Tag: #propaganda

Opinion polls are being used to influence public opinion rather than simply measuring it

The wide variation of poll results on how the the two leaders were viewed following the ITV debate last night, and how the media cherry pick statistics to fit their framing and narratives of significant issues and events.

It’s curious that neither the BBC nor the ITV mentioned the other poll results. That would have provided a rather more “impartial” and democratic account of how people responded to the event.

I think we need to question exactly who the BBC and ITV are delivering “the news” for.

The ‘snap poll’, published by YouGov that the BBC and several other media outlets have drawn on to inform their ‘analysis’ of the leaders’ debate, found ‘viewers split on who won ITV general election debate‘ and states that Boris Johnson narrowly won among 1.646 respondents polled. It was apparently Sky news who commissioned that particular poll.

However, the date and time on the page highlighting the poll result is one hour and ten minutes before the debate started at 8pm.

The page has been archived here – and the SKWAWKBOX has made a video of the open page to show that the image above has not been doctored and that the page address is genuine. Read the rest of the article here.

YouGov has been contacted with a request for an explanation of the apparent anomaly. It will be interesting to see the poll company’s response.

Polls are controversial. Some of the major concerns that surround the current polling landscape: Are the polls accurate and scientific? Reliable? Can the questions be manipulated to get a particular answer? Can polls be used to influence rather than simply measure public opinion and voting behaviour? I think the last two concerns are the greatest, and threaten our democracy.

The outcomes of both political and marketing polls — and whether or not the public trusts the results — are influenced by many factors, including polling technology and methodology, how the question is worded, the perception of who is asking the question, when and how the polling sample is drawn, and who agrees to take the poll (the responders) and who decides not to (the non-responders).

 Burkean Conservative, Peter Hitchens, has said:

“Opinion polls are a device for influencing public opinion, not a device for measuring it. Crack that, and it all makes sense.”

It certainly does

Hitchens goes on to say that the establishment and the media are responsible for manipulation, based on the misuse of statistics. The overall purpose is to “bring about the thing it claims is already happening” (the “bandwaggon effect”).

In his book The Broken Compass, Hitchens cites contemporary examples of the media attacking Gordon Brown and the “predicted” win of the Conservative Party at the 2010 general election, although Hitchens also described Brown, as a “dismal Marxoid.”  Hitchens’ comments are based on his time as a reporter at Westminster. He says that political journalists are uninterested in serious political debate, and describes how a media reporting bias is attempting to facilitate a Tory general election win. 

Remarkably, as a social Conservative, Hitchens states one of his motivations for writing the book was to frustrate this exercise.

The current obsession with predicting election results doesn’t add much to our democratic practices. Polls give an apparency of “data-driven journalism” but it produces a reductive “horse-race” narrative, in which political and policy context is mostly ignored with the numbers, accurate or not, pretty much being framed as all that matters. This trivialises our democracy and obscures the importance of critical thinking and crucially, stifles informed choices regarding policies in influencing the public’s voting decisions. 

Roger Pielke Jr, professor of Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, says: Rather than trying to see the future, political science might serve us better by helping citizens to create that future by clarifying the choices we face and their possible consequences for policy.”

“In treating politics like a sporting event, we diminish the partisanship, the choices, and the fundamental values that lie at the core of politics. I fear that data journalists have diminished our politics.” 

When political opinion polls and the media appear to support one political party over another, there can be little doubt that this is intended to have some influence on the psychology of voters, because it’s akin to declaring election winners before the election is actually held. It works rather like a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is based on the bandwaggon propaganda technique. The basic idea behind the bandwagon approach is to appeal to the conformist tendency of the public, and the need to feel a part of wider society; to feel included.  The message the propagandist puts forward is that “everyone” or “most people”are doing/voting/behaving like this, or that almost “everyone” supports this or that person/cause. 

So bandwaggon propaganda is based on individuals rallying to the perceived majority opinion, because of a fairly widespread psychological need for feeling we are part of a social ingroup, and a general tendency towards normative compliance and social conformity.

And at a time when the strategically engineered and toxic social divisions of political outgrouping is widespread and affecting citizens’ fundamental sense of identity and self worth, this type of insidious call for a normative compliance and artificial consensus creates a false sense of security for some. 

Bandwaggon techniques work much better when the public is unaware that professional manipulators are at work.

We know that political opinion polls are certainly not always an accurate reflection of public opinion. Samples of the population selected to participate may be biased. For example, asking Daily Mail readers who they will vote for will almost certainly produce a majority right wing set of responses. However, if you ask the same question on Twitter, you are much more likely to get a Labour majority.

In the UK, some of the major polls cited widely in the media are run by:

  • Survation, pollster to The Mail on SundayDaily MirrorDaily Record and Sky News. They say: “Survation also have an active strategy and campaign advisory business helping clients better understand customers & members, appreciate & help shape public opinion. We help our clients improve customer engagement and effectiveness of campaigns – be they charitable, political or commercial.” 
  • ComRes, retained pollster for the BBC and The Independent. It says on their site: ComRes provides specialist research and insight to support reputation management, public policy and communications. For more than a decade we have used the latest developments in market and opinion research to inform strategies, change behaviours and define debates.
  • Ipsos MORI (formerly MORI). Ipsos MORI’s Social Research Institute works extensively for the government of the United Kingdom, looking at public attitudes to key public services, and so informing social policy. Issues such as identity, social cohesion, loyalty, physical capital and the impact of place on attitudes are all key themes of the Institute’s work. The company also specialises in mass media, brand loyalty, marketing and advertising research.
  • YouGov. – Stephan Shakespeare, the firm’s founder and CEO from 2010, once stood as a Conservative candidate for Colchester; he was also a Conservative Party pollster. The other founder, and CEO until 2010, is Nadhim Zahawi a British Conservative Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Stratford-on-Avon since 2010.
  • ICM. They have this to say: Understanding choice means you know how your audience feels, thinks and behaves. And how you can change that. We help influence choice in three areas. How do you energise your brand and communications? How do you improve your customers’ experience of you? How do you understand and influence citizens?  
  • Populus, official The Times’ pollster. They say“Our Reputation & Strategy team works with the boards of global companies and public institutions to help them understand, influence, and improve their reputations. We are specialists in reputation. We understand why it matters, how to measure it, what drives it, who influences it, how to align it with existing activity, and what you should do to improve it.”
  • TNS-BMRB. TNS changed their name to Kantar Public UK: a leading agency providing research and consultancy to UK policymakers and contracted to work for the government. The company is structured around specific areas of marketing expertise: Brand & Communication; Innovation & Product Development; Retail & Shopper; Customer Experience; Employee Engagement; Qualitative; Automotive; and Political & Social.

The bandwagon effect is part of a larger group of cognitive biases or errors in thinking that influence the judgements and decisions that people make. Cognitive biases are often designed to help people think and reason more quickly – “mental shortcuts” – but they often introduce miscalculations and mistakes. These cognitive biases are being manipulated by behavioural economists, the government, polling companies and the media.

Individuals may highly influenced by the pressure and norms exerted by groups. When it seems like the majority of the group is doing a certain thing, not doing that thing becomes increasingly difficult. The bandwagon effect is essentially the manipulation of a type of groupthink process The government know this and are designing communications strategies which play to this heuristic.

All of the polling  companies are commissioned and operate within a taken-for-granted neoliberal context, supporting various actors within the “global market place” paradigm, including governments, and therefore have a distinct ideological leaning and very clearly defined economic interests in maintaining the status quo.

“Behavioural economics shows that people don’t want to challenge the status quo. So if we see a poll telling us ‘what the majority thinks’, we will have a tendency to follow the herd.” Crawford Hollingworth, founder, The Behavioural Architects.

fake 2

 


 

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Leaked document reveals how government are micromanaging public perceptions of the government’s austerity programme

daniel-kahneman-quote-nudge

Kahneman’s work with Amos Tversky was a key influence on the development of behavioural economics. Kahneman’s friend and colleague, Richard Thaler, built on their body of work, producing the first text about Nudge. Behavioural economics is a form of neoliberal ‘cognitive credentialism’.

It has increasingly informed political justification narratives, favouring the wealthy and powerful, and presenting a case for imposing austerity on the poorest citizens. It is also used to fuel a tenuous, pseudoscientific and neo-technocratic alternative account of the subsequent growth in poverty and inequality, and the political destruction of the UK’s public services.

The Conservative-led coalition instituted the Nudge Unit in 2010. Although now part-privatised, and seemingly wholly unaccountable to the public, it remains a part of the Cabinet office, too. 

A question we really need to ask is who nudges the nudgers?

A leaked dossier, apparently a joint study by the Cabinet Office and Department for Work and Pensions, states: “Austerity and its fall-out undermined perceptions of competence and the belief that [the government is] acting fairly, openly and with integrity.”

The damning document was accidentally exposed by an unnamed person, revealing it in front of Westminster journalists and photographers. The leak highlights the fundamental disconnect between what people are experiencing and what they are being told is happening by the government.

