back to article Trump, Brexit, and Cambridge Analytica – not quite the dystopia you're looking for

According to a story doing the rounds, psychometric big data pushed Britain into Brexit and Trump on to America. The winning sides adopted a method developed at the University of Cambridge to psychometrically profile people by using publicly available data including Facebook "likes". They used these to create devastatingly …

  1. Lotaresco Silver badge

    Ms May

    So, 99 per cent sure she's a man. You too, huh?

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: Ms May

      Does it give a percentage likelihood of her being a human?

      1. James O'Shea

        Re: Ms May

        "Does it give a percentage likelihood of her being a human?"

        Data, Vision, and C-3PO, spokesdroids for the United Android Association, deny that 'she' could possibly qualify for membership. They point out that prospective members have to actually be lifelike.

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Ms May

      Had it not been for the "liberal and artistic" it might have confirmed the speech was written by Nick Timothy {caution: Daily Mail).

    3. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: Ms May

      Or 99% sure that her speechwriter is a man?

      1. Kiwi Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Ms May

        Or 99% sure that her speechwriter is a man?

        That's what I'm picking too. When was the last time a politician wrote their own speech?

    4. James O'Shea

      Re: Ms May

      "So, 99 per cent sure she's a man. You too, huh?"

      I've long thought that 'her' name is really Lola, not Theresa.

      There's not much doubt but that Corbyn's a little girl, though.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Finally

    I was waiting when will the register wade into what is quite clearly an IT topic. It is only one week after the guardian and only one week after MPs have started raising the question.

    Congratulations. Tech news indeed.

    As far as Analytica and SCL are concerned the interesting statistic is not their claim to "rigging elections the way we like it in 15 odd countries". The interesting statistic is how many of the known ones are now in civil war. The obvious question is also "how many of the ones we do not know about where sh*** have hit the fan have had them intervening in the democratic process as well?".

    1. tr1ck5t3r
      Trollface

      Re: Finally

      Never before in human history has it ever been possible to profile so many people based on their activities with digital devices like their mobile phone, browser activity, medical records, school records and any other record that exists in the hands of the military/Govt of a country.

      Brexit & Trump is the UK & US equivalent of the Arab spring for the Middle East.

      Its amazing what you can do when you have a minimum level of data, but of course the likes of the GCHQ, NSA and others tied up with things like the UK Behavioural Science Unit (Nudge Unit) will always be trying to pre-empt the next terrorist or criminal act.

      So as they push your buttons, push their buttons and get them to expose themselves. It might take a few years or decades of provaction, but they will eventually show their hand if you look hard enough.

      b1gbr0th3r15h3r3

      1. BillG
        Holmes

        Re: Finally

        Regardless of its other uses, some are worried by politicians using psychological profiling.

        During the 2012 presidential election, in battleground state Michigan, the Obama team ran slightly different TV ads in different Michigan counties and towns. They did this by working with the cable TV companies to change the ad based on the subscriber's location.

        With many people not owning home phones, and unwilling to answer a cell call from a number they don't know, telephone polling can't be trusted anymore.

        For the past six months I've working with some very smart friends on a system similar to this article. Using publicly available information, we are working on predicting public trends, and also voter behavior. We got the idea from Asimov's Foundation series and what he called "psychohistory". It uses a modified version of Gregory Bateson's psychological logical levels. Very cool stuff.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Finally

      > It is only one week after the guardian and only one week after MPs have started raising the question.

      And the Reg really downplayed this in its headline when it reported the ICO was investigating Cambrisge Analytica, which struck me as odd at the time. The strange thing about this article is that is says "a data analysis company backed by a Donald Trump-supporting billionaire" but doesn't fucking name him. What the hell? Robert Mercer.

      Even for the IT angle, the billionaire in question is worthy of note (he has an interesting IT past). It's like the Reg hasn't even read his bio, yet the Reg is telling us 'there is nothing to see here'. Said billionaire is deliberately and knowingly supporting the spreading of demonstrably false opinions as facts. For gawds sake Reg, doesn't that upset you as journalists?

      Private Eye is enjoying record sales.

  3. Mephistro Silver badge
    Trollface

    Small typo in the article

    "...targeted millions of voters' psychological traits."

    Should be "...targeted millions of voters' psychiatric traits."

    Sorry, ElReg, I couldn't find the corrections button. ;-)

  4. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Looking for something to blame?

    So by analysing what people say & do, you can work out how they might vote? Not an especially remarkable discovery, I'd have thought. After all, people in N.Ireland have been doing that for decades, based on such traits as how one says the letter "H".

    How do they get from there to influencing votes? If I'm a leftie voter I probably prefer to read leftie articles and newspapers. I can't see that they'd have much luck changing my mind with some targetted ads for the Daily Mail (or the reverse).

    I can't help but feel there's some confirmation bias here. People want to believe that anyone who voted Trump, or Brexit, must be a gullible fool who is incapable of weighing the issues and making a decision. Pointing to some psychobabble about how it was all down to clever advertising that fooled those gullible idiots helps them avoid accepting the unpalatable reality; that some of those voters might well have voted as they did after a reasoned evaluation of the issues. Not all, perhaps, but enough to make a difference. A bit like mediæval peasants: "I don't know why it happened, it must be the Will of God". A handy excuse to explain something unpleasant.

