament.

One issue highlighted is the importance of establishing a clear definition of “deprivation of liberty” so that Article 5 (of the Human Rights Act) safeguards are applied to those who truly need them. The JCHR recognised that deprivation of liberty is an evolving Convention concept rooted in Article 5; the arising difficulty is how this is interpreted and applied in the context of mental incapacity. 

The report says: “Parliament should provide a statutory definition of what constitutes a deprivation of liberty in the case of those who lack mental capacity in order to clarify the application of the Supreme Court’s acid test and to bring clarity for families and frontline professionals. Without such clarity there is a risk that the Law Commission’s proposals will become unworkable in the domestic sphere.”

Another problem raised is that at present, the Legal Aid Agency can refuse non-means tested certificates for challenges to DoLS where there is no existing authorisation. The current system has produced arbitrary limitations on the right of access to a court. Legal aid must be available for all eligible persons challenging their deprivation of liberty, regardless of whether an authorisation is in place, particularly given the vast number of people unlawfully deprived due to systemic delays and failures, according to the JCHR.

There is also concern raised over the term “of unsound mind”, little understood and arguably more stigmatising. The JCHR has recommended that “further thought be given to replacing ‘unsound mind’ with a medically and legally appropriate term.”

The report concludes: “DoLS apply to those with a mental disorder. LPS will apply to persons of ‘unsound mind’ to reflect the wording of Article 5. We recommend that further thought be given to replacing “unsound mind” with a medically and legally appropriate term and that a clear definition is set out in the Code of Practice.

“The interface between the Mental Capacity Act (MCA) and the Mental Health Act (MHA) causes particular difficulties. Deciding which regime should apply is complex, and causes the courts and practitioners difficulties. The Law Commission proposes to maintain the two legal regimes: the MHA would apply to arrangements for mental disordersthe LPS would apply to arrangements for physical disorders. Inevitably, problems will continue to arise at the interface between these two regimes. We are particularly concerned by two issues.

“Firstly, this proposal requires assessors to determine the primary purpose of the assessment or treatment of a mental or physical disorder–this is difficult where persons have multiple disorders. Secondly, we are concerned that there would be essentially different laws and different rights for people lacking capacity depending upon whether their disorder is mental or physical. We consider that the rights of persons lacking capacity should be the same irrespective of whether they have mental or physical disorders.”

The Law Commission’s Recommendations made an attempt to include protection for a person’s Article 8 rights (of the European Convention on Human Rights: right to a family and private life) within the proposed amendments to the Mental Capacity Act by specifying a list of applicable decisions that require a written record of decision making (including any decision regarding covert medication and contact restrictions).

The Bill makes no reference to this however (despite the government accepting this part of the proposal in their response), focusing only on Article 5 rights. This is likely to be of great concern to many campaigners and stakeholders and therefore may become a pertinent issue in Parliament. In the meantime, the current law on Article 8 authorisations and covert medication remains in place.

The current DOLS framework requires a best interest assessor to determine whether a deprivation of liberty is in a person’s best interests. The Amendment Bill, however, requires no consideration of best interests, only requiring that the arrangements are ‘necessary and proportionate.’

Although this is partly is line with the Law Commission’s proposals that the LPS should remove the focus on best interests to move away from substituted decision making (in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities), the Bill contains no explanation of what is meant by ‘necessary and proportionate’ or how these should be assessed. It is expected that concern will be raised in Parliament regarding the removal of best interests from the LPS and the lack of guidance surrounding necessity and proportionality.

The Bill will affect the fundamental human rights of hundreds of thousands of people with conditions such as dementia, learning disability and brain injury.

Commenting on the Bill Sue Bott CBE, Deputy CEO Disability Rights UK said:

I am concerned with the contents of this Bill which takes the rights of disabled people backwards. 

“There is nothing more serious for an individual than a decision to deprive them of their liberty yet, as it stands, this Bill will make challenging such decisions difficult and costly with little independent oversight and no commitment to taking the views of the individual into account. 

“I hope members of the House of Lords will, through amendments, be able to radically improve the Bill.”

Among the concerns highlighted by Disability Rights UK are:

  • The very least people, who are detained, need is information about why that decision has been made and what their rights are – there is no provision for this in the Bill
  • The Bill makes access to justice worse than the current system in not providing for non-means tested legal aid
  • There is no provision for the ‘cared for’ person to participate in court proceedings regarding their own liberty
  • Contains offensive and out-of-date language such as ‘unsoundness of mind’
  • Too much power is being given to care home managers to decide about people being deprived of their liberty
  • The Bill moves UK law even further away from the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities by not providing for supported decision making and for the wishes and feeling of the person to be taken into account.
  • The Bill in its current form is not supported by professionals in this area. 

The right to life and state compliance with Article 2 (ECHR)

The past five years have been challenging in terms of health outcomes in the UK, they add. For example, spending on health and social care year on year has increased at a much slower rate than in previous years, while outcomes in a large number of indicators have deteriorated, including a very rapid recent increase in the numbers of deaths among mental health patients in care in England and Wales. The government has a duty and a role to provide specific care for people experiencing mental health conditions at a time of vulnerability. That role must comply with Article 2, which:

  1. Imposes an obligation on the State to protect the right to life.
  2. Prohibits the State from intentionally killing.
  3. Requires an effective and proper investigation into all deaths caused by the State.
  4. Requires the State to take appropriate steps to prevent accidental deaths by having a legal and administrative framework in place to provide effective deterrence against threats to the right to life. 

The Policing and Crime Act 2017 came into effect to amend the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and relieved coroners of the duty to hold an inquest into every death where the deceased was subject to a Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards authorisation or was deprived of their liberty through provisions in the Mental Capacity Act 2005. Coroners’ inquests into unnatural deaths involving health and social care organisations are on the increase. 

Where a DOL is in force, the State has effectively curtailed the liberty of the patient; as such when the patient dies then the death is equivalent to a detention in custody. Article 14 of the Convention prohibits discrimination in the enjoyment of the Convention rights. This means that the State must ensure that the right to life of people with mental health conditions is given equal protection to that of other people.  

There have been a number of  other legal developments that change the way decisions about life-prolonging treatments are made, in addition to the recent court judgments and the government’s radical withdrawal of the Court of Protection’s Practice Direction 9E which addresses protections concerning serious medical treatment.

The direction was effectively abolished by the Ministry of Justice  and the changes came into effect last December. The Court of Protection in English law is a superior court of record created under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. It has jurisdiction over the property, financial affairs and personal welfare of people who lack mental capacity to make decisions for themselves. 

One consequence of this is the British Medical Association’s recent proposals in response to legal test cases in which judges ruled that qualified NHS staff and officials no longer required a court’s permission to withdraw artificial nutrition and hydration from those patients who are incapacitated and unable to communicate or feed themselves.

The Supreme Court justices’ decision in July supported the right of doctors to withdraw life-sustaining nutrition on their own authority, provided they had the explicit permission of the patient’s family or, where no family existed, medical proxy. If there is a disagreement and the decision is finely balanced, an application should still be made to the Court Of Protection. 

Changes to protections were introduced via secondary legislation – a negative resolution statutory instrument – there was very little parliamentary scrutiny. Furthermore, as the instrument is subject to negative resolution procedure no statement regarding implications in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights was required from government ministers, nor was public consultation deemed necessary. An Impact Assessment has not been prepared for this instrument. 

The fact that the UK government had already made amendments to safeguarding laws to accommodate these proposals, which took effect last December, and now plan to make it easier to remove people’s liberty under the Mental Health Act without public consultation, has caused deep unease. In the latest proposed changes to the Mental Health Act, the government seems to think it is appropriate to consider restrictions of people’s liberties as part of their overall ‘care package,’ and approach which is not compatible with human rights.

Changing legislation isn’t going to improve the lives of people with mental illness.  Improving mental health services depends on funding, the right number of well-trained staff and the right resources to meet the needs of patients, their families and carers.

More information on concerns about the Bill can be found here

You can read the most recent debate about the Mental Capacity Amendment Bill in the House of Lords on 05 September 2018 here.

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Dear BBC, please stop reporting what Guido Fawkes says, he’s just a far right propagandist

Tim Fenton of Zelo Street wrote an excellent article yesterday – see BBC Bias – This Time It’s Blatant, in which he observes how mainstream media coverage of the Information Commissioner’s Facebook fine inexcusably diverted attention from the illegal activities of the Leave campaign to framing the Labour party as the sole miscreants regarding the data analytics/ Aggregate IQ scandal, exposed by Carole Cadwalladr, indicating the subversion of our democracy.

However, the mainstream news coverage of these pressing issues itself reveals that the subversion is very real. 

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigation highlighted the extent to which political parties were using personal data sold on by data brokers without public 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, the information commissioner, 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 campaignwhich details the many subterranean companies that the government employed during the run-up to last year’s general election.)

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. 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.

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

Despite the scope of the investigations, the only issue mentioned on the BBC site was concerning the Labour party. Fenton observes “By yesterday afternoon, the sole mention of the Facebook and AIQ story on their website was an item titled “New mums’ data illegally sold to Labour.”

Fenton also notes: “Almost as a footnote in the Facebook, AIQ and Vote Leave story, the Guardian noted that ‘As part of its investigation, the ICO also issued a notice of intent to take regulatory action against Lifecycle Marketing (Mother & Baby) Limited, a data broker that provides information to new mothers and the trading name of the website Emma’s Diary, which was used by the Labour party’. Then a familiar player came into view.” 

“The perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog told their readers ‘Labour Party’s Data Broker Fined £140,000 By Information Commissioner’, ending their highly selective analysis with the sneering comment ‘Labour MPs have been tweeting about the ICO report on Facebook data breaches all day. Oddly none have mentioned the above finding. Sure Carole Cadwalladr will be splashing on this for the Observer this weekend’. And there it might have stayed.

“Except for the BBC. By yesterday afternoon, the sole mention of the Facebook and AIQ story on their website was an item titled “New mums’ data illegally sold to Labour”. The framing of the story by the Guido Fawkes blog was accepted as fact by the BBC.” 

In response to the ICO’s report, Conservative MP, Damian Collins, chair of a parliamentary committee, who are investigating online disinformation, said it was “essential that the public know whether other organisations harvested data from Facebook.” 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 also have a right to know about his own government’s involvement in using data without the public’s consent, but he is curiously quiet on this score.

“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.

The important question to ask is what are we being diverted from?

Earlier this year, I followed the trial of the Conservative’s spending on data analytic companies during the run up to the snap general election last year.  This is because the Conservatives were, by and large, the biggest client of many private firms that peddle “psychographic targeting”, “strategic communications” and “behavioural change” methods.

Curiously, despite the fact that this information is very accessible on the Electoral Commission’s website, I haven’t seen it reported anywhere. Anyone would think the information was being suppressed.

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 power and profit, and those who purchase such opportunities.  

Screengrab taken at 2pm on Tuesday from AIQ’s homepage

While the government’s controversial ‘dark ads’ campaign attracted some concerned commentary last year, in part because it used data and psychographic profiling to manipulate individual traits and characteristics, it seems like no-one is joining the dots, still. 

The government paid out vast amounts of money to the following companies for ‘research’ and data collection, ‘unsolicited material to electors’, psychographic profiling, ‘strategic communcations’, and ‘targeted’ advertising services: 

Experian, (paid £683,636.34) Reed Consultancy, (paid £178,558.03), Google Analytics (paid £1,020,232.17), Facebook (paid £3,177,416.68), Twitter (paid £56,504.32), among others, to research, canvass and advertise their party ‘brand’.

And £76,800 was spent advertising through Express Newspapers.

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).

An undercover reporter working for Channel 4 News secured work at Blue Telecoms, in Neath, South Wales. In an area plagued by unemployment and low wages, the call centre hired up to a hundred people on zero-hours contracts. For weeks, they contacted thousands of potential voters in marginal seats across the UK. 