This is a form of testimonial injustice and part of a wider strategy of epistemic authoritarianism.

The document shows part of a study that has highlighted the poor state of the public’s trust in politics, government and the party in power. It then outlines strategies that are part of an attempt to ‘build trust’ and “improve government communications.” This indicates a shameful government that thinks soundbites rather than a much needed positive change in policy direction is an adequate way of running the country. 

It also reflects the utter arrogance of a Conservative government who think that trust is something that may be simply acquired from the public, rather than earned.

The authors named on the document are Laura de Moliere, the Department for Work and Pension’s lead behavioural scientist, and Catherine Hunt, Head of Insight and Evaluation at the Cabinet Office.

The document shows the governments’ planned use of communication strategies to ‘manage’ public perceptions of the government’s behaviours and their policies. However, the Conservative’s draconian austerity programme has resulted in widespread distress, hardship, harm, and has caused citizen deaths. This document basically reveals the Conservative’s emphasis on political slogans, attempts at subliminal manipulation and gaslighting techniques, as a means of simply maintaining their power. Using language to erode people’s shared sense of reality is also a totalitarian technique of control.

The document shows a government with no intention of changing their prejudiced, punitive policies and the subsequent harms and hardships they are inflicting on the poorest citizens. It demonstrates a profoundly undemocratic government with absolutely no intention of listening to the public, or engaging in a democratic dialogue.

“Acting in the public’s interest” has become another empty, meaningless Conservative slogan, repeated ad nauseam, in much the same way as “strong and stable” was, and before that, “we’re all in it together.”

brazil

Poster from Terry Gilliam’s dark, dystopic film Brazil. It’s a satire, about a hidden,  bureaucratic, totalitarian government, which is reminiscent of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The Conservative’s austerity policies have been targeted at the poorest and most vulnerable citizens, while at the same time as the savage cuts were being implemented, the chancellor lavished £107,000 each per year in a tax break hand out to millionaires. We have never been “all in it together”. That was a big lie.

Cameron’s slogan preempted the damage that austerity has inflicted on the UK, because it was known in advance that those policies were going to cause harm. The government have responded to raised criticisms and legitimate concerns regarding the consequences of their policies by using a range of techniques of neutralisation.

However, a few cunning and deceitful linguistic strategies and lies are not going to fool people for long. Sooner or later, the empirical evidence catches up and then overtakes the lies. Peoples’ direct experiences of austerity inform them of the truth. Yet the government is trying to tell them that those experiences are not so. Using a form of political gaslighting – calling people who raise legitimate concerns “scaremongers”, for example – reflects the same attitudes and behaviours of despots throughout history.

strong and stable

Fascism ultimately takes on the contours of whatever national and political culture produces it.

This is a government that has a serious problem in recognising any limits to its authority.

The UK’s democracy recession

The leaked paper explains why several ministers and Conservative MPs have appeared to be using the same crib sheet recently, claiming repeatedly that Universal Credit, for example, is “compassionate and fair”, when that description does not in any way match the evidence. It explains the repeated and unbelievably ludicrous claims that the government make about their commitment to “social justice”,  “fairness”, and that they are “competent” and “tackling inequality” in the context of a policy framework underpinned by conscious cruelty. 

The government have hired specialist coaches to instruct them in how to tell lies effectively, using experts in behaviourist communication techniques of manipulation. We have historically regarded states that employ surveillance and monitoring to screen, rank and change citizens’ behaviour by acting upon them without their consent as “totalitarian”. 

A state that misuses psychology and propaganda to impose conformity on a population regards citizens as a means to an end, to fulfil ideological goals: “Everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state”.

The Conservatives have adopted the Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda approach to managing public perceptions and beliefs. Like Goebbels, the Conservatives have adapted techniques in commercial advertising to the political sphere, including the use of catchy slogans and subliminal cues. 

Nudge and behavioural economics more generally has added another layer of strategic and creeping authoritarianism aimed at micromanaging  citizens’ perceptions, decision-making and behaviours to align them with government aims. 

This, of course, completely turns democracy on its head, as I have said on many other occasions on his site. 

dossier

The damning leaked document.

It’s truly remarkable that a government who claims it favours a small state has used public funds to build a massive and private propaganda and behaviour modification empire, without any reference to the consent of the governed. The need to control citizens to such a degree indicates an overcentralisation of  political decision making. 

Ian Lavery said: “Austerity has done more than just destroy public trust, it has destroyed lives.

“The Tory party continues to treat being in government as some sort of cynical PR exercise.

“If they recognise that austerity has been a disaster, they should be focusing on bringing it to an end rather than how to spin it.”

Several of us have approached the government for comment.

However, it will probably take a while for the government’s Strategic Communications Service to finish crafting their response.

Here is the document in full, courtesy of the Mirror

The role of communication in rebuilding political trust

November 2018

Catherine Hunt, Cabinet Office & Laura De Moliere, DWP

1. What does this paper deliver?

This paper provides a definition of trust, based on a review of academic, public sector and media industry publications as well as our own research. It identifies the factors that underpin trust, looks at why trust in the institutions of government is falling and sets out how this affects us as communicators. It builds on the conclusions from our previous paper on trust from April 2018 and recommends a strategy for building trust and improving the effectiveness of our communication activity in the future.

2. Summary and recommendations

The main conclusions that can be drawn from this paper are:

An individual citizen’s trust in government (political trust) is based on his or her perceptions of its competence and whether or not is acting in the public (and the individual’s personal) interest, judged by the values that it governs by.

  • Competence is judged by the presence of five specific behaviours: setting out a shared vision for the future; authenticity; taking perspectives; valuing others’ opinions; and transparency.
  • The core trust values that Government should demonstrate are fairness, openness and integrity

Citizens’ political trust and views of whether it is acting competently and in the public interest is influenced by:

  • Specific support for the political administration in power at any given point in time.
  • Diffuse support for the overall system of government and its institutions

Trust in politicians has always been low. However, the global recession in 2008 and subsequent period of austerity triggered a decline in diffuse trust for the system of government in many Western economies, including the UK.

  • Austerity and its fall-out undermined perceptions of competence and belief that it […] acting fairly, openly and with integrity

Rapid social, demographic and technological changes are […]

As diffuse trust in the institutions of government […]

parties is rising. People who support […]

parliament. This is also true for […]

The decline in political trust […]

which will in turn reduc[…]


(The last part was only partially visible in the photo capture.)

One final comment. I have researched and written a lot over the last few years about the very issues that this leak exposes. I’ve been one of the biggest critics of PR and strategic comms, techniques of neutralisation, the political abuse of psyop techniques and psychographic targeting, behavioural economics and the political use of nudge on a largely unaware and non-consenting public.

In other words, I have told you so.

I’ve linked this psychopolitical governance approach with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the government’s use of similar companies during the last election, and the Leave campaign. The Institute for Statecraft and Integrity Initiative exposure reveals yet another dimension of this hidden, dark approach to governance. It indicates a kind of secret police, employed to uphold and enforce the government’s narrative and ideological aims.

“In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and nothing was true… The totalitarian mass leaders based their propaganda on the correct psychological assumption that, under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.” Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, 1951.

Some voices are eternally relevant.

 

Related

gcs-guide-to-communications-and-behaviour-change1 - Copy
You can read this document here.

You can also read the Civil Service Strategic Communications handbook here

Some of my work:

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

The connection between Universal Credit, ordeals and experiments in electrocuting laboratory rats

 The government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

Exclusive: DWP Admit Using Fake Claimant’s Comments In Benefit Sanctions Leaflet

The benefit cap, phrenology and the new Conservative character divination

Rogue company Unum had a profiteering hand in the government’s work, health and disability green paper – Politics and Insights

Stigmatising unemployment: the government has redefined it as a psychological disorder

Cameron’s Nudge that knocked democracy down: mind the Mindspace

The just world fallacy


Authoritarian UK government is funding military grade psyops to smear and calumniate HM’s opposition

psyops

From the government’s ALLIED JOINT DOCTRINE FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL OPERATIONS WITH UK NATIONAL ELEMENTS, SEPTEMBER 2014 .

On page X of the document, it says: “NATO definition of PSYOPS. Allied Administrative Publication (AAP)-06 defines psychological operations as: planned activities using methods of communication and other means directed at approved audiences in order to influence perceptions, attitudes and behaviour, affecting the achievement of political and military objectives.” [My emphasis].

On page IX, this footnote – The term information strategy (its concept and definition) is not yet endorsed through official NATO policy. Its use here [in the UK], however, reflects current thinking on this subject and is coherent with current policy and doctrine initiatives in areas such as the effects-based approach, strategic communications and information operations.” 

Nudging democracy

The British government is financing a large-scale network that influences political and public opinion in Europe using psyops. A substantial part of it is designed to attack the left, and to promote anti-Russian rhetoric.

Psychological operations (PSYOP) are operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to manage perceptions, to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behaviours of organizations, groups, and individuals.