    1. gv

      Re: Looking for something to blame?

      I agree. I think generally there are one or two "hot" topics for an individual and, as long as you push those buttons, their vote is in the bag.

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Looking for something to blame?

      >based on such traits as how one says the letter "H".

      I think the Israelites can claim prior art on that one by about 30 centuries

    3. Eddy Ito

      Re: Looking for something to blame?

      The psychobabble must be gaining traction. I saw Barbara Streisand was blaming Trump for her weight gain so it seems that minds are going to mush. Although I grant it may not have been a big change for some.

    4. IsJustabloke
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Looking for something to blame?

      "If I'm a leftie voter I probably prefer to read leftie articles and newspapers."

      So, if like me, you read a full spectrum of "news papers" how do they profile that?

      I read the Guardian, the Telegraph on a regular basis, I often flick through the Mail of a Saturday morning in my local coffee shop and I've been known to look at the Express and The Sun.

      1. Potemkine

        Re: Looking for something to blame?

        I've been known to look at the Express and The Sun

        No problem with that as long as you wash your hands after. ^^

  5. fix

    'False' problem?

    Not sure I'm seeing the problem the same way as others here :-(

    It's certainly not (imo) rigging an election, that's done by fiddling with ballots, prevent certain groups from voting, or directly threatening groups to vote a specific way 'or else'

    This is targeted advertising, finding a group of people who are likely to be susceptible to a certain message and then giving them that message.

    This method is available to every political party and leaning, so all can use it to deliver their message to the groups they think will appreciate it most.

    The article infers that it's a cheap way to get a message across, so in fact you could argue that it levels the playing field, it's not just the player with the most advertising pounds that wins any more.

    Whatever your personal feelings on both the Trump and Brexit result, surely the smaller parties having access to spread their message as readily as a larger well funded party is a good thing?

    1. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: 'False' problem?

      This method is available to every political party and leaning

      ..that can afford it. The more you can spend on a voter, the more you can customise what totally-not-fake news you trigger tell them

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: 'False' problem?

        >This is targeted advertising, finding a group of people who are likely to be susceptible to a certain message and then giving them that message. This method is available to every political party and leaning, so all can use it to deliver their message to the groups they think will appreciate it most.

        Mercer doesn't just operate in advertising, that's the issue. So no, their tactics aren't available to all. And do please note, this Reg article only addressed a small part of the Observer article, so it can't claim to refute it.

        The issue in question is 'fake news', but not 'fake news' coming from the established media (for all their faults - shit, we're now in a world where Fox News looks sane in comparison) but from upstarts. This strategy has been used in the Putin government for some time - they aren't trying to get you to believe their version of events, but to be incapable of accepting *any* version, leading to division and paralysis. Just like Trump, the Putin government even told everyone that confusing the hell out of everyone was their aim.

        Oh, that reminds me Reg - what happened to that Q&A with Adam Curtis we lead to expect on the Reg? It was never followed up.

    2. Kiwi Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: 'False' problem?

      It's certainly not (imo) rigging an election, ...or directly threatening groups to vote a specific way 'or else'

      Dunno about that.. There was lots of "vote CMIC or Shrillarity willl raise taxes" and "Vote Killary or CMIC will start newklaaaar wars!". Some of that could be called "vote a specific way or else".

      Of course, is par for the course for any election anyway.

  6. Mage Silver badge
    Big Brother

    In the original Foundation trilogy

    Asimov's Psychohistory was a sort of Maguffin.

    Who'd imagine people would try to make it real?

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: In the original Foundation trilogy

      Except if I remember correctly, Psychohistory only worked when applied to large numbers of people, and only on those who weren't aware of it?

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: In the original Foundation trilogy

        Except if I remember correctly, Psychohistory only worked when applied to large numbers of people, and only on those who weren't aware of it?

        1. It was applied to large number of people - millions of voters. Not so much "swing" ones, but mostly the ones that otherwise did not bother to vote.

        2. The actual population it was applied to was not aware it was being targeted. They are still not aware they are being targeted as they are not the person who will read El Graunidad and El Reg.

        What this means for democracy (regardless of what the dear professor with the lunatic opinion says) is that democracy is now purely a matter of money. Whoever has the money to pay for the datasources and the compute resource to utilize them has a distinct advantage in the next elections. Neither one comes cheap. You are looking at anything between 5 and 30-40 million "per application".

        1. theblackhand Silver badge

          Re: In the original Foundation trilogy

          "What this means for democracy (regardless of what the dear professor with the lunatic opinion says) is that democracy is now purely a matter of money."

          But didn't the campaigns that spent significantly less money win in both Brexit and the US Presidential election? While the help may have been donated, Trump spent around US$240m vs Clinton on US$450m (http://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/09/trump-spent-about-half-of-what-clinton-did-on-his-way-to-the-presidency.html)

          The spend for Brexit was around £16.4m for leavers vs £15.1m for remain (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-latest-news-investigation-eu-referendum-vote-leave-britain-stronger-in-europe-campaigns-a7596981.html) and the official campaigns spending £7m each. I would argue that remains platform (i.e. the majority of politicians supporting remain and getting media coverage as the incumbent), the campaigning before the official start by the government (£9m spent on leaflets to every UK household) and the split between the two leave campaigns may alter the effective spending of each side in favour of remain.