Another company that the Conservatives used and paid £120,000 out to for market research and canvassing during their general election campaign is Outra. Jim Messina is the executive director, and the team includes Lynton Crosby.

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

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”. 

The company also says:

MGI.png

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

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 from the Tories 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 .

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 last year. 

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 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 Ltd, a 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 also 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.”

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

With political adverts like this, which aren’t fact checked and 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 ofWalker 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 subsidiaries 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.”

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, and governments garnering power through paying for these techniques. Much of the PR and lobbying 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 norm, hidden in plain view.

The data mining, analytics and the entire persuasion market exists because large corporations and governments want to micromanage and psychoregulate citizens. However, such intrusive surveillance and micromanagement poses fundamental challenges to our democratic norms and personal autonomy.  

With the exception of the exceptional and dilligent work of Carole Cadwalladr and Channel 4, it’s very clear that the mainstream has largely failed to fulfil its vital role in upholding honesty, brokering facts and upholding our democratic principles, and if we cannot depend on journalistic ethics, democracy is in very deep trouble indeed, not least because of the authoritarian government in office.

 

Related

Brexit, law firms, PR, lobbying and the communication ‘dark arts’ political hires

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

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

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

Nudge and neoliberalism

 


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BBC’s ‘churnalism’ and the government’s PR and ‘strategic communications’ crib sheet

The comment below is from Marcus Moore, a former fellow BBC scriptwriter who has worked for the last three decades as a freelance writer, theatre practitioner and arts consultant. It’s a summary of how Conservatives have corrupted the BBC

The Duke of Hazzard – a flashback to the Thatcher era

I also used to write scripts for the BBC’s Community Programme Unit when I was very young, green and unreservedly creative. I witnessed Marmaduke Hussey’s appointment as Chairman of the BBC’s Board of Governors in 1986, following the death of Stuart Young. His appointment – which was not so much about cleaning out the Augean stables, but rather more about downsizing and refurbishing them – was thanks in part to his close connections to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party. He “steered” the corporation through a period when there was pressure from the Conservative government to do so – it was being heavily criticised for its perceived left wing bias.

Conservatives always make this claim, Boris Johnson and Iain Duncan Smith more recently in 2012, set about “monitoring” the BBC for “left wing bias”. For Conservatives, the more things change, the more they must be made to stay the same.   

What we are left with is reporting that is simply structured along the lines of government announcements. That’s not analysis and news, it is a publicly funded PR and strategic communcations service for an authoritarian government, which clearly sidesteps public interests and any idea of democratic accountability.

September 1986 Hussey received a call from the then home secretary, Douglas Hurd, offering him the chairmanship of the BBC governors.

The corporation was  under constant attack from right wing politicians such as Norman Tebbit and Jeffrey Archer and apparently a constant goad to Margaret Thatcher, infuriated daily by the alleged “pinkoes” running the Today programme.

Only those close to the newspaper business had heard of this former chief executive of Times newspapers, he was notable for leading the company into a confrontation with the trade unions, with the support of William Rees-Mogg, then editor of The Times. They decided on a “big bang” solution, shutting down the newspapers in an effort to bring the unions to heel. Convinced that such shock tactics would cause almost instant capitulation, Hussey and his colleagues had devised no strategy on how to proceed if that did not happen. The closure lasted 50 weeks and, when the papers did finally return, the basic issues remained unresolved. The confrontation ended in ignominious defeat, and eventually, to the acquisition of The Times and Sunday Times by Rupert Murdoch. 

An anonymous briefer at Conservative Central Office said at the time that Hussey’s job was “to make it bloody clear” that change was urgently required; he was “to get in there and sort it out”. Hurd subsequently denied issuing a brief, telling Hussey he would find out what he had to do when he got to the BBC. All the same, Duke went in the BBC awaiting further instructions. 

Within three months of joining the BBC, he had forced the resignation of the director-general, Alasdair Milne – father of Guardian journalist and Corbyn advisor, Seumas Milne – following a series of rows between the BBC and the Conservative government. Milne wasn’t a socialist by any means, but he had represented the more independent spirit of BBC programme making at that time. 

In the 1990s, Hussey also ended up in conflict with director general John Birt over his management style and Panorama’s controversial interview with Diana, Princess of Wales in 1995. It was said that Thatcher had installed Hussey to “sort out” the BBC. Such is the language of authoritarians who don’t like to be held to account. 

Those of a less constrained New Right Conservative view saw Hussey as an illiberal Frankenstein and John Birt as his pet monster. They were devastated by the chairman’s lack of interest or skill in intellectual argument and his readiness to make big decisions on a basis of ignorance or prejudice. Conservative through and through.

Toeing the party line: Conservative bias

In 2016, a study by Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies revealed that the BBC has a “high dependency” on the Conservative Party for statistics. The study was used by the BBC Trust to conduct a report called Making Sense of Statistics, and confirmed that the Conservatives are responsible for three-quarters of the statistics that the BBC receives (and thus presents to the public) from political sources. This is extremely problematic as the Conservatives have been formally rebuked by the UK Statistics Authority on many occasions for using misleading or manufactured statistical data to justify ideologically driven policies, which reflect a neoliberal hegemony.

The BBC Trust report once again calls the impartiality of the BBC into question, and states that the corporation should not be so content with reporting statistics “straight from a press release”. It also concluded that the BBC has failed to “go beyond the headlines”.  The report went on to say: 

“The content analysis demonstrates that there is an especially high number of political figures providing statistical information on BBC [output],” said the report. “And Conservative politicians represented nearly three-quarters (73%) of these statistical references.

And that:

“BBC journalists need the confidence and skills to go beyond headlines, and to challenge misleading claims.”

“It is reasonable to expect the BBC to cover statements which the UK or devolved governments make. […] However, as Cardiff’s content analysis points out, it does make it vital that those statements are challenged where necessary so that the impartiality of the BBC’s coverage of political affairs is not affected.”

The analysis by Cardiff University found that there were “many instances” where quotes and statistics given to the broadcaster from the Conservative government were simply reported with a complete failure to fact-check and scrutinise the information or even question and challenge it on “any fundamental level”. The Conservatives are effectively handing the BBC a script to read from.

At the same time, the Government has perpetuated a myth that the BBC has a “left wing bias”. It’s a claim that has allowed the Conservatives and right wing to police the corporation and set the wider political agenda. For its part, the BBC has become fearful of crossing certain lines, and so remains generally complaint, and toes the party line.

Many of BBC journalists have Conservative party connections and most of its panelists are from the neoliberal centre right. They not only fail to comprehend and appreciate Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-neoliberalism and promise of policies that provide long overdue priority and support for ordinary citizens, they seem to loathe and fear it. 

The BBC’s political output has long had more than its fair share of Conservatives in prominent roles – none more so than Andrew Neil, who previously worked for the Conservative’s Research Department and who now chairs the holding company that owns the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator. It is unusual for any broadcaster, whether left or right wing, to dominate political coverage as much as Neil does on the BBC, who fronts the weekday Daily Politics show and presents his own programmes on Sunday mornings and Thursday evenings.

The appointment of Robbie Gibb as May’s director of communications was unsurprising; he was treading a well-worn path, after all. May’s predecessor David Cameron appointed the then head of BBC TV News, Craig Oliver, to be his director of communications and before him the then Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, appointed Guto Hari, a BBC political correspondent, to head of his media team. 

The news that two BBC men were lined up for those positions came at a time when the BBC faces unprecedented criticism from the left for its heavy Conservative bias. Quite properly so. While the Labour party naturally expect negative reporting from a press that is overwhelmingly aligned to the Conservatives and owned by billionaires, many of us have been shocked and appalled by the poor, inaccurate and often hostile coverage the party have received from the BBC, which is now seen as a pro-status quo, pro-establishment organisation.

A succession of senior BBC journalists have accepted that the Corporation’s political coverage struggles to escape the Westminster bubble, which is perhaps one reason why the BBC’s coverage of the last two general elections and the Brexit referendum failed to adequately reflect the national mood (though the BBC was far from being alone in this failing).

The BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, has been a particular focus of criticism from Labour party supporters, and was found to have breached the BBC’s impartiality rules in an early and important report on Corbyn. This was intentional, and designed to mislead the public. The broadcaster’s regulator concluded that a Kuenssberg report for the News at Six programme in November 2015 breached the broadcaster’s impartiality and accuracy guidelines, in a ruling that triggered an unreasonably angry response from the corporation’s director of news. 

The News at Six item included a clip of the Labour leader stating: “I am not happy with a shoot-to-kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counterproductive.”

The person who made the complaint is not named, but clarified that it was from neither Corbyn nor “anyone else on his behalf”. The complaint said that the news report misrepresented the Labour leader’s views on the use of lethal force and that it had wrongly suggested he was against the additional security measures which the item had said the Government was proposing. The Trust found that the inaccuracy was “compounded” when Kuenssberg went on to state that Corbyn’s message “couldn’t be more different” to that of the prime minister, who was about to publish anti-terrorism proposals.

Kuenssberg had disgracefully presented that as Corbyn’s response to a question put to him on whether he would be “happy for British officers to pull the trigger in the event of a Paris-style attack”, but as the Trust also concluded, Corbyn had been speaking in a different context. Kuenssberg intentionally edited an interview to give the incorrect impression that Corbyn disagreed with the use of firearms by police in incidents such as that month’s terrorist attacks in Paris. His purported answer to a question as broadcast in the report was in fact his reply to a more general (unbroadcast) question, not specifically about that terrorist attack.  The Trust said that accuracy was particularly important when dealing “with a critical question at a time of extreme national concern.”

It’s impossible to see this as anything other than an attempt to deliberately mislead the public regarding Corbyn’s views. That she wasn’t dismissed indicates just how little the BBC prioritizes and values accuracy, genuine “objectivity” and “impartiality”.  Furthermore, the doctored interview was not taken down from the BBC‘s site for some time, with Conservative MPs continuing to Tweet it.

Sir Michael Lyons, who chaired the BBC Trust from 2007 to 2011 and is a former Labour councillor, said that there had been “some quite extraordinary attacks on the elected leader of the Labour party”.

In 2016, he told the BBC’s The World at One: “I can understand why people are worried about whether some of the most senior editorial voices in the BBC have lost their impartiality on this.

All I’m voicing is the anxiety that has been expressed publicly by others … We had here a charter review process which has been littered with wild kites flown which, we can’t see the string is held by the secretary of state, but the suspicion is that actually it’s people very close to him.

His own comments have suggested that he might be blessed by a future without the BBC. Is the BBC strong enough to withstand a challenge to its integrity and impartiality?”

Lyons said there were “very real suspicions that ministers want to get much closer to the BBC, and that is not in anybody’s interests”. Corbyn told grassroots supporters that it was necessary for Labour to use social media to communicate with the public, because right wing media were censoring political debate in an unprecedented assault on the party. He is absolutely right. 

The commodification of politics and the PR narrative

Vance Packard’s influential 1957 polemic, The Hidden Persuaders, described how “political hucksters” were now treating voters as spectator-consumers, not much  interested in politics or its content, able to be roused only by controversy, stunts and personality. This approach seemed justified, Packard wrote, “by the growing evidence that voters could not be depended on to be rational. There seemed to be a strong illogical or non-logical element in their behaviour, both individually and in masses” (Packard 2007). 

As Packard discovered in his research, this had been happily accepted by the commercial world which was abreast of the new approach – and which was exporting its techniques to the political communicators. He quotes an editorial in an early 1956 edition of the  magazine The Nation’s Business, published by the US Chamber of Commerce, which reported: Both parties will merchandise their candidates and issues by the same methods that business has developed to sell goods […] no flag-waving faithfuls will parade the streets. Instead corps of volunteers will ring doorbells and telephones […] radio spot announcements and ads will repeat phrases with a planned intensity. Billboards will push slogans of proven power […] candidates need […] to look ‘sincerely at the TV camera’. (Packard 2007).