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

In June 2015, NSA files published by Glenn Greenwald revealed details of the JTRIG group at British intelligence agency GCHQ covertly manipulating online communities. This is in line with JTRIG’s goal: to “destroy, deny, degrade [and] disrupt” enemies by “discrediting” them, planting misinformation and shutting down their communications.

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

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

But the GCHQ documents are 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?

Now, inevitably, some politicians and academics have reacted with fury to news that a covert Government-funded unit has been systematically and strategically attacking the official opposition in Parliament, and seriously undermining democracy in the UK.  

Last month (5 November), Anonymous Europe obtained a large number of documents relating to the activities of the ‘Integrity Initiative’ project, which was launched back in autumn, 2015. The project is funded by the British government and has been established by the Institute for Statecraft.

It’s perhaps unsurprising that the hack has had zero substantive coverage in the UK, US or European press, but it was picked up by Russian media. 

The Institute for Statecraft is affiliated with the NATO HQ Public Diplomacy Division and the Home Office-funded ‘Prevent’ programme, among other things. Statecraft’s Security Economics director, Dr Shima D Keene, collaborated with John A. S. Ardis on a paper about information warfareAnonymous published the documents, which have unearthed the massive UK-led psyop to create a ‘large-scale information secret service’ in Europe, the US and Canada.

The declared goal of the project is to “counteract Russian propaganda” and Moscow’s hybrid warfare (a military strategy that employs political warfare and blends conventional warfare, ‘irregular’ warfare and cyberwarfare with other influencing methods, such as fake news, diplomacy, lawfare and foreign electoral intervention). 

The Integrity Initiative consists of representatives of political, military, academic and journalistic communities with the think tank in London at the head of it.

On 26 November, Integrity Initiative published a statement on the Russian media coverage of the hack. In it they said:

“The Integrity Initiative was set up in autumn 2015 by The Institute for Statecraft in cooperation with the Free University of Brussels (VUB) to bring to the attention of politicians, policy-makers, opinion leaders and other interested parties the threat posed by Russia to democratic institutions in the United Kingdom, across Europe and North America.”

“The Integrity Initiative aims to unite people who understand the threat, in order to provide a coordinated Western response to Russian disinformation and other elements of hybrid warfare.”

The documents included in the leak comprised of a handbook, funding information and lists of people organised by ‘cluster’.

iukcluster1

According to the handbook, Integrity Initiative aims to:

“Bring to the attention of politicians, policy-makers, opinion leaders and other interested parties the threat posed by Russia to democratic institutions in the United Kingdom, across Europe and North America.”

And it achieves this by organising  a network of clusters acress Europe and North America, which are made up of:

“[…] people who understand the threat posed to Western nations by a flood of disinformation.”

Integrity Initiative claim they have developed a network of people who operate to counter Russia’s ‘disinformation’. This may includes interference in the appointment of someone to a government position, using Twitter attacks to prevent the appointment of Colonel Pedro Baños as director of Spain’s Department of Homeland Security, for example. Yet the same network frequently accuse Russia of ‘meddling’ in the political affairs of other countries, and of being antidemocratic. 

In addition to personel from the Integrity Initiative’s  parent organisation – The Institute for Statecraft – there are people representing  think tanks like DEMOS, RUSI, hedge fund interests, Henry Jackson Society, European Council on Foreign Relations, and Chatham House, as well as from the Ministry of Defence, which includes the EU Joint Headquarters at Northwood, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and several journalists.

uk journos

For example, Andy Pryce, the Foreign Office Head of Counter Disinformation and Media Development, Ben Bradshaw MP, Sir Andrew Wood, former British ambassador to Russia, and a founder of Orbis Business Intelligence, the privatised British intelligence operation which also incudes Christopher Steele, the author of the Trump ‘dodgy dossier’.

It’s interesting that the old trick – slurring British Labour politicians with Russian/communist links – is back in fashion. The fake Zinoviev letter was traced back to British Intelligence services.

With recent declarations by leading Blairites and several Tory figures such as Michael Fallon, who claimed that Labour now represents a ‘security threat to you and your family’, Corbyn faced a media disinformation campaign of truly staggering proportions, and the allegations of ties to Russia played a significant part.

Corbyn reasonably called for de-escalation and de-militarisation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict on several occasions in the past year as a means to achieving a political solution. He has also called for ‘dialogue’. Some may deem that ‘idealistic’, perhaps, but not completely crazy. Russia is, after all a major nuclear state. Personally I prefer his diplomatic approach to the aggressive posturing of the government.

Quite frankly, the Sun, Daily Mail and other right wing propaganda rags have managed two quite remarkable things from this farrago. The first is to make Jeremy Corbyn look better than before. The second is to justify his calls for press regulation.

It turns out that Ben Nimmo, a “senior fellow” at the Institute for Statecraft, co-authored an article with Jonathan Eyal of the Royal United Services Institute alleged that TV news channel RT broadcast “systematic bias in favour of Corbyn” when he first stood for the Labour leadership. 

The article went on to say the motivation for this was “most likely to be executing the interests of the government which funds it.” Nimmo was also quoted in the Sun newspaper as saying Russia was “supporting Corbyn against his opponents both in the Labour Party and outside it.”

Of course the newspaper used this to support its conspiracy theory that “a twisted Russian cyber campaign which has backed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is aiming to sow division across the UK.” 

The crafty state institute

The Institute for Statecraft was set up, and is currently led by Chris Donnelly  (who, prior to joining NATO in 1989, was for 20 years at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst) and Daniel Lafayeedney (whose military service, legal background and career as an entrepreneur have led him to an “understanding of the importance of the link between business and national security.”) They are supported by a Board of Trustees, Board of Advisers, an Operations Staff, a Strategic Development Team and an extensive network of like minded Fellows, associates and researchers.

Defending disinformation against democracy

The Integrity Initiative’s Orwellian slogan is ‘Defending Democracy Against Disinformation’. On its About page it claims: “We are not a government body but we do work with government departments and agencies who share our aims.” 

The UK defines strategic communication (StratCom) as: “advancing national interests by using all Defence means of communication to influence the attitudes and behaviours of people. It is an MOD-level function that seeks to align words, images and actions by taking direction and guidance from the National Security Council and developing a Strategic Communication Actions and Effects Framework to guide targeting and planning activities.”

“Info Ops is a staff function that analyzes, plans, assesses and integrates information activities to create desired effects on the will, understanding and capability of adversaries, potential adversaries and North Atlantic Council (NAC) approved audiences in support of Alliance mission objectives. PSYOPS, along with other capabilities,
will be coordinated through Info Ops processes guided by the information strategy and within NATO’s StratCom approach.”

The UK defines target audience analysis (TAA) as: “the systematic study of people to enhance understanding and identify accessibility, vulnerability, and susceptibility to behavioural and attitudinal influence.”

In the document dump on November 5, the Anonymous group exposed the UK-based Integrity Initiative’.  The main stated objective is counter-terrorism, and “to provide a coordinated Western response to Russian disinformation and other elements of hybrid warfare.” The Institute for Statecraft is affiliated with the NATO HQ Public Diplomacy Division and the Home Office-funded ‘Prevent’ programme, so objectivity is, of course, at the forefront of their work… 

However, the secret UK Government-funded propaganda unit allegedly based in Scotland has also been running a campaign on social media, using posts attacking Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. 

The Institute for Statecraft appears to be a small charity operating from an old Victorian mill in Fife. But the explosive leaked documents, which have been passed to the Sunday Mail, reveal the organisation’s Integrity Initiative is funded with £2million of Foreign Office cash and run by military intelligence specialists.

The Conservative group is supposed to counter Russian online propaganda by forming “clusters” of persuaders: friendly journalists and “key influencers” throughout Europe who use social media to hit back against ‘disinformation’.

On the siteDr Shima D Keene writes: “The new security environment is increasingly spawning a variety of asymmetric threats which require immediate attention. Many of these threats are driven by the desire for economic gain, either as an end in itself, or to assist in achieving an ultimate end. Efforts to tackle the economic aspects of these threats have frequently been neglected or, at best, fragmented. This is particularly the case in the international sphere, allowing our adversary to operate in a benign environment.

“Security Economics is the analysis of the economic aspects of human-induced insecurity, such as terrorism and organised crime.

“The Institute’s Security Economics Programme serves to unite existing knowledge while bringing new knowledge to the subject. The multi-disciplinary approach aims to provide new thinking and direction, both strategically and tactically, in order that effective financial warfare strategies can be devised and implemented to tackle the evolving threat environment. Network analysis plays a key part. Activities of the Programme include operational research, policy development, counselling and mentoring in the following subject areas:

  • Threat Finance (Terrorism, Narcotics, Human Trafficking, Proliferation/Weapons of Mass Destruction and Organised Crime)
  • Psychological Operations/Info Ops/ Influence
  • Financial Counter Insurgency
  • Economic Crime (to include Fraud and Money Laundering)
  • Maritime Piracy (Kidnap and Ransom)
  • Cyber crime and associated Technology
  • Forensic Finance/Financial Intelligence
  • Economic Warfare/ Asymmetric Financial Warfare
  • Counter Terrorist Finance/Anti Money laundering (Legislation/Regulation).