          Based on buying an election - if you can do it with a few million pounds of spending but can't do it with US$200m, then I think the jury is still out on the ability to buy a result.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: In the original Foundation trilogy

            But didn't the campaigns that spent significantly less money win in both Brexit and the US Presidential election?

            1. If the services of Analytica/SCL are priced as per their price list so far and accounted for as a donation, Leave has spent more.

            2. Quoting an old adage: "It does not matter how big your ****s is, it matters what you are doing with it". In this particular instance, the Trump campaign spent less because it spent it on "more advanced weaponry". Things will be back to normal the next election (unless there is a restriction of some sort on application of voter personal or aggregated data).

            1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

              Re: In the original Foundation trilogy

              Did the Trump campaign spend less really?

              Does the spending figure include running Fox "News" and Breitbart?

        2. tom dial Silver badge

          Re: In the original Foundation trilogy

          I know I am a couple of days late to this party, but cannon resist making an observation that some might find interesting.

          The intent might have been to target those who otherwise did not bother to vote, but it is not clear from a comparison of the totals from the previous couple of presidential cycles that it succeeded for either of the two largest parties. The two-main-party vote was about 2 million more in 2016 than 2012, roughly in line with what one might expect given voting age population growth over the four years, and certainly not larger. It also was about a million fewer than in 2008.

          On the other hand, over the two cycles, the smaller party vote grew from around a million (2008) to 2 million (2012) and near 8 million (2016), suggesting that much or most of the popular vote increase went to parties such as the Libertarians and Greens and was cast by those unhappy enough with both major parties to vote for a candidate with no conceivable path to an electoral win.

          So money spent for such highly tailored adverts seems to have been largely wasted, especially since it is nearly certain that the Clinton campaign did it substantially more judging by the campaigns' total expenditures.

          1. CRConrad

            Re: "money spent for such highly tailored adverts seems to have been largely wasted"

            As has been revealed since (yes, I know I'm commenting on age-old "news"; just correcting the record), one of the main uses of this technology was to target indecisive voters ( = especially ones possibly leaning Hillary, I'd assume) and just throw so much confusing shit at them that they'd get frustrated with it all and not vote. An old technique, dunno if it was invented or just perfected by the Soviets, getting people to think there just isn't any truth to be had among all the contradictory messaging; perhaps that there is no such thing as "truth" any more.

            So no: Fewer votes is not necessarily a sign that the CA-supported campaigning failed; on the contrary, perhaps more of a testament to its effectiveness.

        3. FriendInMiami

          Re: In the original Foundation trilogy

          Buried in the details - the constructed "news" postings that attract the interest of the supporters also have ads that attract their attention. Just viewing a webpage with ads can generate funds back, and if any of the other "news" articles in the sidebar generates more clicks, then the ads for those web views will also pay off for the posting corporation, the hosting corporation and the media in general. It becomes possible to generate funds to expand the work in progress, and to refine and elaborate on the work. These companies turn profits doing this work generating public support for Brexit, for the current POTUS, and for Western European white nationalism. That's my belief from reading about these corporations in different sources. If that makes them a good investment, they will also enrich players on the stock market, further cementing their positions in the status quo - they are becoming the "new normal news source" for millions of people on the Internet, who are also increasingly unlikely to trust or believe the major newspapers or television networks. The public stream of attention is being divided, without discussion, and then the new stream is being focused in support of certain policies and practices. It has now demonstrably worked at scale.

  7. AndrewDu

    Is there any limit to the number of excuses the Left will try to come up with, to explain the fact that not everyone agrees with them?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If you are still assuming there are only two parties, left vs right, then you are an idiot. There is only one party The Plutocracy, they like to dress up in two different outfits, each tailored to mindless morons, like yourself, who can't see beyond the media fairy-tale of the Repukelickants(tories) and the Democrabs(labour). They can spend huge amounts of money to make sure laws favor them and their corporations, who are now also people, thanks to morons like yourself who get nothing in return. Except perhaps the idea that your shitty, low-paying job is a "gift from your wealthy masters," or a tiny tax break that is a drop in the bucket for your wealthy masters. Face it, your grand plan to "fix the world" through Right-Wing, the tea party, and rich people "thinking" is as far-fetched as any children's story tale, and for an audience with a similar IQ and attention span. Far left, or far right, both are shitheads who can't manage reality. There is a shortage of smart people in the world who are beyond left/right, because morons can fuck and shit out babies more efficiently than normal people. You are living proof of this. In four years you won't be; rich, better off, or smarter. It is known.

    2. Phil.T.Tipp
      Thumb Up

      Bingo! You win this thread, hands down.

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      >Is there any limit to the number of excuses the Left will try to come up with, to explain the fact that not everyone agrees with them?

      What of are not of the left or right, but get royally pissed off with people spouting bullshit? How can democracy function in the way that we all agree it should, if people don't get called out for clear misinformation, be it in the side of a bus or in a Trump tweet? This is a tech blog, and physics and engineering doesn't give a damn what your opinion - or mine - is. When we have group problems to solve I hope we use empirical evidence to assess solutions.