It was an early intimation of the replacement of political parties (the “faithfuls”) by public relations, a movement which has since advanced. Politics has been reduced to brand, reputation management and ‘strategic communications’.  

More recently, the Leveson inquiry concluded that politicians “developed too close a relationship with the Press in a way which has not been in the public interest.” Public relations professionals are charged with organising media space, engagements and ensuring that their political candidate’s public profile stays positive. 

Image result for BBC bias

In its election manifesto in 2010 the Conservative party promised to give the National Audit Office “full access” to the BBC‘s accounts in order to make the corporation more accountable for the way it spends the licence fee.

Jeremy Hunt said that the BBC Trust, which replaced the corporation’s board of governors in 2007, had to change and that the Tories were considering “ripping up the charter” ahead of its expiration in 2016 to achieve its plan.

The encroaching government influence on the BBC became more visible to the public in 2016, when the then culture secretary was accused of attempting to “bend the BBC to his political will” after it emerged he planned to have the government directly appoint most members of a new body to run the corporation. 

Despite the early rhetoric about abolishing the trust, the then Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said he would only act “within the envelope set by the Royal Charter”, so major changes were not possible until the Charter expired after the end of 2016.  Hunt had instead expressed his support for changing the name of the Trust and installing a new non-executive chairman on the BBC’s Executive Board. 

The proposal to scrap the Trust was officially presented to Parliament as part of a charter review white paper on 12 May 2016. Governance of the BBC was transferred to the new BBC Board in April 2017. Sir David Clementi became the new Chairman of the Board.

John Whittingdale said only two or three members of a 13-strong unitary board, which would replace the ‘discredited’ BBC Trust model, would be BBC executives while the rest would be government appointees.

In 2016, the BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, had already flagged his concerns about the Clementi proposals for replacing the BBC trust with the unitary board. In a speech , Lord Hall pointed out that unlike any previous governing body, the unitary board would set the editorial direction of the whole BBC. Neither the trust nor its predecessor – the BBC governors who oversaw the corporation from its founding until 2005 – had such powers.

Hall warned: “It will make key decisions on programmes and services, and it will work with me – as editor in chief – on how we manage our impartial journalism. It doesn’t feel to me that these tasks should be undertaken by government-appointed board members. The BBC is one of the world’s great public service broadcasters – not a state broadcaster. A strong, sustainable BBC needs new safeguards for independence, not yet more erosion.” 

It’s another symptom of how oppressive the government has become, and how apparently acceptable it is to attack, discredit and threaten anyone who eve looks as though they may presents a challenge and an alternative perspective to the status quo.  

Churnalism and the PR-isation of the news and public affairs

One time BBC Economics Editor Robert Peston – regarded as being among the most authoritative journalists in the UK – publicly lamented his profession’s increasingly “hideous and degrading” reliance on PR material. 

“When I worked on the Sunday Telegraph a decade ago, the fax machine was strategically placed above the waste paper basket so that press releases went straight into what we called the round filing cabinet. Now newspapers are filled with reports based on spurious PR generated surveys and polls, simply to save time and money … More disturbing, perhaps, PRs seem to have become more powerful and effective as gatekeepers and minders of businesses, celebrities and public or semipublic figures … today’s PR industry has become much more machinelike, controlled – and in its slightly chilling way – professional (Peston 2014).

Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism and former Daily Mirror editor, reports similar tensions when he writes, in 2012, that “if the current trends [of more PR practitioners] continue, we will end up without the essential ‘media filter’ [of journalism] that … acts at its best on behalf of a public deluged with self interested public relations material”. He continues: “What we’re talking about here … is an assault on democracy”.

Both of these sentiments capture a zeitgeist of the state of journalism and PR in neoliberal democracies such as the UK and USA, and represent an issue that has moved up academic, public and professional agendas of concern in the last 10-15 years. This is commonly described as ‘churnalism’, which is characterised by a swelling PR industry, blurring job roles and a growing colonization of PR mindsets amongst journalists.

Here, churnalism – the use of unchecked PR material in news – is an outcome of the broader process of structural and professional change, and conflicting interests. PRs want the best possible news coverage for their paying clients, the occupational ideals of journalism are inter alia, “focus on truth, social reporting and democratic education”. Or at least they were.

Add to that the neoliberal turn: an economic model that has led to the marketisation of news and in turn, of journalism practices. What we witness is less original investigation, and more reactive journalism by way of writing up agency copy or PR material. The now habitual incorporation of media releases and other PR material into the news by journalists is not a new phenomenon, but the change in the scale and regularity in which this is now happening is.

A number of recent studies in the UK and US have established the success of PR practitioners in placing subsidies with news media to influence the media agenda, in turn influencing public opinion and the public agenda. There is significant political power to be exercised in both agenda setting and in the framing of news. Power is present in conceptions of agenda-building in media narratives and public discourse. 

There is a climate of growing concern about ascendant PR and a journalism in crisis. It should be of central concern that there has been a rapidly growing influence of PR and ‘communication’ professionals in the newsgathering and reporting process, and the onsequent diminution of editorial independence and watchdog journalism in the UK.

Studies describe government and political press officers as “increasingly assertive in their relationships with journalists”, not just in terms of information management, but often, to the point of manipulation and aggression.

In truth, the BBC struggles to maintain independence from governments, who set the terms under which it operates, they appoint its most senior figures, who in future will be directly involved in day-to-day managerial decision making, and they set the level of the licence fee, which is the BBC’s major source of income. So given this context within which the BBC operates, it hardly amounts to independence in any substantive sense.

Critics can also point to a number of senior BBC figures with known Conservative associations. The Today presenter and former political editor, Nick Robinson, is a former president of Oxford University’s Conservative Association. James Harding, who as director of news has reputedly centralised the BBC’s news operations, is a former editor of The Times, and the BBC’s high profile political presenter, Andrew Neil, is well known as a right-winger, having briefly worked for the Conservative Party before making his name in Murdoch enterprises.

Robbie Gibb, the frontrunner to be the Tories’ new Alastair Campbell, is Andrew Neil’s editor at the Daily Politics. He is also the brother of Tory Minister Nicholas Gibb. Two  senior Tory Ministers are also ex-BBC: Chris Grayling and Michael Gove.

Then there are the declared interests of the Westminster bubble journalists. For example, Andrew Gimson, who is contributing editor of Conservative Home, is a commentator for the BBC, Associated Newspapers, the New Statesman, and he is also an associate  consultant for a PR and political lobbyist consultancy, Lodestone Communications. He specialises in interviewing Cabinet ministers and other Conservative politicians, and wrote Boris Johnson’s biography.  He started his career in the Conservative Research Department and has served as Deputy Editor of the Spectator, political columnist at the Independent on Sunday, and Berlin correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.

BBC political editor/commentator Laura Kuenssberg’s declared interests are: Journalism for The House Magazine. Speaking for Credit Suisse and Ernst and Young (registered July 2017). Chaired events for Intelligence Squared (debate/think tank) and Mischon (law firm), speaking for Healthcare Management Association (membership organisation) and JP Morgan (bank) (registered March 2018). 

Timothy Shipman of the Sunday Times, and also commentator for Sky News, BBC Daily Politics and Sunday Politics, Radio 5 Live, LBC and Talk Radio. Paper Reviewer for BBC News Channel.  Freelance journalism for The Spectator and the New Statesman. Under contract to Kirby Jones, a speaker agency, for public speaking. Fees received from the following for speaking engagements, most arranged via Kirby JonesArtemis Asset management, Association of British Insurers, Axon Moore, Bain & Co, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, British Bookmaker’s Association, Housing 2017, Independent Schools Bursar’s Association, the Legatum Institute, Oakhill Communications, Owen James Group, Policy Connect, Portland Communications, the Publishers Association, Westminster Policy Institute.

Then there is Andrew Neil. His declared interests are as follows: Chairman, Press Holdings Media Group (The Spectator, Spectator Health, Life, Money and Australia; and Apollo, the international arts magazine). Chairman, ITP Magazine Group (Dubai). Chairman, The Addison Club (London). Director, Glenburn Enterprises Limited (provides media and consultancy services). Fees for speaking at, hosting or chairing an event were received from the following organisations: IBC (annual trade fair for global broadcasters); Credit Services Association (industry body for credit services and debt collection); Jefferies (investment bank); Pega Systems (Boston-based software provider); KPMG (global financial services); Construction News (publication for the construction industry); British Growth Fund (provides long-term capital to fast-growing UK companies); Association of Pension Providers (trade body for pensions industry); Retail Motor Industry Association (represents vehicle dealers); Chairman’s Group (private association of company chairmen); HSBC (global bank); White & Case (city law firm); Aberdeen Asset Management (global asset management); Exponent (private equity company); Christie & Co (property advisory service); Mayer Brown (global law firm); Titlestone (property finance company); Knight Frank (global estate agent); EY (global accountancy and consultancy service); Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (trade body which provides support for procurement and supply management); Pipeline Industries Guild (trade body for pipeline industries); SES (European satellite provider); Barnet Waddington (provider of actuarial, administration and consultancy services); Digital TV Group (association of digital TV broadcasters); BNP Paribas (global banking group); Philadelphia Committee on Foreign Relations (group of private individuals based in Greater Philadelphia area interested in foreign policy); Raymond Jones (financial services company); Incisive Media (information and events business). (Registered June 2017).

Holders of photo-identity passes as lobby journalists accredited to the Parliamentary Press Gallery or for parliamentary broadcasting are required to register:

Any occupation or employment for which you receive over £760 from the same source in the course of a calendar year, if that occupation or employment is in any way advantaged by the privileged access to Parliament afforded by your pass.’

When the global financial system went into meltdown, BBC interviews were dominated by City voices such as stockbrokers and hedge fund managers, rather than critics of a sector that had plunged the country into disaster. It’s not much of a surprise, however, in view of some of the listed interests of BBC personnel. 

A certain kind of political-economic ‘common sense’ is constructed and negotiated amongst the political-media elite. The fact that this elite often share common private interests is also problematic. This raises serious questions about the capacity of the media to hold the government to account, to understand contemporary democratic politics, let alone entertain the idea of public interests. 

Recent BBC coverage of the local elections was essentially a one party state broadcast. Labour were presented as “failing” to take seats. Yet the figures tell us a different story. While the results could have been better for Labour, the party did not do badly at all. Labour gained 77 seats and the Conservatives lost 33 seats overall.

There is no demarcation between corporate, media and government interests. Nick  Robinson, former president of Oxford University’s Conservative Association, Kuenssberg and Neil are often held as the conspicuous examples of those promoting neoliberal-Conservative norms. However, those interests are reflected throughout the BBC’s reporting, including those who regularly make editorial decisions, which as study after study has shown, overwhelmingly defers to officialdom and upholds powerful private interests at the expense of public interests. The revolving door between consultancy/strategic communcations/ PR companies, the media and the Government indicates the existence of a set of shared narrow norms and an ideological crib sheet.

The narrowly shared understanding of ‘politics’ among an elite of Conservative politicians, big business, the communications and PR industry, news  makersand opinion shapers is not only enormously unrepresentative of the public, but it also displays an increasingly tenuous grasp on broader democratic political reality. 

Image result for BBC bias

The BBC was accused of “extreme bias” after it featured the altered image of Jeremy Corbyn against the Kremlin skyline during a segment about escalating tensions between the UK and Russia on Newsnight, despite presenter Evan Davies’ attempts to justify its use. The Labour leader was depicted wearing a Russian Bolshevik cap against a red-tinted backdrop of the St. Basil’s Cathedral while Ayesha Hazarika, former special advisor to Ed Milliband, and Corbyn ally Chris Williamson MP, were being interviewed about the Government’s response to the Skripal poisoning.

The BBC backdrop embeds a codified message to viewers that is almost subliminal, especially as it was presented on the same day that newspapers like the Daily Mail ran with such headlines as ‘CORBYN, THE KREMLIN STOOGE’.