A message from the UK Government-funded organisation promotes an article that states: “Unlike Galloway (former MP George Galloway) Corbyn does not scream conspiracy, he implies it,” while another added: “It’s time for the Corbyn left to confront its Putin problem.”

A further message refers to an “alleged British Corbyn supporter” who “wants to vote for Putin”.

It is not just the Labour leader who has been on the receiving end of online attacks. The party’s strategy and communications director, Seumas Milne, was also targeted.

The Integrity Initiative, whose base, allegedly at Gateside Mill, near Auchtermuchty, retweeted a newspaper report that said: “Milne is not a spy – that would be beneath him.

“But what he has done, wittingly or unwittingly, is work with the Kremlin agenda.”

Another retweet promoted a journalist who said: “Just as he supports the Russian bombardment of Syria, Seumas Milne supported the Russian slaughter of Afghanistan, which resulted in more than a million deaths.”

The Integrity Initiative has been accused of supporting Ukrainian politicians who oppose Putin – even when they also have suspected far-right links.

Further leaked documents appear to show a Twitter campaign that resulted in a Spanish politician believed to be friendly to the Kremlin being denied a job.

The organisation’s “Spanish cluster” swung into action on hearing that Pedro Banos was to be appointed director of the national security department.

The papers detail how the Integrity Initiative alerted “key influencers” around Europe who launched an online campaign against the politician.

In the wake of the leaks, which also detail Government grant applications, the Foreign Office have been forced to confirm they provided massive funding to the Integrity Initiative.

In response to a parliamentary question by Chris Williamson, Europe Minister Alan Duncan said: “In financial year 2017-18, the FCO funded the Institute for Statecraft’s Integrity Initiative £296,500.

“This financial year, the FCO are funding a further £1,961,000. Both have been funded through grant agreements.” 

Apparently, the Institute launched the Integrity Initiative in 2015 to “defend democracy against disinformation.” However, the evidence uncovered strongly suggests that it’s rather more of an attempt to defend disinformation against democracy.   

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry expressed the party’s justifiable outrage:

“It is one of the cardinal rules of British public life that official resources should not be used for party political purposes. So, it is simply outrageous that the clearly mis-named ‘Integrity Initiative’ – funded by the Foreign Office to the tune of £2.25 million over the past two years – has routinely been using its Twitter feed to disseminate personal attacks and smears against the Leader of the Opposition, the Labour Party and Labour officials.

“And this cannot be dismissed as something outside the Government’s control, given the application for funding agreed by the Foreign Office last year stated explicitly that it would be used in part to expand “the impact of the Integrity Initiative website…and Twitter/social media accounts.

“So the Government must now answer the following questions: why did the Foreign Office allow public money to be spent on attempting to discredit Her Majesty’s Opposition? Did they know this was happening? If not, why not? And if they did, how on earth can they justify it?”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “It would appear that we have a charity registered in Scotland and overseen by the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator that is funded by the UK Government and is spewing out political attacks on UK politicians, the Labour Party and the Labour movement.

“Such clear political attacks and propaganda shouldn’t be coming from any charity. We need to know why the Foreign Office have been funding it.”

The UK’s links with NATO  psyops are well-established – see Countering propaganda: NATO spearheads use of behavioural change sciencefor example. From the article: “Target Audience Analysis, a scientific application developed by the UK based Behavioural Dynamics Institute, that involves a comprehensive study of audience groups and forms the basis for interventions aimed at reinforcing or changing attitudes and behaviour.”

The UK government openly discusses its policy intents regarding ‘behavioural change’, and instituted the Nudge Unit in 2010 to contribute to their behaviourist policy agenda. The behavioural economists from the Unit have contributed significantly to punitive welfare policy, for example.

The programme entailing the use of behavioural change science for NATO was delivered by the UK-based Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL Defence), which has worked for the UK Ministry of Defence and the United States’ Department of Defense for a number of years and is the world’s only company licensed to deliver the Behavioural Dynamics process, and a team of Information Warfare experts drawn from seven nations, called IOTA-Global.

David Miller, a professor of political sociology in the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol, added: “It’s extraordinary that the Foreign Office would be funding a Scottish charity to counter Russian propaganda which ends up attacking Her Majesty’s opposition and soft-pedalling far-right politicians in the Ukraine.

“People have a right to know how the Government are spending their money, and the views being promoted in their name.”

Tamsin Shaw, an associate professor of philosophy at New York University, has researched the US military’s funding and use of psychological research for use in torture. She says: “The capacity for this science to be used to manipulate emotions is very well established. This is military-funded technology that has been harnessed by a global plutocracy and is being used to sway elections in ways that people can’t even see, don’t even realise is happening to them.”  

It’s about exploiting existing phenomenon like nationalism and then using it to manipulate people at the margins. To have so much data in the hands of a bunch of international plutocrats to do with it what they will is absolutely chilling.

We are in an information war and billionaires are buying up these companies, which are then employed to go to work in the heart of government. That’s a very worrying situation.”

Mass surveillance, data harvesting and analysis, psychographic profiling and behavioural modification strategies are embedded in the corporate sector and are now very clearly being used in a way that challenges the political canon of liberal democratic societies, where citizens are traditionally defined by principles of self-determination. I’ve spent the past few years writing critically about the neuroliberal turn, and the serious threat it poses to democracy.

The leaked documents show a funding application to the Foreign Office that details the unit’s work.

Further papers reveal a unit in Lithuania which received overseas funding to “support a new hub/cluster creation and to educate cluster leaders and key people in Vilnius in infowar techniques”.

It’s only over recent years that we are getting a glimpse of new behavioural economics discipline evolving into forms of social control that make the frightful 20th-century totalitarianism regimes seem like a primitive and crude method of governance by comparison. This all-pervasive control is elegant and hidden in plain view. It’s a subtle and stealthy form of totalitarianism. Behavioural science and its various applications as a new “cognitive-military complex” – it originated within intelligence and state security agencies.

BeWorks is one example of a company adopting the nudge approach to strategic communications and marketing, they 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.”

The consequences of governments acting upon citizens to meet political aims, and to align behaviours with a totalising neoliberal ideology, turns democracy completely on its head. We are left with a form of inverted totalitarianism, or facade democracy, where direct methods of oppression are not required, as citizens are far easier to control and better ‘nudged’ when they continue to believe themselves free and autonomous. 

The Foreign Office have not yet responded to a request for comment.

Related

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

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

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

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

 


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Research finds ‘inaccuracies and distortions’ in media coverage of antisemitism and the Labour Party

Noam Chomsky, Yanis Varoufakis, Ken Loach, Brian Eno, Des Freedman, Justin Schlosberg and 21 others write about a recent report by the Media Reform Coalition.

Source: Guardian Letters 

We have long had serious concerns about the lack of due impartiality and accuracy in the reporting of allegations of antisemitism against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. The recent report by the Media Reform Coalition examining coverage of Labour’s revised code of conduct on antisemitism shows that we are right to be concerned. 

The research examined over 250 articles and broadcast news segments and found over 90 examples of misleading or inaccurate reporting. In relation to the IHRA definition of antisemitism that was at the heart of the dispute, the research found evidence of “overwhelming source imbalance” in which critics of Labour’s code of conduct dominated coverage, with nearly 50% of Guardian reports, for example, failing to include any quotes from those defending the code or critiquing the IHRA definition. Moreover, key contextual facts about the IHRA definition – for example that it has only been formally adopted by eight countries (and only six of the IHRA member states) – were consistently excluded. 

The researchers conclude these were not occasional lapses in judgment but “systematic reporting failures” that served to weaken the Labour leadership and to bolster its opponents within and outside of the party. 

It is of course entirely appropriate and necessary for our major news outlets to report on the horrors of antisemitism, but wrong to present it as an issue specific to the Labour party. 

In covering the allegations that Labour is now “institutionally antisemitic”, there have been inaccuracies, clear distortions and revealing omissions across our most popular media platforms. We believe that significant parts of the UK media have failed their audiences by producing flawed reports that have contributed to an undeserved witch-hunt against the Labour leader and misdirected public attention away from antisemitism elsewhere, including on the far right, which is ascendant in much of Europe.

Prof Noam Chomsky
Brian Eno
Francesca Martinez
Yanis Varoufakis
Ken Loach
Raoul Martinez
Justin Schlosberg Birkbeck, University of London
Prof Des Freedman Goldsmiths, University of London
Prof Imogen Tyler Lancaster University
Prof Aeron Davis Goldsmiths, University of London
Prof Annabelle Sreberny Soas, University of London
Prof Greg Philo University of Glasgow
Prof Natalie Fenton Goldsmiths, University of London
Prof David Miller Bristol University
Prof David Hesmondhalgh University of Leeds
Prof James Curran Goldsmiths, University of London
Prof Julian Petley Brunel University
Stephen Cushion Cardiff University
Jason Hickel Goldsmiths, University of London
Einar Thorsen Bournemouth University
Mike Berry Cardiff University
Tom Mills Aston University
Jenny Manson Jewish Voice for Labour
Leah Levane Jewish Voice for Labour
Lindsey German Stop the War Coalition
Mike Cushman Free Speech on Israel
Glyn Secker Jewish Voice for Labour

Image result for media bias uk

Britain has one of the most concentrated media environments in the world, with 3 companies in control of 71% of national newspaper circulation and 5 companies in command of 81% of local newspaper titles.