      In the past, wiser minds have created bodies such as the Office of National Statistics in an effort to prevent the subjective masquerading as objective. Without the ability to agree on what is true and what is not true, we're at the mercy of those who benefit from our division. Trump's tweets are so often demonstrably incorrect.

      As for left and right, or in or out.... not everyone who voted had extreme views either way. In fact, a lot of people were pissed off with the shallowness of the Brexit argument from both sides. If I made a decision in good faith based in information that was later shown to be false, I would like an opportunity to fix the mistake. I would certainly be pissed off with some politician or tabloid expressing my weary ballot vote as being my sacred 'will' (as in 'the will of the people').

  8. LDS Silver badge

    "To be fair, a political speech is a controlled and stylised piece of writing"

    Usually - today - not written by the speaker herself (or himself)... so maybe the analysis was closer to reality than it looked.

    1. JLV Silver badge

      Re: "To be fair, a political speech is a controlled and stylised piece of writing"

      I wonder what their algos would make of Trump's Twitter posts. They seem more "candid".

      1. Kiwi Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: "To be fair, a political speech is a controlled and stylised piece of writing"

        I wonder what their algos would make of Trump's Twitter posts. They seem more "candid".

        You'd either get "input error, input garbled, please use a known langauge" or you'd hear the sounds of motors winding down, any lights on the computers would dim with many of them dropping out altogether as processor power is reduced, something akin to the first joke on this page.

        (IIRC the version I read many moons ago spoke of gears winding down as the thing tried to reduce it's processor power, before asking "Did you watch the rugby last night?".)

  9. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    ... Theresa May's Brexit speech from January generates a 67 per cent openness rating, making her "liberal and artistic" rather than "conservative and traditional", and a 99 per cent score for her being a man. To be fair, a political speech is a controlled and stylised piece of writing...

    To be fair, the software is based on evaluating truthful speech, and I reckon this just shows that Ms May is lying through her teeth, which is a fair assessment if you've ever heard her speak.

  10. Andy 73

    Men Who Stare At Goats

    For the last hundred years or more, there has been more than a few people who're desperate to believe that magical mind control can be moved from myth and fiction onto some sort of scientific basis. See the book The Men Who Stare At Goats to see how deep the belief goes.

    It's true that you can understand the people in ever greater detail with big data, but you only have to see the political upset on both sides when Brexit/Trump won to realise that there's no uber conspiracy here, just the normal fallible humans finding new and interesting ways to screw things up. Not that the changes being ushered in are necessarily bad for our deeply embedded political systems, but no-one could really claim that there is any evidence of a mastermind at work...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Men Who Stare At Goats

      > "mastermind at work"

      Mastermind, perhaps not. Unscrupulous people willing to exploit recent political divisions for their own interest, absolutely.

  11. anandan@Tanabalan.com
    FAIL

    Snake Oil Alert - They didn't use psychographics

    From: buzzfeed https://www.buzzfeed.com/kendalltaggart/the-truth-about-the-trump-data-team-that-people-are-freaking?utm_term=.pcNr7e0onN#.udr0bYr1o6

    But interviews with 13 former employees, campaign staffers, and executives at other Republican consulting firms who have seen Cambridge Analytica’s work suggest that its psychological approach was not actually used by the Trump campaign and, furthermore, the company has never provided evidence that it even works. Rather than a sinister breakthrough in political technology, the Cambridge Analytica story appears to be part of the traditional contest among consultants on a winning political campaign to get their share of credit — and win future clients

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Very, very real

    back in the 1980s, I hit upon the idea that since UK elections are decided by a few thousand people, if those people could be identified, whoever had that data would have a lever into swinging General elections.

    As I started, and mentioned it to my tutor, I had a visit from some very nice people, who suggested I research elsewhere. They asked that give them copies of my notes. They didn't ask that I give them the floppies which had the (Wordstar) originals, which hinted where they were from.

    But ever since I used the phrase "abnormally large unrelated data sets", I have wondered where those notes got to.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Very, very real

      if those people could be identified, whoever had that data would have a lever into swinging General elections.

      Not any more. Our politicians no longer bother to put the effort into finding those people and persuading them to swing their way (if you see what I mean). Instead the politicians run after those people, asking them what they'd like their MP to believe, and dragging their parties with them. The consequence is that today's politicians are not leaders, they're followers. Nobody votes for followers.

  13. Robert D Bank

    AlgoRythm

    It is another step toward algorithms making our choices...drip drip drip

    There's some really fascinating discussion of this in Yuval Noah Harari's 'Homo Deus - a Brief History of the Future'. Trust me, read this and you won't feel at all comfortable by these sort of developments. It is truly one of the turning points in human history.

    Algorithms are able to make much more accurate choices for you, from doctors diagnosis to choice of partner, if you want them to. Currently that is a choice. For how long, who knows. People are very willing to give up on making difficult choices. Take religion for example, for thousands of years people have 'followed the book', whatever one it might be. This is no different. People so often take the easy route because they don't want any make any effort themselves.

    One thing that occurs to me is that ALL of these sort of algorithms that can have such a massive potential effect MUST be in the commons, open source if you like, and able to be influenced and updated my everyone with an interest. Unless that can happen we'll be at the behest of the exclusive owners of these algorithms, and you can be certain that their interests will be well apart from yours. Unfortunately I can't see any Gov't having the balls or the will to go down that route.