The image that the BBC claimed to have used and not edited, was taken in 2016 and if you compare the two, there is certainly a red hue that has been applied along with lowerng the contrast and tightening the aspect ratio, which make Corbyn’s clothes appear darker.

This changes the look of the hat he is wearing, which makes it look more like a Russian ushanka hat, whilst there are noticeable differences in the ‘Newsnight’ image and an ushanka, to those who aren’t paying a massive amount of attention to the backdrop or are unable to see a comparison, it would certainly look like one on first look.

The BBC have rejected the criticisms of their programme while acknowledging they did edit the image, by saying that they previously did a similar mock up of Gavin Williamson on the same programme. 

However, it is the context and framing that matters, as I am sure the BBC is very much aware.

Recently, the BBC disclosed a shocking revelation, in an article titled:The vetting files: How the BBC kept out ‘subversives’’ .  Left wing individuals were actively vetted by MI5 and barred from holding positions of influence within the Corporation.

The article says that the purpose of the MI5 vetting candidates for political roles within the BBC was to prevent the formation of a left wing government, stating: “The fear was that ‘evilly disposed’ engineers might sabotage the network at a critical time, or that conspirators might “discredit” the BBC so that ‘the way could be made clear for a left-wing government’”.

Portraying Her Majesty’s opposition as “subversives”  and “conspirators” has some profound implications for democracy.  However, it is still happening – the Labour party are portrayed by the incumbents as pathological, rather than as an essential mechanism of a wider functioning democracy.

For decades the BBC denied that job applicants were subject to political vetting by MI5. But in fact vetting began in the early days of the BBC and “continued until the 1990s”. Paul Reynolds, the first journalist to see all the BBC‘s vetting files, tells the story of the long relationship between the corporation and the Security Service.

“Policy: keep head down and stonewall all questions.” So wrote a senior BBC official in early 1985, not long before the Observer exposed so many details of the work done in Room 105 Broadcasting House that there was no point continuing to hide it.

By that stage, a policy of flatly denying the existence of political vetting – not just stonewalling, but if necessary lying – had been in place for five decades.

As early as 1933 a BBC executive, Col Alan Dawnay, had begun holding meetings to exchange information with the head of MI5, Sir Vernon Kell, at Dawnay’s flat in Eaton Terrace, Chelsea. It was an era of political radicalism and both sides deemed the BBC in need of “assistance in regard to ‘communist’ activities”. 

Vetting file

“Formalities” was the code word for the vetting system

A memo from 1984 gives a run-down of organisations on the banned list. On the left, there were the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Socialist Workers Party, the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Militant Tendency. By this stage there were also concerns about movements on the far right – the National Front and the British National Party.

A banned applicant did not need to be a member of these organisations – association was enough.

Over the years, some BBC executives worried about the “deceptive” statements they had to make – even to an inquisitive MP on one occasion. But when MI5 suggested scaling back the number of jobs subject to vetting, the BBC argued against such a move. Though there were some opponents of vetting within the corporation, they had little influence until the Cold War began to thaw in the 1980s

These revelations completely dismantle the idea that the BBC has ever been a passive, impartial, politically neutral entity. 

Of course, as I’ve outlines, the undue political influence on the BBC becomes clear when we investigate the backgrounds of prominent and influential BBC political figures. There’s arecurring pattern, with direct links to the Conservative party. 

Owen Jones says The main thing I’ve learned from working in the British media is that much of it is a cult. Afflicted by a suffocating groupthink, intolerant of critics, hounds internal dissenters, full of people who made it because of connections and/or personal background rather than merit.”  

The Intellgience services have always worked to prevent a Labour government. Who could forget the fake Zinoviev letter, which was engineered by the establishment using the military and intelligence services to destabilise the first Labour government. 

Britain’s most senior security and intelligence officials discussed the smearing of the Labour party just as it was emerging as a major political force according to previously secret documents. The potential repercussions of attempts by the intelligence agencies to damage the Labour party were debated at length by the little-known Secret Service Committee, later research – now released at the National Archives – shows.

Noam Chomsky once said: “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.” It’s going down.

Dr Lawrence Britt wrote about the defining features of authoritarianism, fascism and totalitarianism. He outlined that among the key characteristics of a fundamnetal shift away from democracy is political censorship through a controlled mass media. He says that the media is either directly controlled by the Government, or indirectly controlled by government regulation, sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. 

It’s a very sobering thought that the British Broadcasting Corporation currently fulfils all of those criteria. 

Democracy has been profoundly compromised and corrupted by its colonisation. Lobbyists, professional private interest propagandists, corporate and financial power have merged with the state, and are all singing from the same crib sheet.

 

Related

The BBC’s disgraceful attempt at a McCarthyist-style shaping of public perceptions and flouting impartiality rule

BBC’s Stephen Sackur accuses Tories of spreading propaganda about Jeremy Corbyn, and of being unaccountable and undemocratic

David Dimbleby says Jeremy Corbyn is treated unfairly by a biased right wing press

From the Zinoviev letter to the Labour party coup – the real enemy within

 


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YouGov, an antidemocratic survey question and a brief investigation

SameDifference reports being deeply upset by this question from YouGov, today.

Firstly, all of these questions reflect a very cavalier and authoritarian view of the democratic rights of citizens. Excluding people from voting on the basis of their characteristics and the group they belong to violates their human rights. We do need to question why this subject is being surveyed, who will use the information gathered, and to what purpose. Secondly, the questions themselves normalise a view that repressing the right to participate in democracy for  some social groups is somehow acceptable.

Last year I wrote about how polls serve as a propaganda technique, by encouraging a bandwaggon effect, and sometimes act as self fulfilling prophesies of sorts. 

Image result for Peter Hitchens polls

And that’s from a Conservative

The question about people who ‘receive more money from welfare benefits than they pay in taxes” is particularly worrying. Many people claiming welfare currently need welfare support because of exploitatively low pay. People on low pay pay low rates of income tax. Also the question assumes that people’s circumstances are static, and seems to disregard previous tax contribution through previous employment. It also disregards the reasons why someone may be claiming welfare support – for example, because of disability or illness. It looks like Conservative kite flying, to me.

I decided to join YouGov. I was asked some initial questions such as whether or not my workspace is tidy or chaotic, if I arrive at events early or late, if I’m a ‘cat’ or ‘dog’ person, and about how I vote, which news papers I read and so on.

All of which will be used to “segment” and psychologically profile me. YouGov Profiles is the “media planning and audience segmentation tool for brands and their agencies. Powered by the world’s largest connected data set. YouGov Profiles gives marketers a richer, more detailed portrait of their customers’ entire lives.”

It is powered by our connected data vault, which holds over 190,000 data points, collected from 275,000 GB YouGov members.

Get the profile of your target audience across multi-channel data sets with greater granularity and accuracy than ever before.”

And also: “By using advanced techniques we can go beyond merely describing the data, we can begin to explain and even predict attitudes, behaviours and harder business outcomes. These explanations and predictions can help our clients to adapt their strategy, both internally and externally, and create informed decisions about their products/policies and how they approach their marketing, communications and people strategies.”

And: “YouGov helps PR clients gain maximum coverage for their campaigns everyday, and as the most quoted market research agency in the UK, we are able to offer clients the best possible chance of generating headlines and gaining media visibility.”

We also run bespoke services including Reputation Audits, thought leadership B2B studies, and Nation Branding projects, global or local.”

YouGov says its ad platform, YouGov Direct, will allow advertisers to use its audience data to target consumers more accurately and transparently. YouGov has made its name with political polling at general elections and selling data and analytics to ‘brands’ but has had little direct involvement in advertising until recently. (See YouGov eyes media budgets as it launches advertising data platform).

More about YouGov

YouGov is an international internet-based market research and data analytics company, headquartered in the UK, with operations in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific. Shakespeare, the firm’s CEO, once stood as a Conservative candidate for Colchester; he was also a Conservative Party pollster. Shakespeare has been YouGov’s Chief Executive Officer since 2010. 

Roger Parry has been YouGov’s Chairman since 2007. Political commentator Peter Kellner was YouGov’s President until he stepped down in 2016. Formerly the political analyst of the BBC Newsnight current affairs programme, Kellner was engaged by YouGov’s founders, Stephan Shakespeare and Nadhim Zahawi, in December 2001. When YouGov floated for £18 million in April 2005, Kellner owned 6% of the company.

In 2012, Shakespeare was appointed as Chairman of the Data Strategy Board (DSB), the advisory body that was set up by the government to maximise value of data for ‘users across the UK’. He is the former owner of the websites ConservativeHome (now owned by Lord Ashcroft) and PoliticsHome (now owned by Dods Parliamentary Communications Ltd) which he launched in April 2008 after closing down his Internet television channel 18 Doughty Street.

Nadhim Zahawi is a British Conservative Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Stratford-on-Avon since 2010, after the retirement of previous MP John Maples.

YouGov has a Reputation Research practice which runs studies for governments, regulators, blue chip multinationals, NGOs and trade associations around the world, supporting clients in their reputation management and reputation development work.

YouGov combines research with ‘consulting and PR/public affairs’. The site describes YouGov as an international data and analytics group.  The site says: “We combine this continuous stream of data with our deep research expertise and broad industry experience into a systematic research and marketing platform.”

Our suite of syndicated, proprietary data products includes YouGov BrandIndex, the daily brand perception tracker, and YouGov Profiles, our planning and segmentation tool. Our market-leading YouGov Omnibus provides a fast and cost-effective service for obtaining answers to research questions from both national and selected samples. Our custom research service offers a wide range of quantitative and qualitative research, tailored by our specialist teams to meet our clients’ specific requirements.

With 30 offices in 20 countries and panel members in 38 countries, YouGov has one of the world’s top ten international market research networks.”

Summary of strategy: “A key objective for the Group is to increase the proportion of revenue from data products and services and bring these to parity with custom research. We are focusing on growing revenue from our core product suite across all our existing geographies. This involves bringing to market new products, as well as continuing to innovate with new products. In addition to making targeted investments in growing and expanding our syndicated data products and services suite, we are also continuing to explore opportunities to expand our core model geographically.”

On YouGov’s cookie page, it says they use cookies: “to monitor, and permit third parties to monitor the effectiveness of advertising campaigns; and to enable us, and third parties, to create target segments for advertising purposes.”

So, a good question to ask is this: Whose interests are YouGov actually serving?

More on the cookie page: “By continuing to use the Site and/or by accepting our Terms and Conditions of Use and ouPrivacy Policy, you are agreeing to the use of such cookies and tracking technology.

The company also uses Meltwater, which is a software that develops and markets media monitoring and business intelligence software

I tried in vain to find YouGov’s privacy policy. The link above just takes you here:

yougovThe homepage link takes you to YouGov’s Malaysia site

Related

Political polls, think tanks and propaganda: the antidemocratic writing on the wall

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

 


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

 

Lizard ofOz

From left to right: Lord Feldman, (in March 2016, Feldman was questioned by journalist Michael Crick about election expenses that may have broken the law); Lynton Crosby (longstanding ‘campaigner’ and expert dog whistler, dead cat strategist and wedge tactician for the Conservatives); Jim Messina (a former Obama campaign chief also hired by the Conservatives) and then party chairman Grant Shapps.  Photograph: David Hartley/Rex

The political and corporate economy is driving the implementation of ‘behavoural science’, including ‘nudge’, by self-interested (and boundedly rational) incumbent governments, policy makers, bureaucrats and corporations has been largely neglected, though a few of us have been raising concerns about the implications of the microregulation of citizen perceptions and behaviour for democracy for a few years.

In their haste to portray populations as irrational and cognitively flawed, behavioural economists, governments, bureaucrats and the murky underworld of the big corporate lobbying, PR, ‘strategic communications’ and ‘consultancy’ industry seem to have overlooked a couple of whopping ‘cognitive biases’ of their own. These are their strong inclination towards profit and power, regardless of any ethical boundaries. 