The Media Reform Coalition has conducted in-depth research on the controversy surrounding antisemitism in the Labour Party, focusing on media coverage of the crisis during the summer of 2018.

The coalition say: “Following extensive case study research, we identified myriad inaccuracies and distortions in online and television news including marked skews in sourcing, omission of essential context or right of reply, misquotation, and false assertions made either by journalists themselves or sources whose contentious claims were neither challenged nor countered. Overall, our findings were consistent with a disinformation paradigm. 

We use the concept of disinformation to denote systematic reporting failures that broadly privileged a particular political agenda and ideological narrative. This does not mean that these failures were intentional or that journalists and news institutions were inherently biased. We recognize, for instance, that resource pressures combined with acute and complex controversies can foster particular source dependencies or blind spots. 

Nor does our research speak in any way to allegations of smear tactics. To interrogate the root causes of disinformation would necessitate a far more wide-ranging study than was undertaken here. We start from the well-founded assumption that concerns about antisemitic hate speech within the Labour Party are genuine and not necessarily or entirely misplaced. There have been unambiguous examples of racist discourse invoking holocaust denial, generalized references to Jews in stereotyped contexts, and critiques of Zionists or Zionism that explicitly use the terms as proxies for Jews. Some of these cases have involved holders of official positions within the party, including local councilors. 

Alongside such cases, there is a contested category of discourse that may be considered offensive or insensitive but not necessarily racist. Indeed, determining what counts as antisemitism lies at the heart of the wider controversy that has been played out in reams of column inches and air time since 2015, and with particular intensity during the spring and summer of 2018. We reserve judgement on this central point of contention but acknowledge legitimate views on both sides, as well as a spectrum in which relatively extreme and moderate positions are easily identifiable. 

We recognize that this controversy – on the surface at least – involves prominent voices in a minority community accusing a major political party of harbouring racism directed towards them. What’s more, these voices have been vocally supported by many high profile Labour MPs. In such circumstances we expect journalists to take these concerns seriously, view them as inherently newsworthy, and not necessarily afford equal time and attention to contesting views. It is also important to stress that journalists must be allowed – on occasion – to get the story wrong: the public interest is never served by an overly cautious press. 

But we do expect professional journalists to strive for accuracy, to establish essential contextual facts in any given story, and to actively seek out dissenting or contesting opinion including, in this case, within the minority group in question, within other affected minorities, and amongst relevant experts (both legal and academic). Nor do the particular complexities and sensitivities absolve journalists of their responsibility to offer a due right of reply to the accused or to interrogate contentious claims made by sources on all sides. 

Overall, we found 95 clear cut examples of misleading or inaccurate reporting on mainstream television and online news platforms, with a quarter of the total sample containing at least one such example. The problem was especially pronounced on television – which reaches far wider audiences by comparison – where two thirds of the news segments on television contained at least one reporting error or substantive distortion.

You can read the rest of the Media Reform Coalition’s report here

 

Related

Marginalisation of left leaning Jewish groups demonstrates political exploitation of the antisemitism controversy by the right wing

Antisemitism and the Labour party – a deeper look (cont) – Jewish Voice for  Labour

Journalism in the UK is under threat from a repressive, authoritarian government

 


 

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Nudge and neoliberalism

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I’ve been criticising nudge and the closely related discipline of behavioural economics for a few years, sometimes with an international audience (see, for example: The connection between Universal Credit, ordeals and experiments in electrocuting laboratory rats.)  Nudge has increasingly seen by governments as a cheap and effective way of achieving social political goals in an era of austerity. 

I have several objections to the “behavioural turn”; some are to do with its impact on democracy, others are to do with its class contingency: poor people are disproportionately nudged, and without their consent. When I say ‘disproportionately’, I mean almost exclusively.

Over the last seven years, behavioural economics has come to be seen as something of a technocratic fix for a failing and overarching socioeconomic system. However, it has more in common with PR, marketing and advertising that psychology or economics. It’s part of the ‘sales pitch’ for neoliberalism, which is already a sold out event.

Behavioural economics epitomizes an era in which politics is concerned chiefly with saving money and combating the symptoms rather than the causes of growing social inequality. Nudges may serve to make poverty infinitesimally more bearable for the government, who can say that they are doing something to ‘solve’ poverty, but certainly not for the poorest people. When you zoom out, you see clearly that exactly nothing is being solved at all. At best, nudge is like persuading a person to learn how to swim in a clean and tidy swimming pool, and them throwing them back into a maelstrom out at sea.

The poorest citizens are targeted with punitive, heavily bureaucratic policies and an administrative authoritarianism, while wealthy people get the freedom to do as they please, and a rewarding form of state libertarian socialism, where the regulation book is ripped up. Unaccountable private companies design nudge strategies for profit, politicians and civil servants learn them and become board room, arm-chair psychologists, experimenting on ordinary citizens to find ways of not paying out for public services. All without the publics’ consent.

What could possibly go right? 

The government and their small army of behavioural economists argue that citizens’ characters, cognitive ‘limitations’ and ‘flawed’ decision making is the root cause of poverty and creates inequality, so handing over money every year to poor people is akin to “treating the symptoms, but ignoring the disease.” Margaret Thatcher, the High Priestess of neoliberalism, once called poverty a “personality defect.”

However, this narrative is based on assumption and fails to take into account the possibility that people’s decisions, behaviours and circumstantial problems are not the cause but the consequences of poverty. Giving poor people more money might well just genuinely work wonders, because simply having too little is THE problem. 

Nudge is an authoritarian prop for a failing neoliberal ideology and policies. Most citizens don’t benefit from a system founded on accumulation by dispossession – a concept presented by David Harvey, which defines the neoliberal capitalist policies in many western nations, from the New Right Thatcher era to the present day, as resulting in the centralisation of wealth and power in the hands of a few, by dispossessing the public of their wealth, public services and land. And increasingly, their autonomy, as public perceptions and behaviours are being aligned with politically determined neoliberal ‘outcomes’. It’s a vicious cycle – a maelstrom. 

Nudge is politically ‘justified’ by a draconian, ideological framework of beliefs, partly based on Victorian meritocratic notions of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’. One theme is that poor people lack the qualities or capacities to be economically competent, and simply make the ‘wrong’ choices. But in a system where everyone competes for resources (as well as a democratic voice, government attention and funding), not everyone is permitted to be wealthy. That is the nature of ‘competition’. There is no such thing as ‘trickle down’ either. Wealthy people don’t generally share their wealth.

Image result for @LanceUlanoff on trickle down

Furthermore, being poor isn’t particularly lucrative, in fact poverty itself tends to be accumulative. Poor people are financially penalised and economically excluded. Poor citizens can’t get loans when they need them, unless they are prepared to pay eyewatering interest rates, of course. Pay as you go metered utilities – gas, electric and water, for example – tend to cost rather more than a monthly or quarterly direct debit. Poor people who get into debt with utility companies tend to be coerced into having payment meters fitted, as they are considered at ‘risk’ of defaulting on payments by big businesses.

It’s somehow become obscenely normal to charge poor people more money than wealthy people for the same services and utilities. I’ve yet to hear of a poor person who became less poor because they are being punished by having more money taken from them.

However, being wealthy is very lucrative; it’s the gift that keeps on giving. This discrimination has been dressed up carefully with a political narrative, using terms like “incentives”. For wealthy people, a reward of more money is apparently an ‘incentive’ to just keep on being wealthy. 

Poor people, however, seemingly require a different form of ‘incentivisation’. They need to be told that it’s ‘wrong’ to be poor, and that it is their own fault, rather than the consequence of a prejudiced and discriminatory government and their flawed, prejudiced and discriminatory policy designs. In a so-called meritocratic system, it follows that wealthy people ‘deserve’ their wealth – even though at least one third of them simply inherited it – and poor people deserve to be poor. If it wasn’t for the myth of meritocracy, inequality and burdening those in poverty with a sense of shame and personal failing would be considered abhorrent. However, neither neoliberalism nor it’s PR and strategic communications agent, behavioural economics, are drawn from the philosophical well of human kindness. They came to life in the degenerative, dry ruins of once civilised societies, marking a Fin de Siècle of  late capitalism.