  14. heyrick Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Fuck Brexit

    There. Analyse that.

    I'll even include a pretty picture.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fuck Brexit

      Analyse that.

      You seem a little upset. Tell me about your father.

      Eliza

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. Nikki Radir

    Everything counts, in large amounts

    While the technology used (and the psychological underpinnings) might not be the decisive factor that some - looking for easy answers - might latch onto, we shouldn't lose sight of its importance as one of the techniques used.

    The Trump team (still waiting for more detail on the whole leave.eu thing) engaged in a staggering campaign of lies, lies and more lies. Being able to get the right lie, in front of the right target audience, at the right time, can't have been insignificant.

    Where Cambridge Analytica come in, is in wielding one of the tools that they used to dupe the electorate and - yes - steal the election. (How can you put it any other way?) Outrageous bragging, threats, smears and deliberate lies gained Donald J Lincoln Kennedy Trump huge media coverage (a multiple of his rivals at each stage). Being able to repeat this rubbish to people predisposed to hear it had (and has) huge value to the 'new regime'.

    However much importance pundits may attach to his populism, the elephant in the bathtub is the sheer scale, persistence and shamelessness of the lying, and how well it worked _and_continues_to_work_. Do you feel comfortable with this?

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Everything counts, in large amounts

      I think this has less to do with carefully targeting the right lies, and more to do with basic psychology.

      In essence, people are more inclined to agree with things that feel, or sound right to them - this is a basic bias that is present in everyone (myself included). The problem is that reality is complicated, and things that are true don't often translate into simple soundbites in the same way that outrageous lies do.

      The result of this is that printing big numbers on the sides of buses and implying that large amounts of money might go to the NHS gets people's gut feelings, despite being almost entirely devoid of any factual content.

      The more subtle argument about how sending lots of money to the EU in 'membership dues' actually saves the country money that would otherwise have to be spent on things like paperwork, trade tariffs, coordinating international policing etc. etc. gets sidelined, and even worse, gets negated by the loud (and easy) shouting down and name-calling from those who are prepared to come up with those 'truthy' soundbites.

      The cause of this is basic human nature - we have two decision making processes; gut feeling and critical thinking. One is easy (and often wrong), and the other is hard, and needs to be taught. Those who would like to control the masses also don't really like to have them doing too much of the latter, so critical thought is discouraged (historically in a religious context, and now increasingly in schools). Those who base their decision-making on facts and evidence are maligned as 'educated elites', 'liberal lefties' and 'so called experts'.

      In this country we also have a culture of underachievement (those who try hard in school are bullied for it) so when we don't work hard, and expect a cushy job, we act all surprised when someone comes in from another country and undercuts us because they have a better work ethic. The 'easy' answer here is to blame immigrants, the fact-based one is that if we applied ourselves, we would be able to out-compete them, since we don't have the disadvantage of having to move to a foreign country where we don't speak the language. Obviously, this is an over-simplification; another element to this is exploitative employers who can more easily mistreat foreign workers who may not know, or be willing to apply their legal employment rights. Again, immigrants are not to blame here, and to suggest that someone from another country is coming here to 'steal' jobs is the sort of xenophobic drivel you'd read in the Daily Heil.

      Anyway, I've wandered a little off-topic. My basic point here is that good decision making skills are not innate in human nature, we have evolved to make snap decisions and to be led by consensus. Whilst these traits can be manipulated, this can also be mitigated by teaching critical thinking to our children. If we did, we might not even have to point out that people should fact-check things they read on the internet...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Everything counts, in large amounts

        It has been commented elsewhere that the facts of the message are less important than the emotion of the message, particularly to those who don't analyze messages critically. "Taking back Control", "Making America Great" etc, etc are great 3 word soundbites that mean nothing, but make people feel better about the future.

        While ever we let our politicians get away with lies, spin and soundbites then we are left with the lowest common denominators running the country and deciding our future. If we all know our politicians lie, should we vote for the one promising to do what we want (knowing they won't) or the one that promises to do what we don't want (knowing they might do what we want)?

      2. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Everything counts, in large amounts

        @ Loyal Commenter

        The problem with your comment there is the focus on lies of hope (money to EU could be better spent on the NHS) without mentioning the lies of fear such as the many economic reports of doom and whatnot.

        Of course a serious crippling seems to come from those who feel so moralistically right that they dont feel the need to explain or justify their views but instead just sling labels such as libtard, xenophobe, eurosceptic, etc which have weight and relevance for an amount of time until they are watered down so badly as to mean nothing (I am waiting to see how long SJW has weight). Hillary did an amazing boost for the Trump campaign when she called his supporters poor, uneducated, etc which seemed to tell the poor and non-academic that she didnt want them.

        And while one side may rely on branding the other with labels, if the other can explain their opinions and reason their beliefs then they are not being countered nor challenged. Trump said some stunningly bad things and he would justify them with his reasoning but instead of contradicting with the opposing view he was just branded with labels and had his hair mocked. As for brexit the official leave and remain campaigns were a joke but actual reasoning to leave had been clearly explained and justified plenty (or we wouldnt have had the referendum in the first place).