As soon as the Conservatives casually announced their ‘behaviour change’ agenda back in 2010, and instituted the ‘Nudge Unit’, a scandal of the type surrounding Cambridge Analytica/SCL was inevitable. How could anyone expect that an authoritarian government, somewhat defined by resistance to change, would resist the temptation to draw on ‘behavioural science’ techniques to manipulate citizens’ perceptions, cognitions, behaviours, choices, and ultimately, their voting decisions? 

Cambridge Analytica’s commercial vice-president Richard Robinson once said that there is no fundamental difference between getting someone to vote and persuading them to swap toothpaste brands. He added: “It is about understanding what message is relevant to that person at that time when they are in that particular mind-set.”

Robinson claimed that using data to profile citizens, overlaying “the person” on data – a method that has previously been available to advertisers –  is “humanising marketing.” 

I don’t agree. I see this level of surveillance, intrusion and micromanagement of citizens decision-making as a form of commodifying and marketising humans for commercial behavioural modification. Without our consent. Or a share in the profits generated. It is profoundly ‘dehumanising marketing. ‘

Our personal data is being used to construct ‘persuasion profiles’, using sets of estimates – based on probabilities – on the effectiveness of particular influence-strategies on individuals, which are also based on past responses to these strategies. Some of these companies are also experimenting with biometrics. Many businesses in marketing openly admit that they aim to achieve behavioural change. It cannot be right for private companies and governments to use citizens as Pavlovian dogs. Such personalised persuasive strategies seriously undermine the human autonomy that is central to human dignity and democracy. 

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 profitand power,  and those who purchase such opportunities.  

Screengrab taken at 2pm on Tuesday from AIQ’s homepage

Screengrab taken at 2pm on Tuesday from AIQ’s homepage. By Thursday, after the company was contacted by the Observer, it had been taken down. Photograph: AggregateIQ

The Observer first disclosed connections between the firms a year ago when it published details of an intellectual property licence that linked AIQ and Cambridge Analytica.

The leaked intellectual property licence document that shows a link between AggregateIQ and SCL Elections (the company behind Cambridge Analytica).

The leaked intellectual property licence document that shows a link between AggregateIQ and SCL Elections (the company behind Cambridge Analytica). Photograph: Observer

Image may contain: text

Current notice on AggregateIQ site

From the Telegraph in February 2017: Exclusive: How a tiny Canadian IT company helped swing the Brexit vote for Leave 

The overlap between behavioural economics, PR and techniques of persuasion

Last month, the government’s procurement service widened the public sector’s choice of ‘behavioural insight’ experts to call on. Previously the Behavioural Insights Team (Nudge Unit) were the single suppliers, but the new Crown Commercial Service Behavioural Insights framework expands the number to six. The framework retains the Nudge Unit, and the new suppliers are CFE (Research and Consulting), Kantar Public, McKinsey, and Ipsos Mori. There is a sixth supplier that has not yet been named because it has not yet formally signed up to the new contract.

The PR industry, with it overlaps in marketing, consultancy, strategic communications,  behavioural economics, nudge and so on has been using behavioural analytics, psychographic profiling and targeted communications for years. Many corporate practices are kept as secret as possible, which places some limitations on research. 

‘Data-intensive’ companies communicate in a vague and ambiguous way, however they are more bold when it comes to selling their services and in this context they reveal internal practices through public statements, occasionally.

The Hunting Dynasty a “behavioural insight and communications agency,” say on their site: “WE IMPROVE THE WAY YOUR WORLD BEHAVES BY DISCOVERING YOUR AUDIENCE’S UNTAPPED DESIRES AND EFFORTLESSLY INCREASING YOUR EFFICIENCY USING ROBUST SCIENCE, PSYCHOLOGY, AND NUDGE TECHNIQUES”, and go on to say “welcome to the first step in eliminating damaging behaviour.”

“Our unique combination of deep applied and academic behavioural knowledge, and experience working in the world’s largest advertising agencies makes us supremely qualified to deliver robust, full-stack, out-of-the-box, A+ projects and retained services, every time.”

The company received the gold retail ‘Nudge award’ in 2015, and were shortlisted for the award in 2016 and last year. 

BeWorks, another example of  a company adopting the nudge approach to communications and marketing, describe themselves as “The first management consulting firm dedicated to the practice of applying behavioral science to strategy, marketing, operations, and policy challenges”, also “harness the powerful insights of behavioral economics to solve your toughest challenges.”

They work for the government, the energy industry, financial service sector, insurance industry and retail sectors “helping organisations to embed behavioural economics into their culture”. 

The company says: “The team combines leading academics from the fields of cognitive and social psychology, neuroscience, and marketing with management consulting experts. Our multi-disciplinary expertise allows us to arm our clients with the latest in scientific insights coupled with a strategic business lens”.

They also wrote this article among others: How Science Can Help Get Out the VoteThey claim “Our team of scientists and business experts offers a powerful methodology that analyzes and measurably influences the decisions consumers make”. 

They go on to say “Neuromarketing studies, which measure brain activity and other biological indicators, are another way to gauge true emotional reactions instead of relying on how people say they feel. EEG caps and biometric belts are the most common tools used, though other techniques, ranging from reading facial expressions to measuring tiny differences in reaction time, are also used.”

Over a six-year period, Ogilvy Public Relations Global CEO, Christopher Graves, digested more than 800 pieces of primary research to connect emerging findings in behavioral economics, neuroscience and narrative theory in order to ‘craft a new point of view on narrative effectiveness in communications.’

The findings overturn much of what communications professionals believed through conventional wisdom. The company concludes that “Emotional narrative beats analytical messaging. All human decision making depends heavily on emotion. Our efforts to persuade or explain need to also be rooted in emotion-triggering narratives.” 

Linstock Communications consultancy say they are: “AN AWARD-WINNING COMMUNICATIONS CONSULTANCY THAT SPECIALISES IN THOUGHT LEADERSHIP AND CRISIS MANAGEMENT UNDERPINNED BY BEHAVIOURAL SCIENCE.”

Rolph Merchant of Instinctif Communications DMCC, says:

“Public relations exists to influence and to effect change. To do so more successfully, the industry needs to find ways to target audiences, those it wishes to move, more scientifically. The PR industry clearly recognises this and I think the adoption of a more surgical targeting strategy will become incumbent on PR companies. 

A very positive development for the PR industry would be to embrace the more advanced approaches to targeting using techniques based on behavioural economics. The pioneering work of The Behavioural Insights Team to understand what influences the public’s decision making, and design ‘nudges’ to get desired results for government, could certainly be replicated in the private sector. 

These techniques have been touted for use in measuring campaign success, a perennial issue for PR. To give a simple example of its application, by measuring peoples’ behaviour or sentiment before and after a period of communications activity, it is possible to gain a clearer idea of how successful a campaign has been. In turn, this insight can be channelled to improve communications strategy and tactics. 

“Though in its infancy, behaviour change is nonetheless a fascinating area of communications, which could well see significant attention and growth in the next decade.”

Instinctif offers “strategic insight, and creative solutions; government relations, and public and corporate affairs services that include lobbying, strategic information, analysis and advice, media and reputation management mandates, and public affairs training services.”

At the moment, the media is focused on the sins of Cambridge Anaytica/ SCL and Facebook. However, there are MANY other private companies involved in stage managing our democracy, employing the same deeply unethical and antidemocratic methods. Crosby Textor is just one example. 

Cambridge Analytica are not the only company that are being employed by governments to stage-manage our democracy

While the government’s controversial ‘dark ads’ campaign attracted some concerned commentary last year, in part because it used data and psychographic profiling to manipulate individual traits and characteristics, it seems like no-one is joining the dots, still.

textor

From the Crosby Textor Group site

The government claims that they haven’t used Cambridge Analytica for their election campaigns. However, in 2017, the Conservatives used several similar shadowy private companies that peddle data analytics, psychological profiling and ‘behavioural change’  to research, canvass, advertise and target message voters with ‘strategic communications’ – which also exploit their psychological characteristics and tendencies.

I trawled through the Conservatives’ campaign expenses listed on the Electoral Commission site to find the following: the government spent an eye-watering total of £1502,3516•79p on ‘campaigning’, to persuade people to vote Conservative.

Here is a breakdown of that sum:

The government used Experian (paid £683,636.34), Reed Consultancy (paid £178,558.03), Google Analytics (paid £1,020,232.17), Facebook (paid £3,177,416.68), Twitter (paid £56,504.32), among others, to research, canvass and advertise their party ‘brand’. And £76,800 was spent advertising through Express Newspapers.

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).

An undercover reporter working for Channel 4 News secured work at Blue Telecoms, in Neath, South Wales. In an area plagued by unemployment and low wages, the call centre hired up to a hundred people on zero-hours contracts. For weeks, they contacted thousands of potential voters in marginal seats across the UK. 

The hired callers were told to say they were working for a market research company called “Axe Research”. No such company is registered in England and Wales. Furthermore, callers were instructed to say that the call centre was situated in Cardiff, rather than Neath.

The 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, and insisted the calls were legal.

A Conservative spokesman said: “Political parties of all colours pay for market research and direct marketing calls. All the scripts supplied by the party for these calls are compliant with data protection and information law.” 

However, I discovered that the record of funds paid to Blue Telecoms were not listed under ‘market research’, however. They were listed under ‘advertising’ and ‘unsolicited material to electors’. 

(See also: More allegations of Tory election fraud, now we need to talk about democracy)

Much of the ‘advertising’ was based on data collection, data analytics and psychological profiling, which were used to target people with communications according to their hopes, fears, anxieties, degrees of conformity and other general dispositions. Without their consent.

Another company that the Conservatives used and paid £120,000 out to for market research and canvassing during their general election campaign is Outra. Jim Messina is the executive director, and the team includes Lynton Crosby.

outra.png

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

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”. 

The company also says:

MGI.png

The Messina Group are in astrategic 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 Data. Mason 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 last year. 

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 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 directorTom 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 like this, which aren’t fact checked and 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.”

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 norm, hidden in plain view.

Neoliberalism has evolved into a form of surveillance and microregulation capitalism. Traditional mass marketing has become much more focused, using precise target marketing, techniques which psychologically profile, sort, segment, categorise and target all forms of advertising to individual consumers. From behavioural targeting to mobile messaging apps sharing conversation data for adverts, target marketing requires personal data and a behavioural profile of ‘consumers’ .

Neuroliberalism

Surveillance strategies and targeted marketing also include the use of biometrics. Endless gain, for example, uses biometrics and psychology and “to understand human emotions and behaviour, and Psychology to optimise human emotions and behaviour. Our way helps our clients convert more customers, keep them for longer, and have them spend more.” 

Endless Gain claim on their site to “optimise conversions” in the same way that behavioural economists at the Nudge Unit claim to “optimise decision-making”, in their quest to align citizens’ choices with neoliberal outcomes.

The company uses eyetrackingfacial expression recognitiongalvanic skin response,  EEG and pupil dilation – biometrics, in addition to conventional psychological research, “bringing together biometric research with findings from decades of academic psychology – particularly on emotional decision-making and the psychology of persuasion – to make changes to your site that increase both revenue and conversions.”  

Other companies, such as the hugely influential Crimson Hexagon, use AI.  The company is based in Boston, Massachusetts and has also a European division in London.  Edelman Intelligence, a massive PR company, are a client of this company, as are Twitter. The company’s online data library consists of over 1 trillion posts, and includes documents from social networks such as Twitter and Facebook as well as blogs, forums, and news sites. 

The company’s ForSight platform is a Twitter Certified Product. (See also: The anti-social public relations of the PR industry, which details the intrusive ‘360 degree’ social media listening and monitoring posts used by companies to gather data and intelligence and to formulate ‘strategic communications’ to discredit critics)

This level of surveillance and persuasion is deeply intrusive form of commodification and control that effectively exiles citizens from their own characteristics, perceptions, behaviours and choices, while producing lucrative markets aimed at data mining, behavioural analysis, prediction and modification.