The socioeconomic system of organisation – neoliberalism – eliminates the possibility that everyone can ‘win’, since neoliberalism is itself founded on competitive individualism, which permits only a few ‘winners’ and many more ‘losers’. The existence of absolute poverty in a wealthy country is ample evidence of a fatally flawed system, so the government uses a rhetoric of a myth – meritocracy – to justify the status quo, blaming citizens’ ‘behaviours’ and ‘attitudes’, rather than recognising the real problem and changing the system, which generates inequality from its very core.

So poor people are penalised for being poor by being incentivised’ by punitive economic sanctions that entail losses from the little money they have. This is so appallingly cruel, because scarcity completely consumes people. It eats away at human potential and stifles possibilities. And removes choices.

The patronising ‘paternalism’ of a government that assumes it ‘knows what is best’ for people – punitive nudges delivered by a group of privileged, powerful and prejudiced elitists – is doomed to fail. The key reason is that being poor means having less choice to start off with. Poor people don’t act on available choices because they can’t. They have none. They are compelled to act on necessity.

maslow-5

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs outlines that our most basic needs are biological, and meeting these needs is a necessity for survival. There isn’t a ‘choice’.

Taking money from poor people is simply cruel and barbaric. It reduces ‘choices’ and increases necessity and desperation.

If we can’t meet our fundamental needs, we can’t meet higher level psychosocial needs either – the ones that do entail choices about our lives. Poverty has got nothing to do with making “irrational choices” at a personal level. It’s got everything to do with being left with NO choices.

There is a world of difference between ‘choice’ and ‘necessity’. It is time the government and the technocratic behavioural economists busy propping up a failing system recognised and acknowledged this. People are poor because we have a system that diverts available resources away from them, hanging them out to dry. Until that fundamental fact is addressed, nothing will change.

It’s time for a serious and open political debate about inequality, the limits of nudge, democracy and the fundamental failure of neoliberalism. It’s time to stop blaming poor people for poverty and inequality.

Bootstraps

Related

The connection between Universal Credit, ordeals and experiments in electrocuting laboratory rats

 The government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

A critique of benefit sanctions:  the Minnesota Starvation Experiment and  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The benefit cap, phrenology and the new Conservative character divination

Stigmatising unemployment: the government has redefined it as a psychological disorder


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Telegraph made to pay £30,000 in damages over defamatory article

Jeremy Corbyn and Mohammed Kozbar.

Jeremy Corbyn with Mohammed Kozbar last summer following the far-right terrorist attack near the north London mosque. Photograph: Hannah Mckay/Reuters.

The Sunday Telegraph has been made to pay “substantial damages” to the general secretary of Finsbury Park mosque after it falsely portrayed him as a supporter of “violent lslamist extremism”, as part of yet another attempt to smear and discredit  the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as well as Mohammed Kozbar, the vice-chair of the Muslim Association of Britain. This was an attempt by the Conservative Telegraph to discredit someone using “guilt by association” – a type of ad hominem fallacy. Use of this type of association fallacy in the media is often used to generate fear as well as to discredit someone.

On 13 March 2016 the newspaper published an article headlined: Corbyn and the mosque leader who blames the UK for Isil.” The story tried to connect the Labour leader to “extremist” views, which the Telegraph alleged were held by Mohammed Kozbar, who also runs the mosque in Corbyn’s Islington North constituency. The Telegraph claimed that Kozbar “blames Britain for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [Isil]” and had “called for the destruction of Israel and appeared to praise the recent wave of terrorist stabbings in that country”.

Kozbar issued a libel claim in relation to the article, written by Andrew Gilligan, and a UK court ruled that it had defamed him. A statement, issued by Kozbar and his solicitor, was shared on Twitter by the Muslim Council of Britain’s Miqdaad Versi, who has himself challenged inaccuracies around Islam in the national press.

Kozbar said that he “regretted the lengthy and attritional process” rather than “the newspaper simply apologising and admitting fault.” He added: “I felt that a defamation claim was the only option in order to protect my community at the Finsbury Park Mosque from continued Islamophobic media coverage.”

Kozbar added that he was “falsely portrayed by the newspaper as an individual who supported the use of violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict”.

He said: “I was also falsely described as someone who blamed the UK for Isil. The truth is that I abhor and condemn the use of violence in any situation.”

Kozbar’s lawyer, Jonathan Coad, who took up the case after Kozbar was unsatisfied with a ruling by the press regulator Ipso, said: “While there are many responsible elements of the press, the demonising of Muslims in some parts of it is incredibly destructive.

“These legal proceedings should never have been necessary. The article should not have been published.”

Kozbar said that the article was defamatory and the Sunday Telegraph has now removed the article from its website, published a ruling accepting the article was defamatory, and paid damages understood to be in the region of £30,000 to settle the case. This does not include the newspaper’s costs.

It was not just myself who was the target of this article, it was Jeremy Corbyn,” said Kozbar, following the verdict. “The aim was to damage the reputation of Jeremy and make his progress with the Labour party more difficult.”

In a correction statement issued by the Telegraph on 9 May, the newspaper said: “The  Telegraph has accepted an offer to settle the claim by payment of substantial damages and his costs to be agreed.”

Related Stories

Telegraph sorry over travel article that repeated ‘anti-Semitic trope’ ruled inaccurate by IPSO

Sunday Telegraph pays £20,000 in libel damages to man wrongly described as ‘Islamist activist’

 


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

The Conservative Party are facing another investigation from the Electoral Commission following evidenced allegations that they operated a secret call centre during the general election campaign, breaching electoral law, an undercover investigation by Channel 4 News has revealed. 

An undercover reporter working for Channel 4 News secured work at Blue Telecoms, a company 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 has 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.”

Under the Representation of the People Act, it is illegal to employ someone “for payment or promise of payment as a canvasser for the purpose of promoting or procuring a candidate’s election”.

Call centre employees working on behalf of the party used a script that certainly appeared to canvass for support on film, rather than conduct market research. On the day of the election, call centre employees contacted voters to promote individual candidates.

Anya Proops, a QC specialising in information law, told Channel 4 that political parties had to ensure that third parties working on their behalf followed the law.

“It’s an illegal practice, it’s prohibited under the legislation and in so far as it’s something which has tainted the overall result in favour of a political candidate, then it can void that result.” 

Blue Telecoms is run by Sascha Lopez. He told The Guardian: “In relation to the Conservative party project, I am unable to comment on the content of the scripts or calls to TPS [Telephone Preference Service] numbers, as the scripts and lists of who to call and when to call were given to us by Conservative campaign HQ in London and were not influenced by my team.”

However, a whistleblower at the call centre told Channel 4 News that they had been making potentially unlawful phone calls to voters. 

Undecided voters were fed key Conservative campaign messages, including references to the Brexit negotiations and warnings about a hung parliament.

On the day that voters went to the polls, undecided voters were told that: “the election result in your marginal constituency is going to be very close between Theresa May’s Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. Callers were also recorded quoting media articles that were pro-Conservative. Operating from a script, the staff claimed they were carrying out calls for “market research” and “polling”. 

One caller is recorded saying: “It was reported in the Daily Mirror in September last year that Jeremy Corbyn is not concerned about the numbers of people coming to live in the UK and it was reported on Sky News this year that Theresa May has restated her pledge to reduce net Migration.”

People were then asked: “Just thinking about these reports in the media and the reports that you live in a marginal constituency that may determine who is prime minister. So does knowing that you live in a marginal constituency that will determine who is prime minister for the Brexit negotiations, does that make you a lot more likely to vote for Theresa May’s Conservative candidate or a little more likely to vote for Theresa May’s Conservative candidate, or are you still unsure, or does it not make a difference?”

The broadcaster’s evidence suggests that on the day of the election, staff called voters in 10 marginal seats, including Bridgend, Gower, Clwyd South and Wrexham.

As the election campaign started, the information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, wrote to all the major political parties reminding them of the law around telephone calls and data protection. She said that calling voters to promote a political party was “direct marketing” and was regulated by law.

A week before the election, the same call centre staff started saying they were calling on behalf of Theresa May’s Conservatives.

The Conservative party said the call centre was conducting “market research” on its behalf, and was not canvassing for votes. The call centre confirmed it was employed by the party, but has so far denied canvassing on its behalf. 

The Channel 4 undercover reporter has captured evidence that certainly seems to refute that claim. 

The use of ‘big data’ and psychographic targeting

Teams of statisticians and behavioural psychologists who subscribe to the burgeoning practice of “psycho­graphic targeting” have designed their own version of a Myers-Briggs personality test. The original test explores “the basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgement.”

The test data is supplemented by recent issue surveys, and information from online surveilance, together they are used to categorise political supporters, who then receive psychologically tailored canvassing messages, social media targeting, phone calls and doorstep visits. The micro-targeting of voters has been around for a while, but the Conservative operation has deepened the intensity of the effort and the use of vast resources of psychological data.

This is the campaign approach from a government that claims to advocate a “small state” and “minimal interventions”. However the methods being used which entail the manipulation and management of public perceptions and voting behaviours resemble those of authoritarian regimes, not a healthy liberal democracy. 