        "One is easy (and often wrong), and the other is hard, and needs to be taught. Those who would like to control the masses also don't really like to have them doing too much of the latter, so critical thought is discouraged (historically in a religious context, and now increasingly in schools). Those who base their decision-making on facts and evidence are maligned as 'educated elites', 'liberal lefties' and 'so called experts'."

        There is an issue with this. One of the reasons those trying to control the masses are called liberal lefties is because it is the left who have been doing this for some time now. Of course the right is happy to do this too. Right now there is a problem with equality but some are more equal than others (positive discrimination which can only be achieved by negative discrimination), attempting damage to freedom of speech (PC and beyond), no-platforming and of course the escalation into riots against people speaking. It also doesnt help that the left parties have been responsible for massive erosion of rights and freedoms in the UK and US. Of course all of this can happen under the right which is why politics is more than just left and right but also libertarian and authoritarian.

        And the experts that were rejected in brexit were so called experts who had and have been pretty much discredited for forming a conclusion and then choosing and forcing facts to fit that conclusion.

      3. Mephistro Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Everything counts, in large amounts (@ Loyal Commenter)

        This!^^^

        Critical thinking is the main foundation for a working democracy. All this political shebang with fake news, lies, false promises, populismm -and also snake oil scams, faux science, IoT (;-) and the like- wouldn't be possible if people's education included a good amount of critical thinking.

        Alas, we seem to be going in the opposite direction. :-(

    2. Phil.T.Tipp

      Re: Everything counts, in large amounts

      Clinton lied, and more egregiously to boot. Outfuckingrageously, in point of fact; Sanders getting the knife, the Emails, her ailing health, warmongering over Iraqi and Libyan oil, the engineered removal of Gaddafi, the Benghazi US murders, the snipers she bravely faced in Bosnia and on and on and on. She's been lying since Bubba and she were up to their dirty necks in bent real estate in Whitewater, and the lying HAS NEVER STOPPED.

      Balance, Nikki, is everything.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Everything counts, in large amounts

        @Phil.T.Tipp

        Absolutely spot on! The downside is the other choice was Trump. An impossible choice.

      2. Nikki Radir

        Re: Everything counts, in large amounts

        @Phil.T.Tipp

        While I would have wanted (especially if I had been American) a better candidate than Hillary Clinton, my point here is that Trump's campaign / administration team employed and now employ lying, misinformation and distraction, along with crude but effective sales tactics, as a constant and fundamental part of their methodology and potentiated by their canny, skilled use of both the established news media and their own communication channels.

        Commentators have, quite rightly, pointed out that many Americans were/are extremely disillusioned with the status quo and responded favourably to TrumpCo's trenchant criticisms. But there never was any commitment to policies (addressing those concerns) that would truly benefit these 'forgotten' voters, but only to gaining power to further the interests of Trump and a small group of very wealthy people. The tag-end of the crowd-pleasing policies being put into practice, are mostly scapegoating distractions. This is why I despaired when comparisons were made with Bernie Sander's campaign. Whatever you think of his politics, he conducted himself with dignity, integrity and honesty. By and large he presented properly-developed policies with some basis in evidence.

        When you disparage Clinton with accusations of being more of a liar than Trump (and in each case we must also consider the team working with them), I concede that she is a battle-hardened politician that has survived and succeeded for decades, working in the higher echelons of an inherently corrupt political / electoral system. You can't do that without compromising your integrity. But the issues you flag up are ones that the Republicans and TrumpCo have exaggerated, lied about and misrepresented (some, for decades). I would respectfully ask you to dig in and read some more background on each of these, if you really want to get a proper sense of context. What you find will not exonerate her in all respects, but I hope you will then come to the conclusion that there was no reasonable comparison between TrumpCo and Clinton, Inc. when it came to using credible evidence, proposing substantial policies or simply telling the truth.

        I would guess that Clinton knew more about foreign policy issues when she started at high school, than Trump does even now. In almost every respect the man is unsuited to high office, and in terms of knowledge, skills, capability, decency, compassion, toughness of mind and decision-making – Clinton betters him. I say this in full knowledge of the mistakes she has made in office, associations with powerful lobby groups and yes, undoubted dishonesty on some occasions. Let me repeat that I think the U.S. electorate deserved a better candidate than Hillary – not to mention a better electoral system. But of the two, there was no meaningful comparison whatever. Balance, Phil? There is no balance here, the way these scales are weighted.

        But the bottom line of this botched, chaotic and disastrous election, and the toxic administration that it brought into being, is lies. Is TrumpCo’s intent to bewilder people, so that they simply don’t trust anyone, anymore? Or is it to keep stoking a self-fulfilling set of myths, for a core base of supporters? Or is Trump just the deluded fantasist at the centre of people who feed his endless need for (hollow) praise, to gain their own place at the high table? In the end, no matter; we just need to stop paying attention to this bullshit.

        If I can influence you to reconsider your viewpoint, it is to this end. Proper governance, the democratic process and effective decision-making can only thrive when enough of the electorate, and of both central and local government, value the truth and its foundation for sincere debate. As Mephistro said in this thread: “Critical thinking is the main foundation for a working democracy.”

