On Twitter alone, many thousands of automated "bot" accounts — many of which were Russian — spammed the site with messages 5:1 in favor of Donald Trump before the election. And that is just the beginning.
Donald Trump’s former campaign chief executive and now White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon once declared, “Politics is war.” He appears to have meant it.
Bannon is on the board of a little-known consulting company called Cambridge Analytica, to which the Trump campaign paid millions of dollars during the election. In a groundbreaking report in the Guardian, journalist Carole Cadwalladr drilled deep into the chilling operations of this small company.
Within the foreign policy and national defense arenas, these types of operations are known as psychological operations or “psy-ops,” a form of mass propaganda used to manipulate the emotions of entire populations, and are a type of “cognitive warfare.”
During the presidential campaign, Cambridge Analytica engaged in a tactic called “micro-targeting,” using sophisticated data analytics and artificial intelligence to manipulate what “trended” on various social media sites and thereby to influence what users of those sites saw. Countless fake automated social media profiles on Facebook and Twitter were operated by sophisticated artificial intelligence programs to influence what did and did not “trend.”
“Bots” (short for robots) were programmed using language-recognition technology to make contact with the social media accounts belonging to real people and to interact in very human ways, including attacking the real people for posting anti-Trump or pro-Clinton content. Sophisticated ones can be used to drown out organic social media narratives and to create artificial “trends,” creating the appearance of a grassroots groundswell.
Prior to the election, possibly one third of traffic on Twitter was created by bots, many of the bots were Russian, and the bots were pro-Trump accounts by a margin of 5:1.
Further, hundreds of websites dedicated solely to pro-Trump messaging operated during the election season. And when FBI Director James Comey briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee recently, he reportedly revealed that Russia employed “close to 1,000 Russian internet trolls, actual people, working trying to manipulate” American voters and information.
The sophistication of micro-targeting and artificial intelligence programming technologies allowed the Trump campaign to build in-depth profiles of virtually every single individual voter. According to the lead scientists at Cambridge University’s Psychometric Centre, which has studied the capabilities of data-mining on Facebook:
Facebook profiles – especially people’s ‘likes’ – could be correlated across millions of others to produce uncannily accurate results. Michal Kosinski, the centre’s lead scientist, found that with knowledge of 150 likes, their model could predict someone’s personality better than their spouse. With 300, it understood you better than yourself. “Computers see us in a more robust way than we see ourselves,” says Kosinski.”
The Centre’s director, Professor Jonathan Rust, commented:
“The danger of not having regulation around the sort of data you can get from Facebook and elsewhere is clear. With this, a computer can actually do psychology, it can predict and potentially control human behaviour. It’s what the scientologists try to do but much more powerful. It’s how you brainwash someone. It’s incredibly dangerous.
”It’s no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behaviour can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People don’t know it’s happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.“
In October 2016, the Chief Executive of Cambridge Analytica, Alexander Nix made a claim that, at the time, might have seemed overly confident to most political observers: He asserted that his company possessed a weapon powerful enough to help Trump overcome challenges and win the election because it could “determine the personality of every single adult in the United States of America and micro-target them accordingly.”
It turns out he was correct.
Combining the results of psychological testing the company administered to 120,000 Americans with the data it mined from the social media accounts of millions of Americans, Cambridge Analytica created what it calls a “psychographic profile” of voters. The company then took these profiles from their “Behavioral Microtargeting program” and utilized artificial intelligence to “deliver the right messages to the right individuals in meaningful ways online.”
In short, Russia and the Trump campaign successfully influenced the perceptions of voters and the results of the election using military-style psy-ops techniques and sophisticated artificial intelligence technologies. But it does not end there.
Now? Cambridge Analytica — on whose board Bannon remains — is in talks to secure two new contracts: one to craft and promote the Trump White House policy messaging and another to help the Trump Organization businesses increase their sales.