Furthermore, the data collection, analysis and profiling is likely to build in discrimination, reflecting and reinforcing material and power inequalities. Credit reference agencies, insurance companies and the financial sector have previously demonstrated this point only too well. 

The data mining, analytics and persuasion market exists because large corporations and governments want to micromanage and psychoregulate citizens. However, such intrusive surveillance and micromanagement poses fundamental challenges to our democratic norms and personal autonomy.  

Tailored and targeted ‘strategic communications’ and persuasions are based on behaviour modelling and presupposed preferences, which may or may not be accurate or comprehensive. However, such an approach forecloses the possibility of citizens seeing alternative choices and developing new preferences: of accessing a full range of choices, learning and developing. It reduces citizens, commodifying their biology, psychology and decision-making, and transforming human nature into profits for big businesses and maintaining the power of the establishment.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal highlights the erosion of democracy because governments are paying to use these sophisticated techniques of persuasion to unduly influence voters and to maintain a hegemony, amplifying and normalising dominant political narratives that justify neoliberal policies.

‘Behavioural science’ is used on every level of our society, from many policy programmes – it’s become embedded in our institutions – to forms of “expertise”, and through the state’s influence on the mass media, and other social and cultural systems. It also operates at a subliminal level: it’s embedded in the very language that is being used in political narratives. Repetition is an old propaganda technique that sometimes works. The ‘Strong and Stable’ ideological motif of the government, however, was a tad overused, and led to ridicule because it became so visible as a ill-conceived technique of persuasion. But what about all of the psycholinguistic cues that remain opaque?

The debate should not be about whether or not these methods of citizen ‘conversion’ are wholly effective, because that distracts us from the intentions behind the use of them, and especially, the implications for citizen autonomy, civil rights and democracy. 

As I said in my last article, profit-seeking private PR companies are paid to brand, market, engineer a following, build trust and credibility and generally sell the practice of micromanaging 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.” 

On the Institute for Government website, the section called MINDSPACE Behavioural Economics  discusses “behaviour change theory” and “influencing behaviour through public policy.” Using a language of managementspeak and psychobable. A lot. But surely, in democracies, public policies are supposed to reflect and serve identified public needs, rather than being about the public meeting specific policy outcomes and government needs. And surely governments ought to be elected on what they offer citizens in terms of policy, not on the basis of what they pay for PR, strategic communications, behaviour modification techniques and spying on populations.

We have nothing in place to prevent powerful and wealthy interlopers – such as Robert Mercer, from making an end run around election laws, either. Mercer played a key role in the Brexit campaign by donating data analytics services via Cambridge Analytica to Nigel Farage. 

The company was able to advise Leave.EU through its ability to harvest data from people’s Facebook profiles in order to target them with individualized persuasive messages to vote for Brexit. However, Leave.EU did not inform the UK electoral commission of the donation despite the fact that a law demands that all donations valued over £7,500 must be reported.


 

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Hubert

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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The anti-social public relations of the PR industry

 

In the UK, we have a Government that are scandalised and outraged by any criticism whatsoever. Ministers refuse to analyse, reflect and act on legitimate negative appraisal; they prefer instead to adopt outrage, and portray any opposition at all as somehow pathological. However, opposition and critical scrutiny are essential elements of a fully functioning democracy. 

When a Government dismiss any criticism or challenge from academics, charities, social organisations, campaigners and ordinary citizens as ‘scaremongering’, when any and every amount of empirical evidence that their policies cause deep distress and harm to people is declined as merely ‘anecdotal’ and when attempts at rational and democratic debate are simply brushed aside or labelled in a derogatory fashion as ‘marxism’ , it can’t possibly end well for the UK. These are all the trademarks of an authoritarian government teetering on the brink of totalitarianism

Critical narratives that expose the fatal flaws in the governments’ administration of policies, founded on a pernicious and totalising neoliberal ideology, are being effectively stifled or censored. 

One of the key methods being used is a basic ad hominem approach, which consists of attempts to discredit those presenting the Government with critical analysis, democratic feedback and evidence that challenges the governments’ claims. It’s an argumentative strategy (as opposed to a debating strategy) that entails a legitimate criticism or proposition being rebutted and attention being diverted by an attack on the character, motive, or some other attribute of the person presenting the criticism, or persons associated with the criticism, rather than addressing the substance of the criticism itself.

Ad hominem is a fallacious technique of reasoning that may be better understood as a perversion or corruption of perfectly rational debate and this forecloses on the possibility of democratic, rational, meaningful, intelligent and constructive political discourse.

One particular variant of ad hominem is exemplified in the ‘poisoning the well’ tactic that Conservatives use by ridiculously accusing many of their critics of being ‘Marxists’, members of the ‘hard left’ or Momentum, or simply just ‘scaremongers’. Another is a “shoot the messenger”approach. This is just one kind of oppressive method among several that are being used to neutralise alternative narratives and repress a healthy political pluralism – which of course is essential to democracy. 

It isn’t only the ‘business friendly’ neoliberal government engaging in these kind of tactics. It’s something of an irony that Hayek argued against government planning and regulation, claiming that by crushing competitive individualism, it would lead inexorably to totalitarian control. Yet neoliberalism has reduced democracy to spectacle.  

When neoliberals mention ‘the market’ – which they see as a kind of idealised theatre for allocating rewards for competitive profit-seeking behaviours and punishments for citizens’ ‘bad choices’ (mostly in that they are simply poor) – what they tend to mean is simply a situation where corporations and those in positions of power get what they want. ‘The free market’ is a euphemism for rampant capitalism – another narrative given the PR touch. Austerity has become ‘living within our means’ an ‘reducing the deficit’. However, austerity is a central plank of neoliberal ideology.

As the state extends deregulation and increases freedoms that permit corporations to profit without constraint, limitation and the safeguards required to protect the environment and citizens, it also needs to re-regulate citizens, limiting their freedoms, micromanaging their perceptions and behaviours to fit with neoliberal outcomes and a shifting power structure.

The changing neoliberal economy has required changing politics and society, reflecting shifts in discourse, ethics, norms, beliefs, behaviours, perceptions and power relationships. It has required the re-alignment of citizens’ identities with neoliberal goals. Those goals serve the interests of very few people.

The recent political emphasis on psychoregulation – expressed through the ‘behavioural change’ agenda of libertarian paternalism, for example, which is being embedded in public policy – is aimed at either enforcing citizen compliance or socioeconomic exclusion, if they resist.

At the same time, neoliberalism has permitted a few very wealthy and powerful people to rewrite rules, laws, social norms, economic processes, ethics and to place themselves pretty much beyond public visibility, democratic transparency and moral accountability. 

Technotyranny and psychoregulation

John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton wrote in their 1995 book Toxic Sludge Is Good for You!: “Movements for social and political reform have often become targets of surveillance. […] The public relations industry has developed a lucrative side business scrutinizing the thoughts and actions of citizen activists, using paid spies who are often recruited from government, military or private security backgrounds.”

Last week’s revelations from the Bureau of investigative Journalists and the Guardian show just how much that these underhanded tactics are very much in use today. They don’t just impact and damage the groups being infiltrated. By privileging corporate interests, effectively giving them the first and last word on public issues, they distort vital public debates and profoundly damage our democracy.

The leaked documents that the Guardian and Bureau revealed suggest the use of secretive corporate security firms to gather intelligence about political campaigners has been widespread. However, police chiefs have in the past raised a ‘massive concern’ that the activities of the corporate companies are barely regulated and completely uncontrolled. The police have claimed that commercial firms have had more spies embedded in political groups than there were undercover police officers.

The revelations are based on hundreds of pages of leaked documents from two corporate intelligence firms, that reveal the inner workings of a normally subterranean industry over several years in the 2000s. Major firms are hiring people from security firms to monitor and infiltrate political groups that object to their commercial activities. The security firms are spying on law-abiding campaigners and impeding their democratic rights. The spies are known to surreptitiously foster conflicts within campaigns, to set activists against each other, in order to wear them down and make them lose their political motivation. “People get tired of it, that’s their weakness,” one person told the Guardian. He worked for a corporate espionage company.

These are the sort of tactics that are also being used to intimidate some individual commentators. 

Depersonalising the personal

I wrote an article recently, which was published by Welfare Weekly, about the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessments. Someone called Lindsay McGarvie, who claimed to be a ‘representative of Atos’, contacted Steven Preece, the editor of Welfare Weekly, asking him to get me to phone him as a matter of ‘high importance’ to have a ‘quick chat’ about a ‘couple of points’ in my article that are ‘inaccurate’. 

It turns that out the ‘representative of Atos’ is actually the director of Atos’s Public Relations (PR) company, called called 3X1. According to his LinkedIn profile,  McGarvie’s specialisms include:

Strategic public affairs counsel
– Reputation management
– Devising and implementing proactive PR and public affairs campaigns
– Media Training
– Digital communications

McGarvie also had directorship of Bread Public Relations Limited, which delivered: “media, marketing, and employee engagement campaigns for public and investor relations. The company specializes in generating third party endorsements by getting the right people to say the right thing, at the right time, and to enhance business strategy. Its activities include media relations, reports, crisis communications, employee engagement, and media training.

The company was founded in 2009 and was based in Aberdeen, United Kingdom. As of September 21, 2015, Bread Public Relations Limited has operated as a subsidiary of 3×1 Limited.

By coincidence someone has also very recently ‘reported’ me to the Department for Work and Pensions, claiming that I am ‘working and being paid as a writer’ and that I am ‘not really disabled’, and ‘faking my illness’. Curious, that.

Over the last few years, I’ve encountered a small group of people who campaigned to discredit my work online, even claiming I was a ‘snout for the establishment’ on one occasion. Bullies often project their own issues onto their target. Some of the lies and smears I saw posted in groups about me were pretty outrageous. From ‘She voted UKIP’ and ‘Sadiq Khan employs her to spread anti-Green propaganda’ to ‘She has over 500 fake online identities’ and ‘She’s a bully and attacked some charity workers’. Most of the attacks were ad hominem. They also had a distinctive psy-ops character. 

This same group have also systematically bullied people for sharing my articles, and  for simply being a friend of mine on Facebook. Sadly a few of those people stopped coming on social media because of how thoroughly unpleasant and intimidating these experiences were at the time. 

The group of perpetrators are people who claim to be left wing campaigners, too. However I strongly suspect that at least some of them aren’t who they say they are. Their ad homimen approach doesn’t tally with their declared ‘socialist’ values and principles.

They ran a malicious smear campaign for quite a stretch of time, and occasionally, people tell me they’re still at it. I just block them now, and when a new account springs up making the same kind of attacks, using the same comments and outrageous lies, I keep blocking, because these are not people who are up for any kind of rational debate. They don’t play nicely at all. 

Just to clarify, Atos have already judged me as disabled on two occasions recently, in addition to my GP, 3 rheumatology consultants, a neurologist, a pulmonary specialist, a physiotherapist and 2 occupational therapists – one from the council, one that my GP sent out to my home.

I don’t get paid for writing articles, including those I contribute to Welfare Weekly. I don’t get paid for my research either. If I did, I would be permitted to earn a certain amount anyway. But I don’t. Having a voluntary donation button on my site doesn’t equal earning a salary. Nor does my writing somehow indicate I am faking my illness. I don’t think disabled people are prohibited from reading, having opinions or sharing them via social media. Not yet, anyway. 

I believe that the timing of the bogus complaint to the DWP was most likely calculated carefully by someone to coincide with Christmas – to cause as much misery and untimely financial hardship as possible. 

I don’t know who made the complaint. It can’t have been done by anyone who actually knows me. But I’ve no doubt that this was a malicious act.

However, it won’t stop me writing any time soon.

I appreciate that the ‘complaint’ to the DWP may have been a coincidence. I also understand that the discussion may even sound somewhat paranoid. However, these are not isolated events, and other campaigners and  groups have also been targeted by Atos.