        Somehow, welding together idealism and realism, we need to rediscover our engagement with politics, as if we believed it can make a difference. Telling the truth, and owning up to it when our political opponents tell it, is essential to our recovery from this toxic state of mistrust, disbelief, polarisation and confusion. We can’t expect behaviours to change without sanctions; holding people and organisations to account, somehow, is essential. Nevertheless, rewarding the good guys for doing the right thing is also needed, to rebuild trust in political discourse. There is no simple fix, but fix this we must, or be damned.

        1. Phil.T.Tipp

          Re: Everything counts, in large amounts

          What? You seriously believe that the Dems and their pet Deep State DON'T employ lying, distraction, misinformation, disinformation, media manipulation, and all the rest? Balance, Nikki. The foul Clintons are now history. This is a good thing. The Dems are in tatters, this is a better thing. The Repubs do not know which way to look, this is even better yet.

          This past election was legal, and proper and binding. To deny this is to deny the very last vestige of democracy, free choice, whether that means rejection of YOUR flavour of soft despotism or not.

          The sooner the whole bent, pointless two-party state system of sh1t and spin is torn down and rebuilt the better. Centrist neo-marxist globalism powered by crony not-so-free mercantilism, built upon debt, is poison. The toxicity most damaging these days is the utter lack of representative governance in the western world (the UK and EU are no better) coupled with state surveillance of citizens, the like of which the NKVD and Stasi would be agog in awe.

          The complete lack of trust in the cabals of bureaucracy is not 'engineered', it is felt and believed by real people who have chosen to exercise the little power they have, at the ballot-box, in their millions, to send a very telling message to the globalist controllers and their political puppets. Enough. Clinton and the poison of Dem socialist thought (and its insistence on ever greater socail control, such is their diktat) was the last straw in the USA, the drastic mismanagement of the EU, with particular respect to immigration: the war on nations and their peoples, will prove to be the reason in Europe.

          People really feel these things, the corrosion of culture and nationhood, the pointlessness of the thin consumer identities they are being sold, the compliance they must show or else, no wonder they actually have no trust in anything which is vomited forth by spokesweasels and think tanks and experts and career politicians - that time has been and gone.

          I foresee a split along cultural and geographic lines in the UK, and in the USA, Europe is dead already. The time for change has come.

          1. Nikki Radir

            Re: Everything counts, in large amounts

            @Phil.T.Tipp

            We obviously disagree on many things. I think that the current situation, while dire, is one that we can learn from and recover from. 'Tearing it all down' is unnecessary. To consider such implies both a lack of recognition of how far we've come and what is worth preserving, and ingratitude towards all those who fought so hard for the democratic institutions and the separation of powers between them, that still serve us well - compared with the alternatives.

            I am no apologist for the Democrats, although I am a democrat to the core. I fully acknowledge the 'lack of trust ... felt and believed by real people'. I feel it too. There has been a 'telling message', delivered by people's votes, but people have been betrayed by the beneficiaries of those votes. We will see that.

            You seem to attach your criticisms to a number of conspiracy theories, which I will not entertain with any seriousness. The real world has enough problems, without inventing powerful, phantom enemies to rail against.

            However, I recognise some of, parts of, the problems you list. Our economies need rebalancing towards small firms and individuals, towards genuine value creation, and away from rent-seeking. We need to fully acknowledge the truth of the right's assertion that commerce and industry are the prime drivers of our wealth, and the left's rejoinder that the market does not serve every need (for example, where are the new antibiotics?).

            You are right to suggest that "the thin consumer identities [we] are being sold" are corrosive to "culture and nationhood", but at this point I think we would disagree on what those (should) look like. Personally, I feel wholly comfortable and secure in being white, English, male, European and a citizen of the world. For the avoidance of doubt, I have no desire for (or fear of - it's not going to happen) world government. I do not feel bullied, cowed or marginalised by anyone pontificating about how people of different groups should be treated. My baseline is that everyone deserves respect as a human being, and to determine their own identity. I debate strongly with my friends (and others!) about what this means in terms of behaviour, and do not think that every perceived hurt or wounded sensitivity is worthy of placation, apology or accommodation. We do owe refugees special treatment, in the same way that the rescue of people in distress at sea is an obligation under international maritime law.

            As for trust in experts, politicians, journalists, whoever - I try to be eclectic, selective and critical - what more can I do? There are people who know much more than I do on any number of topics, and they can help me. There are no such things as an infallible gut reaction, as the authentic voice of the people, as a leader uniquely qualified to speak for others. It is always useful to acknowledge and take such things into account, but they have no innate primacy.

            “The time for change has come”, you say. Of course it has. But change will only be lasting and real to the extent we debate the choices with mutual respect and founded on the truth as best we can discover and express it.

            The current administration in the States is founded substantially on lies and employs them as daily currency to distract, to confuse and to justify cruel, greedy and short-sighted legislation. This behaviour must be defeated.

            That's what I think.

          2. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

            Re: Everything counts, in large amounts

            "You seriously believe that the Dems and their pet Deep State ...."

            He he. Oh, yes! There will be MUCH LESS state now. That's for sure. Big State things are sold out to Big Corps instead. That way it's not Big State anymore. It's Big Corps doing the Big State stuff. What a win-win!