Authoritarian propagandists attempt to convey power by defining reality. The reality they portray is usually very simple. The account of reality is offered with the primary goal of switching voters’ value systems to align with the authoritarian value system.

This whole approach is the logical conclusion of the libertarian paternalists‘ “behavioural change” agenda that has been embedded in policies designed by the nudge unit since 2010 in the UK. The political misuse of psychology has been disguised as some kind of technocratic “fix” for a failing neoliberal paradigm, and paraded as neutral “science”. However, its role as an authoritarian prop for an ideological imposition on the population has always been apparent to some of us, especially given the more visible evidence of political narratives and the stage management of our democracy via an extremely manipulative mainstream media over recent years.

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

A dark message for democracy

Political “dark” advertising that is only seen by its intended recipients is a much greater cause for concern than “fake news” in the spread of misinformation, because it is invisible to everyone but the person being targeted. This means that the individually tailored messages are not open to public scrutiny, nor are they fact checked.

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

The right wing media’s blatant propaganda approach to election campaigning on behalf of the Tories had already contributed significantly to a serious erosion of democratic norms in the UK, the undermining of public trust, to such an extent that profoundly anti-democratic alternatives suddenly seem perfectly acceptable here.

The reality is that often, authoritarians construct an incongruent, flimsy and meaningless language of democracy in order to erect a fact proof screen around an undemocratic reality.  They offer a lot of glittering generalities to the public. However, those apparently incoherent, meaningless slogans are especially designed to signal intents to groups from which the government wants to gain approval. Dog whistling and wedge issues are used extensively by the right.  

Dog whistling is closely associated with a broader wedge strategy, whereby the political party introduces a divisive or controversial social issue into a campaign, aligning its own stance with the dissenting faction of its opponent party, with the goal of causing vitriolic debate inside the opposing party, defection of its supporters, and the legitimising of sentiment which had previously been considered inappropriate. Political campaigns use wedge issues to exploit tension within a targeted population, and undermine unity. 

In light of this, it’s hardly a shocking revelation that an authoritarian government is also using highly tailored and underhanded “dark adverts” to target individuals online, on the basis of information gathered about them and then applied to a process of extensive psychological profiling in order to influence voting behaviours, and the election outcome.

UK voters are being targeted with highly specific and manipulative messages in an attempt to influence their vote.

The shadowy world of online political advertising has until recently gone largely unmonitored, despite the huge power and reach of Facebook and despite social media messaging now thought to have contributed to the election of Donald Trump and the Vote Leave victory.

The new forms of psychological electioneering are invisible to all but the individual people they are designed to reach and influence. 

During the EU referendum, Vote Leave spent a whopping 98 per cent of its £6.8m budget on digital advertising, mostly via Facebook. In the 2015 election, the Conservatives spent £1.2m on digital campaigning, compared with Labour’s £160,000. This meant that the Conservatives reached 17 million people per week, while Labour reached only 16 million in their best month. Facebook claimed that the Conservatives had been able to serve adverts to 80 cent of the site’s users in key marginals. It also boasted that the company “played a part on a highly targeted campaign, helping the Conservatives to speak to the right people over and over again.”

The private companies and individuals who are stage managing our democracy

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

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

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

Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) is a British behavioural science company. The SCL Group, that once advised Nato on so-called “psy-ops”, is a private British behavioural research and strategic communication company. The company describes itself as “global election management agency”.  SCL’s approach to propaganda is based upon a methodology developed by the associated Behavioural Dynamics Institute (BDI). Nigel Oakes founded the latter and also set up Strategic Communication Laboratories and using the new methodology from BDI, ran election campaigns and national communication campaigns for a broad variety of international governments. BDI say: “The goal of the BDI is to establish Behavioural Dynamics as a discipline for the study of group behaviour change.”

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

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

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

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

And:

PERSUASION

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

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

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

Mercer later became joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets. 

One of its funds, Medallion, which manages only its employees’ money, is the most successful in the world – generating $55bn so far. And since 2010, Mercer has donated $45m to different political campaigns – all Republican – and another $50m to non-profits – all right wing, ultra-conservative. This is a billionaire who is trying to reshape the world according to his personal interests, beliefs, wishes and wont. He is an advocate of the neoliberal right, who seek to combine a market economy and economic deregulation with the traditional right wing beliefs in patriotism, élitism, and law and order, delivered within an authoritarian framework. Mercer is known for his anti-welfare and right libertarian views.

To give you a flavour of Mercer’s interests, you only need to follow the money trail: he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute, and he likes to disrupt the mainstream media. In this aim, he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, self-declared “economic nationalist”, Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its paranoid, anti-progressive mission of correcting “liberal bias” is just one of his pet media projects. He has also worked as vice president of Cambridge Analytica‘s board, the private data-analytics that is owned largely by the Mercer family

Mercer and his family are major donors to Conservative political causes such as Breitbart News. He is the principal benefactor of the Make America Number 1 political action committee (Super PAC). Around 2012, Mercer reportedly invested $5 million in the British data science company, the SCL Group. Most political campaigns run highly sophisticated micro-targeting efforts to locate voters. SCL promised much more, claiming to be able to manipulate voter behaviour through psychographic modeling. This was precisely the kind of work Mercer values.

SCL claimed to be able to formulate complex psychological profiles of voters. These, say the company, would be used to tailor the most persuasive possible message, acting on that voter’s personality traits, hopes or fears.

Of course Mercer was a major supporter of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for president and Brexit in the UK. Mercer donated the services of the data analytics company Cambridge Analytica to Nigel Farage and UKIP. The company was able to “advise” and influence Leave.eu through harvesting data from people’s Facebook profiles in order to target them with individualised persuasive messages to vote for Brexit. However, Leave.eu did not inform the UK electoral commission of the donation, contrary to the law which demands that all donations valued over £7,500 must be reported. 

When SCL Elections formed Cambridge Analytica in 2013, the company hired researchers from Cambridge University, hence the name. CA collects data on voters using sources such as demographics, consumer behaviour, internet activity, and other public and private sources. CA is using psychological data derived from millions of Facebook users, largely without users’ permission or knowledge. The company is also trying to change people’s perceptions and behaviours without their consent.

The company maintains offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., and London.

Cambridge Analytica claim to predict not just peoples’ voting intentions and preferences, but also their personality types. The company is proprietorial about its precise methods, but says large-scale research into personality types, based on hundreds of thousands of interviews with citizens, enables them to chart voters against five main personality types – openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. With its head office in London, the company is “A global election management agency, skilled in applying behavioural modeling and microtargeting solutions to political campaigns.”

The marketisation of democracy: the highest bidder wins all, while claiming to speak for the “ordinary person”

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist and the intellectual force behind his nationalist agenda, said in February that the new administration is locked in an unending battle against the media and other globalist forces to “deconstruct” an “outdated system of governance”. Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post writes:

“’They’re going to continue to fight,’” Bannon said of the media, which he repeatedly described as ‘the opposition party,’ and other forces he sees as standing in the president’s way. ‘If you think they are giving you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.’

Atop Trump’s agenda, Bannon said, was the ‘deconstruction of the administrative state’ — meaning a system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that the president and his advisers believe stymie economic growth and infringe upon one’s sovereignty.

For those who doubted Trump-Bannon’s determination to destroy the liberal international order that has kept world war at bay and promoted global prosperity since the end of World War II, this will come as a rude awakening. Bannon’s simultaneous attack on the media suggests that it is not simply about trade or immigration policy.”

So data technology, surveilance, psychology and social media and manipulative messaging campaigns are being combined in a powerful new way to sway opinions and win elections without people’s knowledge. In essence, a new, dark, subliminal propaganda war is being waged against citizens by those who wield power, serving the narrow interests of those who do and who are funded by a hidden few who want to weild power also.

Lynton Crosby has been a close advisor in the Conservative election campaigns of Australia, Canada and the UK, and is well known for his racist dog whistling and wedge strategies, influential at an international level.

“In a campaign, what you try to do is either change or reinforce some perceptions that people have in order to influence their behaviour,” says Crosby. 

Crosby’s emphasis is on “below the radar” campaigning, and the targeting of marginal constituencies with highly localised campaigning, latching on to local issues and personalities. To find such divisive and potentially diversionary issues, Crosby’s business partner Mark Textor runs focus groups to find which social groups to target with what questions. Crosby is said to focus on delivering simple messages, targeting marginal constituencies and the use of lots of polls and data. 

 Lynton Crosby, second left, at the party’s annual conference in 2015 with, from left, Lord Feldman, Jim Messina (former Obama campaign chief also hired by the Tories) and then party chairman Grant Shapps. Photograph: David Hartley/Rex

“In a campaign, what you try to do is either change or reinforce some perceptions that people have in order to influence their behaviour,” Crosby says.

Their site commentary highlights whose “democratic” interests Crosby and Textor serve:

“We combine decades of experience in research, political campaigns, strategic communications, media, and corporate intelligence to deliver winning strategies at the highest levels of business and government.