The use of targeted political ‘dark ads‘ – using ‘big data’ harvesting and the identification and manipulation of distinctive ‘psychological profiles’  – and the tactical use of social media as a weapon in political discourse are examples of how social media is being used to create new marketplaces for political and corporate loyalty, providing the opportunity for shills and astroturfers to opt-in (and out) of identities. The increased use of psychological profiling with sophisticated, targeted and manipulative political techniques of persuasion and astroturfing campaigns has also corresponded with a commensurate decline in the standards and ethics of mainstream journalism. 

The private company Cambridge Analytica hit the news earlier this year because its alleged role in manipulating the voting decisions of citizens by using  detailed profiling of the personalities of individual voters to target them, to create large shifts in public opinion. The controversial company is partly owned by the family of Robert Mercer, an American billionaire hedge-fund manager who supports many neoliberal, politically conservative and alt right causes.

Social network media more generally is being used to construct and shape global politics and manage contemporary political conflicts through the conduction of intelligence collection, targeting, cyber-operations, psychological warfare and command and control activities.

Power and persuasion

PR is a persuasion industry. It involves the creation of powerful lobby groups to influence government policy, corporate policy and public opinion, typically in a way that benefits the sponsoring organisation. PR companies often use a ‘thought leadership’ approach, which usually refers to a potentially ‘winning’ strategy for paying customers, based on a notion of authority, rather than on intellectual reasoning, dialogue and rational debate. There’s a lot of talking at the public, rather than with them.

Money talks and bullshit walks. 

Many PR companies offer an ‘expertise’ in ‘behavioural insights’ to businesses, in order to help them ‘win’ and make profit. However, quite often ‘thought leadership’ entails using well-known marketing techniques to achieve the impression of being an erudite and rational presenter and speaker. It’s inane managementspeak and psychobabble that basically means finding ways of managing company reputations, damage limitation and managing public opinion, promoting corporate and/or specific political interests and making profits. In the same way that Behavioural Economics manages the reputation of Conservative/libertarian neoliberalism, promoting political and corporate interests and making fat profits. 

And stifling criticism. Many people quite reasonably associate PR with all things unethical – lying, spin-doctoring, and even espionage. Many critics argue that there can be no ethical public relations because the practice itself is all about manufacturing opinions, manipulation and propaganda. It’s about smoke and mirrors to hide the source of deception. Neoliberalism is toxic and regressive. It can’t offer the public anything whatsoever of value, so the state and corporations – the only beneficiaries of the now totalising imposition of this ideology – have to employ ‘specialists’ to sell it for them.

Selling neoliberalism to the public using techniques of persuasion and political psychoregulation is also very neoliberal, in that it makes fat profits while imposing  and justifying a hegemony of narrow private interests. 

3X1 is not the only PR company regularly accessing my articles. 

Over the last couple of years, my site has been visited using a portal from Edelman Intelligence, which is among the world’s largest PR companies. Either their staff or their clients have been quietly visiting my own humble WordPress site, the link (which I found on my web traffic and stats information page) shows they were referred to my site from Edelman’s own social media monitoring command centre. 

I know this because on my site’s traffic and stats pagereferrers are listed, such as Facebook, Twitter, search engines and so on. You can click on the link provided and it shows you were site visitors have come from.

Despite the fact that the CEO of the ‘largest PR agency in the world’ called for PR professionals to ‘adopt a new set of standards in the wake of the Bell Pottinger scandal’, Edelman have generated a few scandals of their own. 

The ultimate corporate goal is sheer self-interested profit-making, but this will always be dressed up by PR to appear synonymous with the wider, national interest. At the moment, that means a collective chanting of ‘economic growth’, low taxes, ‘freedom’, supply side ‘productivity’, implied trickle down, jobs and ‘personal responsibility’ – all a part of the broader business friendly neoliberal mantra. It’s like encountering Ayn Rand on steroids and in a very ugly mood.

Corporations buy their credibility and utilise seemingly independent people such as academics with a mutual interest to carry their message for them. Some think tanks – especially free-market advocates like Reform or leading neoliberal think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs – will also provide companies with a lobbying package: a media-friendly report, a Westminster event, meetings with politicians, that sort of thing. The extensive PR industry 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.

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.

Money talks and bullshit walks, all at the right price.

To paraphrase Seamus Milne, there is a revolving door of mutually exclusive political and corporate favour, ceaselessly spinning.

63606308539839586285265400_revolving-door (1).jpg

Our public life and democracy is now profoundly compromised by its colonisation, as corporate and financial power have merged into the state.

Edelman Intelligence and Westbourne, for example, are engaged in rebuttal campaigns and multimedia astroturfing projects to protect corporate interests:

Monitoring of opposition groups is common: one lobbyist from agency Edelman talks of the need for “360-degree monitoring” of the internet, complete with online “listening posts … so they can pick up the first warning signals” of activist activity. “The person making a lot of noise is probably not the influential one, you’ve got to find the influential one,” he says. Rebuttal campaigns are frequently employed: “exhausting, but crucial,” says Westbourne.” From The truth about lobbying: 10 ways big business controls government. 

The blogs (or ‘flogs’) Working Families for Walmart and subsidiary site Paid Critics were written by three employees of Edelman, for whom WalMart is a paid client. Richard Edelman, president and CEO of the PR firm, apologised on his own flog: “I want to acknowledge our error in failing to be transparent about the identity of the two bloggers from the outset. This is 100% our responsibility and our error; not the client’s.”  

Imagine that. Paying big bucks to a PR company, and yet you have no idea what they actually do for your company. 

It’s like a self perpetuating cycle of ever-increasing corruption. Big companies wouldn’t need PR in the first place if they intend to be genuinely transparent and accountable. PR companies are pretty ruthlesness regarding the tactics they use to earn fat profits for themselves, and for their fellow free marketeers. 

The communications industry’s ethics came under scrutiny due to the fall of Bell Pottinger after the London-based firm was accused of conducting a ‘secret misinformation campaign’ on behalf of Oakbay Investments inflaming racial tensions in South Africa. UK-based industry body, the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) banned Bell Pottinger from trading for five years.

Motherboard (Vice) reports, in 2014, that documents obtained by Greenpeace illustrate the extensive, meticulous planning that has gone into at least one of Edelman‘s proposed astroturf campaigns, aimed at helping TransCanada mobilise ‘grassroots’ support for its effort to build a new pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta to Quebec.

Astroturfing is the increasingly popular tactic used by corporations to sponsor front groups or manufacture the appearance of grassroots support to simulate a genuine social movement that is rallying for goals in line with their profit motive. It’s the manufacturing of ‘consensus’ where none actually exists. In the past, astroturf efforts have used paid actors, company employees, and media-heavy websites. But the programme that Edelman pitches in its own reports goes even deeper.

The documents detailed an in-depth proposal—part sales pitch, part action plan—put together by Edelman‘s Calgary office, suggesting that TransCanada combat environmental groups by mounting one such manufactured “grassroots advocacy” campaign.

Those environmentalists were organising to oppose the Energy East pipeline, which TransCanada hoped would be an alternative to the long-delayed Keystone XL, on the grounds that it would disastrously boost carbon emissions and increase the likelihood of a major oil spill.

Edelman’s plan was specifically designed to “[… ] add layers of difficulty for our opponents, distracting them from their mission and causing them to redirect their resources,” according to the documents.

It stressed developing “supportive third parties, who can in turn put the pressure on, especially when TransCanada can’t.

In other words, the goal would be to attack environmentalists head on with supporters recruited by, but not necessarily directly affiliated with, Edelman and TransCanada

Greenpeace said: “Edelman’s plan involve a ‘seeding strategy,’aimed at getting trusted academics and TV shows to parrot pro-TransCanada propaganda. The plan rounds out it’s immersive assault on key communities using hyperlocal, geotargeted messaging to take over Facebook feeds and local TV programming… Edelman plans on using the astroturf plan to influence media, the public, politicians, and regulatory agencies.” 

With concerns about climate change and activism quite properly on the rise, along with the dire warnings from climate scientists, sophisticated PR campaigns to shut down opposition to fossil fuel and promote climate change denial has become almost a neccessity for companies like TransCanada

The Motherboard article also says that Edelman runs software called the ‘Grassroots Multiplier’ that it claims can ‘convert average citizens’ into pro-oil ‘true champions.’  Now that resonated with me. We know for sure that this company and its clients are spying on campaigners like me. I contacted Edelman earlier this year to ask them why they were interested in visiting my site. I had no response. 

In April 1998 the Los Angeles Times reported that Edelman had drafted a campaign plan to ensure that state attorneys-generals did not join antitrust legal actions against Microsoft. Documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times revealed that the astroturfing plan included generating ‘supportive’ letters to the editor, opinion pieces, and articles by freelance writers. 

USA Today said the plan included “unusual, and some say unethical tactics, including the planting of articles, letters to the editor and opinion pieces to be commissioned by Microsoft’s top media handlers but presented by local firms as spontaneous testimonials.”  

In 2008 Edelman’s work with E.ON, which planned to build a coal power station at Kingsnorth attracted protests at Edelman‘s UK headquarters. In 2009, to coincide with the weeklong ‘Climate Camp’ range of protests, a group of naked protestors occupied Edelman‘s reception, generating much media attention.

Edelman also provided ‘crisis management’ support and communications for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation during the phone hacking scandal. 

Among the controversial aspects of Edelman’s history is its work for various tobacco companies in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. Documents released under the Master Settlement Agreement revealed how the company played a key role in preventing effective legislation against the tobacco industry and manipulating public opinion on tobacco and its adverse effects on health in the US.

Other documents reveal how Edelman assisted transnational tobacco companies “to slow, to stop, to reverse the growing belief that smoking is harmful to the nonsmoker,” encouraging clients to “break out of the tried and true principles of Public Relations – 101 and massage some truly creative ideas.”

As late as the mid-1990s, Edelman was helping Philip Morris fight smoking bans and working to generate positive media coverage for Marlboro’s products. By then the risks of smoking – the health-damaging and life-limiting effects of tobacco – were widely known and scientifically verified several times over.

Other clients of Edelman have included the despotic and repressive government of Saudi Arabia. Mind you, our own government sells arms to the same government.

Cision are another PR company that provide social media ‘monitoring’ and I have had visits to my site from theirs. The company offers three web-based packages: the ‘CisionMarketing Suite’, the ‘Public Relations Suite’ and a ‘Government Relations and Political Action Committee Suite’The Cision ‘Public Relations Suite’ allows users to distribute press releases, access a database of bloggers and journalists, and monitor and analyse news and social media sites. 

The company’s ‘Government Relations Suite’ manages government contacts, analyses lobbying activity, facilitates communication with elected officials and provides PAC compliance software for filing reports to the FEC and state elections commissions (in US). Cision also have a UK base at Canary Wharf, London. They offer a service to businesses that enables business and other actors to “Monitor millions of social media, mainstream news and online news sources, to help you control your story.” 

Ultimately these strategies are all about public ‘knowledge management’ and manipulation.

A listed app called meltwater has also showed up on my stats page more recently. Outside Insight is Meltwater’s Media Intelligence and Social Media Monitoring tool. Their site says: “PR professionals lean on Meltwater’s product suite to help them boost their brand’s position and demonstrate their ROI (Return on Investment).”

Another app that is used to refer people to my site is from the People Pattern Corporation, which is a market research company that say: “While most social marketing tools focus on analyzing conversations about a brand, we know that the most valuable insights come from studying the people behind those conversations.”

I can’t help but wonder what they made of me and my humble, anti-neoliberal, unprepackaged, unsold, unsponsored, unspun, kiss-my-ass-rational, researched and evidenced analysis and commentaries. 

Then there is Falcon IO, also regularly visiting my site, who say: “Managing brand perception in a world of social and online sharing can seem daunting. Social listening is the first step to regaining control.” What strikes me is the complete lack of transparency surrounding the traffic being directed to my site from these PR companies. I can’t access any of the sites via the links in my traffic stats.