      3. Tom 38 Silver badge

        Re: Everything counts, in large amounts

        Clinton lied, and more egregiously to boot. Outfuckingrageously, in point of fact;

        She isn't president. If Trump was accused of rape, you would start banging on about how Harvey Weinstein is much worse, and he donates so much money to "the Dems".

  16. Colin Millar
    IT Angle

    Don't panic

    Politicians do psychological profiling? Er - do they mean they try to make their message attractive to voters based on their perceptions of what the voters want to hear? - Wow, that trick goes all the way back to - well any sort of society really - certainly ancient Rome had it down to a fine art.

    58,000 volunteer arsebookers? At least two major selection biases in three words.

    Someone appears to be trying to justify their fees.

    No IT to be seen here - just some more marketing fluff.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Anonymous data

    Recommend the guardian article to really understand what went on in the U.S.. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/feb/26/robert-mercer-breitbart-war-on-media-steve-bannon-donald-trump-nigel-farage

    These guys have perfected the subtle art of social media psycho manipulation. We all take ideas from from our peers and respected thought leaders and that is classic critical thinking but there is also a herd instinct in us to follow the crowd and safety in numbers etc. The populous is made up of a great number of small herds if you can steer or manipulate those herd leaders you can either discourage or direct those following in your favour. This is far from new thinking but the tools have been developed to hover up the seemingly trivial data to profile millions of people and then subtly deliver a tailored barrage of pop up items tor reinforce your thoughts so that you spread the message to your herd and bring in those wavering out on the prairie or muddy the waters and discredit the opposition. One of the most surprising aspects of what we have witnessed is that the unabashed, brazen, ofensiveness of the wining campaigns. It is clear that polite rationality is now viewed as weak and going straight for the jugular wins. Trumps mob connected past should have made him an easy target to take down but the DMC couldn't deliver the knockout blow, they expected the public to reject his outrageous attacks but this is where the subtle psyops battle won the war for the masses. Divide and conquer... We must make all big data randomised, ban political cyber profiling and targeting albeit after the horse has bolted.

  18. This post has been deleted by its author

  19. Roj Blake Silver badge

    Worrying Implication

    This isn't so bad if it only uses publicly accessible information. But put it in the hands of a government that already has access to all sorts of private info (ie as a result of the IP Act) and things become somewhat serious.

  20. Vdimitris

    One more source

    May I suggest to this thread a feature article at INFORMS Analytics Magazine that may add to your thinking as it Includes a couple of interesting references (i.e. Eugene Bordick's The Ninth Wave c.1956)?

    http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/ac71f839#/ac71f839/52

  21. cream wobbly

    Worse than guessing

    "Facebook likes successfully predicted [...] sexual orientation in 88 per cent of men"

    This is remarkable. They could improve things by predicting everyone's straight, for a cool 97.4% success rate.

  22. DiViDeD Silver badge

    Well Fan me with a Blowtorch!

    I tried their personality analyser and was astonished at its accuracy. According to them, I'm:

    Christian

    Conservative

    Gay

    A woman

    Apparently applying a 'Like' against the Matrix makes me simultaneously MORE and LESS likely to be gay, so that one confuses me a little.

    Oh, and they got my weight wrong too.

  23. Potemkine

    Hidden persuaders

    "Psychological profiling, using any kind of a device or any kind of questioning, may have become a little more sophisticated, but it's certainly been around forever in the life of advertising"

    AFAIK, this is not true, psychological profiling for advertising started around the 50s, with pioneers like Ernest Dichter

    60 years later, this book is still worth reading: "The Hidden Persuaders" by Vance Packard

  24. This post has been deleted by its author

  25. Imsimil Berati-Lahn

    I'm invoking the common or garden Noam

    Manufacturing of consent covers most of this quite nicely already, just transpose from broadcast media to mass targetting and there you go.

    The new bits relate to social media analysis tech giving faster feedback on success of chosen techniques and generally quickening the tempo of political campaign messaging.

    Fascinating stuff really.

  26. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    I guess you could argue that it's not Cambridge Analytica's fault that americans are largely total effing morons. And it seems the same is mostly true in this glorious country as well.

    I still hold Hitler to have been better than Cambridge Analytica, but only just.

  27. CRConrad

    The Vulture seems to have missed the main point:

    From the article:

    [Kosinski] believes that online personalised political messages can be more interesting and relevant than general ones, and the recipients are more competent to judge their quality. It also makes political communication far cheaper because it is highly efficient.

    [ . . . ]

    And it could allow politicians to reach groups who have previously been ignored and may not have bothered voting as a result. "With both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, they attracted huge followings among groups of people who previously were not politically active," Kosinski says.

    They attracted huge followings among groups of people who were misinformed. Deliberately, because just as well as you can use these tools to target recipients who are more competent to judge the quality of your message, you can use them to target recipients who are less competent to do so. That way, you are free to target them with a "less than perfectly truthful" message, and don't need to worry that they'll refuse it. And by targeting these people specifically, you make sure that those who would be more likely to see through it are less likely to ever even see it in the first place, so it won't get debunked as it deserves.

    That is the nefarious aspect of how this works. And frankly, it baffles me how Kosinski seems to have totally missed that.

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