Having worked on successful election campaigns across four continents, we understand the need for timely, actionable intelligence, so our clients can focus the right message and resources on their most persuadable ‘swing voters’ to get the results they want.”

Note the reference to “behaviour changing messages”.

textor

Crosby Textor also claim that: “the team are specialists in advising major companies in how to position themselves to ensure they are integral to government decision-making.”

It was Crosby that created the campaign for the Conservatives with the slogan “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?”: a series of posters, billboards, TV commercials and direct mail pieces with messages such as “It’s not racist to impose limits on immigration” and “how would you feel if a bloke on early release attacked your daughter?” focused on hot-button issues like “dirty” hospitals, landgrabs by “gypsies” and restraints on police behaviour.

In April 2016, Mayor of London and Conservative, MP Boris Johnson, was accused of “dog whistle racism” by Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and Labour MP John McDonnell, when Johnson suggested US President Barack Obama held a grudge against the United Kingdom due to his “ancestral dislike of the British Empire” as a result of his “part-Kenyan” heritage after Obama expressed his support for the UK to vote to remain in the European Union ahead of the UK’s referendum on EU membership. Crosby also tried to link Sadiq Khan with terrorist organisations –  the Conservative mayoral candidate’s campaign, was run by Crosby Textor

Mark Textor, co-founder of the private company, was mentored by the late Richard Wirthlin, a pollster who was chief strategist to US President Ronald Reagan. Someone else with past connections to the Wirthlin Group is Kellyanne Conway, President Trump’s election campaign manager and now counsellor to the president, serving alongside Steve Bannon, assistant to the President and White House chief strategist.

All singing from the same crib sheet.

Since Trump’s inauguration, Conway has been embroiled in a series of controversies, including using the phrase “alternative facts, making reference to a “Bowling Green massacre” which never occurred, (Conway “cited” it as justification for a travel and immigration ban from seven Muslim-majority countries enacted by Trump), claiming Michael Flynn had the full confidence of the president hours before he was dismissed, and publicly endorsing commercial products associated with the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump. As a result, a number of media outlets have called her credibility into question, with some refusing her requests for one-on-one interviews.

When such manipulative tactics are exposed from time to time, it’s like a curtain shifting temporarily to give you a glimpse into another dimension, populated by billionaires and a handful of mercenary henchmen who drew up the machinations of a war being waged on democracies, in order to terraform political landscapes to suit the dystopic interests of one percent of the global population, at the expense of the needs of the ninety nine percent. You would be forgiven for thinking that the world and the media are being run almost exclusively by a small number of elitist, pan-nationalist aliens. It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s a reality.

Jim Messina is a political adviser who was the White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2011 and served as the campaign manager for Obama’s highly successful 2012 re-election campaign. Messina was hired as a campaign strategy adviser to the UK Conservative Party in August 2013. Messina operated from the US during the 2015 general election campaign. He has made statements about his personal admiration for David Cameron. Theresa May has also added him to her team of strategists. 

Gone are the days when it was expected that the public decided who to vote for because of the policies on offer from each party. Now the government focuses on the use of private political masters of the dark campaign arts, who use “political-voter surveillance” techniques, along with a combative and emotional approach to messaging, rather than a rational and reasonable one, and a level of cunning that most definitely treads around the very outer edges of ethics. 

One of Messina’s key strategic methods is finding and targeting swing voters through the meticulous gathering and monitoring of voter information using private polls, and the use of social media “targeting”.  He uses social networking techniques and social media, having sought and received advice from top names in the tech world including Steve Jobs.

Messina uses micro-targeting based on online data. His approach is based on the in-depth psychometrically profiling of people, using publicly available data, including their Facebook “likes” and group memberships. This information is used to create effective and directed digital dark advertising to target millions of voters and manipulate their psychological tendencies and play to their traits.  

Messina has developed a private consulting firm –The Messina Group, which “works with organizations in the private, public, and social sectors to achieve their strategic goals.” The company has an office in London, on Old Park Lane. It says on the site says:

“Using state of the art data and analytics, The Messina Group can harness and amplify the reach of your social network. We accurately model your organization’s likely supporter, voter, or consumer, and – by overlaying that with your existing social media base – we can develop a targeted list of potential new supporters. This targeted, person-to-person sharing is the future of advertising in a fundamentally digital and social world. The Messina Group will ensure that your organization is ahead of the competition.” 

One tactic integrated in this method is aimed at generating a bandwaggon effect, which I have discussed at length elsewhere. The bandwagon effect occurs in voting: some people vote for those candidates or parties who are likely to succeed (or are proclaimed as such by the media). The bandwagon propaganda technique has been applied to situations involving majority opinion, such as political outcomes, where people alter their opinions to the majority view. 

Such a shift in opinion can occur because individuals draw inferences from the decisions of others, which shapes an informational cascade. A cascade develops when people “abandon their own information in favour of inferences based on earlier people’s actions, regardless of how irrational that may be. Bandwaggon propaganda draws on our natural tendency towards social conformity.

During the 2015 general election, the government were accused of trying to “buy the general election” by quietly raising the legal spending limit by £6.2 million to £32.7m in the face of concerns from the Electoral Commission over “undue influence”. The party has reportedly amassed a war chest of more than £70 million. The change to the law on candidates’ election spending, passed without parliamentary debate.

A new project called Who Targets Me, has been attempting to address the lack of transparency of targeted election messaging, by recruiting social media users to share information on what political adverts they are seeing.

It says on their site: “Analysing the aggregated data will allow us to draw out insights about exactly which demographics are being targeted and the exact media and language that campaigners are using to influence your vote.”

In an effort to do something about the lack of transparency, Who Targets Me built a browser extension for Facebook users to download that will then report live to that individual when a political advert is being targeted at them. It also tracks that information in its database. You can sign up to be a Who Targets Me volunteer here.

Given the instability of the government, following the general election delivering a hung parliament, it’s likely that political advertising will continue. You will need to use the Chrome browser and install the Who Targets Me extension.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has already launched a wide-ranging investigation over possible breaches of UK data laws. The Conservatives have so far refused to supply examples of adverts the party is sending to individual voters on Facebook, despite the growing concern over unregulated online election activity.

One problem is money. There are no spending limits on digital advertising and, put simply, the more you spend the more people you reach. Until now, that means it is primarily the wealthier, Conservative campaigns that have benefited.

Another is that psychological influences are different from transparent attempts at rational, reasoned and material persuasion, because they operate outside of conscious awareness. Hiding in plain sight, they trigger involuntary emotive responses in the human subconscious that most people are powerless to resist – and that happens even when they know they’re being influenced. Much of the material being used to “persuade” is dishonest, and aimed at simply smearing the opposition and generating irrational and unfounded fears, rather than open discussion, about political and socioeconomic alternatives to neoliberalism and social conservatism. 

Such tactics are nothing less than a political micro-management of the public’s beliefs an behaviours and are ultimately aimed at nudging your voting decisions to maintain a profoundly unbalanced, increasingly pathological and authoritarian status quo. Such tactics deployed in manufacturing consensus are widely used, and combined, they also serve to reduce public expectation of opposition and in doing so establish diktats: it’s a way of mandating acceptance of ideology, policies or laws by presenting them as if they are the only viable alternative.

There is a much needed public debate to be had about the distinction between political “persuasion” and “manipulation”.

And another about undue political influence. In their summary of electoral offences, the electoral commission says: “A person may also be guilty of undue influence if they impede or prevent any voter from freely exercising their right to vote – even where the attempt is unsuccessful.

Also: “It is an illegal practice to make or publish a false statement of fact about the personal character or conduct of a candidate in order to affect the return of a candidate at an election.”

“Certain offences relate specifically to election campaign publicity material. Election campaign publicity material must contain an imprint, not resemble a poll card and not contain a false statement as to the personal character or conduct of another candidate.”

The Conservatives have certainly taken advantage of our basic tendency to be more motivated by the threat of something presented and subsequently perceived as “bad” than by the presented opportunity for examining positive alternatives.

This is not just a story about the political and commercial misuse of social psychology and data analytics. It has to be understood in the context of a military contractor using military strategies on a civilian population. The public.

David Miller, a professor of sociology at Bath University and an authority in psyops and propaganda, says it is “an extraordinary scandal that this should be anywhere near a democracy. It should be clear to voters where information is coming from, and if it’s not transparent or open where it’s coming from, it raises the question of whether we are actually living in a democracy or not.”

Related:

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

EXPOSED: CONSERVATIVES IN HOUSE ‘SURVEY’ TEAM

The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked

Negative campaigning, emotions and political participation

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberalism

What I don’t understand about Conservatism

‘Tory Election Fraud’ Investigation Sees Conservatives Fined £70,000 By Electoral Commission

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

Strategies and motives for resistance to persuasion: an integrative framework

How To Use 10 Psychological Theories To Persuade People

CONTROVERSIAL GCHQ UNIT ENGAGED IN DOMESTIC LAW ENFORCEMENT, ONLINE PROPAGANDA, PSYCHOLOGY RESEARCH

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

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


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