This company say they use behavioural insights to manipulate people’s opinion, using social media as a platform.

So do the Government. In 2008 one member of Boris Johnson’s campaign team was caught posting comments on blogs critical of his boss without sufficiently concealing their identity. A few years later, another member of Johnson’s campaign was found posing as a ‘concerned’ Labour supporter trying to prevent Ken Livingstone from being the party’s candidate for mayor. 

As Adam Bienkov says: “Twitter and blogging have given a voice to millions and allowed genuine opposition movements to take their case to the masses. Censorship of these movements has not always proved effective, with only authoritarian governments possessing the means and the will to implement it. For big business and less repressive governments, the alternative of simply crowding out your opposition online must seem a far more attractive prospect.”

It’s a lucrative business too. On Facebook, it’s commonplace for people with community pages to get a notification asking you to ‘boost’ your posts for a sum of money. This increases the reach of the post – more people see it. This means that those who can afford to pay the most to Facebook have the most prominent positions in newsfeeds, the biggest audiences and potentially, the greatest influence on opinion, as it simply crowds out alternative perspectives.

Even our views and beliefs are being subjected to market forces, as social media platforms are increasingly neoliberalised and thus become increasingly undemocratised. 

Attempts to manipulate the media and public opinion are on the rise – spurred on in part by the repressive political mood in the UK and the growing reach of the internet.

Green plastering the internet

Astroturfing has become a powerful and efficient public opinion management strategy for many organisations, and also for the state. Pre-written letters to an editor have turned into opinion-spamming and fake online reviews. The internet has offered a broad arena to practise astroturfing. It’s an irony that the agriculture world’s prince of darkness. Monsanto, invented the real ‘chemgrass’ asfroturf. And by coincidence, Edelman launched a charm offensive for the GMO giant, intimidating environmentally friendly bloggers and pointing out the occasional ‘couple of errors’ here and there. Seems like a commonly used PR tactic, then. Edelman got pretty much the same treatment that I’ve given 3X1. Quite properly so. I take this democracy and free speech idea very seriously, as it happens.

Astroturfing can range from a few forum posts online or comments praising a company or government ideology and policy to something rather closer to harassmentand abuse, and from genuine disagreement and independent troublemakers to organised ‘trolls’, and acutely personal and intimidating attacks from entirely fake campaigners.

Organisations involved in competition may also suffer substantially from astroturfing practices, when competitors are, for example, spreading false information and rumours about them.

But then, so do campaigners, grassroots groups and academic critics, increasingly. The difference between astroturfing and grassroots movements is that grassroots movements are authentic, created spontaneously and promote issues in the public interest, whereas fake grassroots movements are created artificially by, for example, organisations or the state. Astroturfing is all about promoting private interests.

Lobbyists and PR experts are usually behind fake grassroots movements. George Monbiot also adds the state as one of the actors behind astroturfing. Astroturfing is a weapon that state and corporate players use. Monbiot defines astroturfing as a technique, which mimics spontaneous grassroots mobilisations.

He says: “Companies now use “persona management software”, which multiplies the efforts of each astroturfer, creating the impression that there’s major support for what a corporation or government is trying to do.

 This software creates all the online furniture a real person would possess: a name, email accounts, web pages and social media. In other words, it automatically generates what look like authentic profiles, making it hard to tell the difference between a virtual robot and a real commentator.

 Fake accounts can be kept updated by automatically reposting or linking to content generated elsewhere, reinforcing the impression that the account holders are real and active.

 Human astroturfers can then be assigned these “pre-aged” accounts to create a back story, suggesting that they’ve been busy linking and retweeting for months. No one would suspect that they came onto the scene for the first time a moment ago, for the sole purpose of attacking an article on climate science or arguing against new controls on salt in junk food.

 With some clever use of social media, astroturfers can, in the security firm’s words, “make it appear as if a persona was actually at a conference and introduce himself/herself to key individuals as part of the exercise … There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to fictitious personas.”

Perhaps the most disturbing revelation is this. The US Air Force has been tendering for companies to supply it with persona management software, which will perform the following tasks:

a. Create “10 personas per user, replete with background, history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographically consistent … Personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world and can interact through conventional online services and social media platforms.”

b. Automatically provide its astroturfers with “randomly selected IP addresses through which they can access the internet” (an IP address is the number which identifies someone’s computer), and these are to be changed every day, “hiding the existence of the operation”. The software should also mix up the astroturfers’ web traffic with “traffic from multitudes of users from outside the organisation. This traffic blending provides excellent cover and powerful deniability.”

c. Create “static IP addresses” for each persona, enabling different astroturfers “to look like the same person over time”. It should also allow “organisations that frequent same site/service often to easily switch IP addresses to look like ordinary users as opposed to one organisation.”

Software like this has the potential to destroy the internet as a forum for constructive debate. It jeopardises the notion of online democracy. Comment threads on issues with major commercial implications are already being wrecked by what look like armies of organised trolls – as you can sometimes see on guardian.co.uk.

The internet is a wonderful gift, but it’s also a bonanza for corporate lobbyists, viral marketers and government spin doctors, who can operate in cyberspace without regulation, accountability or fear of detection. In recent years, the lobbying game has changed because of social media websites, citizen journalism (described by one lobbyist as “a major irritant”), and online petitions capable of getting millions of signatures in a matter of hours. Among the lobbyists affected by this shift is James Bethell, whose firm, Westbourne Communications, is in the business of fighting back against what it calls the “insurgency tactics” of online campaigners.

Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell, writing for Vice, say: Today, commercial lobbyists operate sophisticated monitoring systems designed to spot online threats. It you bad-mouth a large corporation in 140 characters, chances are the corporation’s social media people will find it. Their job, then, is to sift through the sea of online malcontents and find the “influencers.”

“The person making a lot of noise is probably not the influential one,” Mike Seymour, the former head of crisis management at PR and lobbying giant Edelman, told fellow flacks attending a conference across the road from UK Parliament in November 2011. “You’ve got to find the influential one, especially if they are gatherers of people against us.” His point was eloquently made by events happening across town—as he spoke, Occupy protests were creating headlines around the world. Seymour explained that once these influencers are identified, “listening posts” should be put out there, to “pick up the first warning signals” of activist operations. 

Once they have this intelligence, lobbyists can get to work. Part of Westbourne’s response to HS2 critics was to “zero in” and counter “inconsistent” press reports, as Bethell explained to high-speed rail advocates in the US. More broadly, Westbourne has advised US lobbyists of the need to “pick off” their critics with “sniper-scope accuracy” – to “shut them up,” as he explained to an audience of distinguished guests at a conference in 2012. Westbourne engages in aggressive rebuttal campaigns, which involves creating a feeling among opponents that everything they say will be picked apart. This is an “exhausting but crucial” part of successful lobbying, says Bethell.

This ‘exhausting but crucial part of successful lobbying’ includes injecting all sorts of false material onto the internet in order to destroy the reputation of targeted opponents; and the use of techniques drawn from the social sciences, linguistics, poropaganda and the advertising industry to manipulate and warp online discourse and activism to generate outcomes that PR companies’ clients – including governments and the corporate sector – considers desirable.

The corporate is also the political: the cosy relationship of shared totalitarian tactics

Glenn Greenwald is an American journalist and author, best known for his role in a series of reports published by The Guardian newspaper beginning in June 2013, detailing the US and UK global surveillance programmes, and based on classified documents disclosed by Edward Snowden.  

In June 2013, a visit by notionally jackbooted government national security agents to smash computer hard drives at the Guardian newspaper offices hit the news surprisingly quietly, when Snowden exposed a gross abuse of power and revealed mass surveillance programmes by American and British secret policing agencies (NSA and GCHQ

David Miranda, partner of Greenwald, Guardian interviewer of the whistleblower Snowden, was held for 9 hours at Heathrow Airport and questioned under the Terrorism Act. Officials confiscated his personal electronics equipment including his mobile phone, laptop, camera, memory sticks, DVDs and games consoles. 

This was an intimidation tactic, and a profound attack on press freedoms and the news gathering process. As Greenwald said: “To detain my partner for a full nine hours while denying him a lawyer, and then seize large amounts of his possessions, is clearly intended to send a message of intimidation.” Even the Telegraph columnist Janet Daley remarked that these events were like something out of East Germany in the 1970s. 

A couple of years back, Greenwald wrote: “Surveillance agencies have vested themselves with the power to deliberately ruin people’s reputations and disrupt their online political activity even though they’ve been charged with no crimes, and even though their actions have no conceivable connection to terrorism or even national security threats.  

“As Anonymous expert Gabriella Coleman of McGill University told me, “targeting Anonymous and hacktivists amounts to targeting citizens for expressing their political beliefs, resulting in the stifling of legitimate dissent.” Pointing to this study she published, Professor Coleman vehemently contested the assertion that “there is anythingterrorist or violent in their actions.”

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

Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, [co-author of “Nudge”, with behavioural economist Richard Thaler], 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. Legitimate criticisms, in other words. I’ve suggested that nudge strategies are being deployed to influence political opinions online for some time. They are.

But the GCHQ documents 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. Under the tactics they use, the state is deliberately spreading lies 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.

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 the use of psychology and other social sciences to not only understand, but shape and control, how online activism and discourse unfolds.

Greewald said in 2015: “Today’s newly published document 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”:


The documents lay out theories of how humans interact with one another, particularly online, and then attempt to identify ways to influence the outcomes – or “game” it:

Claims that government agencies are infiltrating online communities and engaging in “false flag operations” to discredit targets are often dismissed as conspiracy theories, but these documents leave no doubt they are doing precisely that.

No government should be able to engage in these tactics: there can be no justification for government agencies to target people – who have been charged with no crime – for reputation-destruction, infiltratation [and sometimes destruction] of online political communities, and for developing techniques for manipulating online discourse. But to allow those actions with no public knowledge, informed consent or accountability is particularly dangerous as well as completely unjustifiable.

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.

As I said in the opening paragraphs, these reflect the actions of a government (and state sponsors) teetering on the brink of totalitarianism.

 

Related 

Atos’s PR company director wants me to phone him about one of my articles

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

Social media is being used to stage manage our democracy using nudge-based strategies

Theresa May pledges to create new internet that would be controlled and regulated by government

The inexorable rise of the PR men

These astroturf libertarians are the real threat to internet democracy – George Monbiot

I share Monbiot’s observations that discussions of issues in which there’s little money at stake tend to be a lot more civilised than debates about issues where big business stands to lose or gain billions: such as climate change, public health, equality and corporate tax avoidance.

These are often characterised by incredible levels of abuse and disruption. I have also noted the strong association between this tactic and a clearly identifiable set of values that are pro-neoliberal. Such values would be remarkably self-defeating for ordinary citizens to hold – the equivalent of daily hitting yourself in the face while simultaneously simply handing out your income to the state and millionaires. These values are: pro-corporate, anti-tax, anti-welfare and anti-regulation.

Many ‘libertarians’ argue that reducing the state means liberation: ‘freedom’ for citizens to pursue their own interests. In an era of all-pervasive government social experimentation in behavoural economics,  citizen psychoregulation and micromanagement and increasing western political authoritarianism, that’s hardly likely to come to pass. The many libertarians I’ve enountered online have a profound dislike of the promotion of civil rights and genuine citizen freedoms. That’s just for ‘snowflakes’, apparently.

The US libertarians are invariably strident patriots,they defend the military and bang on about the right to own a gun so that they can defend their ‘private property’. You can point out to these often aggressive and abusive commentators who like to call you ‘snowflake’, ‘leftard’ , ‘do-gooder’ (absurdly), and ‘bleeding heart liberal’, that without a degree of welfare and healthcare, many can’t possibly be ‘free’, but to no avail.

They simply become more abusive, rational debate becomes impossible and subsequently predictably shuts down. It’s difficult to believe that these parading ‘ordinary folk’ despots are commenting with ordinary folk’s best interests in mind.

 


 

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