We Should All Go Dark….

If there were a big button that would shut down the internet and cell phone connectivity and cable television – I would push it. The psychological damage of the past month (and not to mention of 2016) to the American people and to the world has been fucking gargantuan. Nobody is reporting on this, there … Continue reading “We Should All Go Dark….”

If there were a big button that would shut down the internet and cell phone connectivity and cable television – I would push it. The psychological damage of the past month (and not to mention of 2016) to the American people and to the world has been fucking gargantuan. Nobody is reporting on this, there is no way to measure it, but you can be sure it is true and the damage is real. The news cycle, non-stop coverage, and the blowing up of every event into a massive chicken little story of the sky falling – these things are destroying our psyches, we are in a perpetual state of alarm…think about it for a second…

North Korea nukes, White supremacist rallies, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, DACA, and the list goes on and on…

If you are like me (and there is a 99.9% chance that you are) there is absolutely nothing you can do about any of those things. Nothing. And even if there is something you can do – like activism – you would have been fine waiting a week to hear about any of those stories…instead they were shoved down our throats and blown up to be huge events when in fact, they were just everyday examples of humans being assholes or nature being nature. All this constant panic news is doing is making us crazy. The largest storm, the most expenve disaster, a cataclysmic apocalypse, yeah…none of that….just ratings hype bullshit. If the big storm does hit – I will do what I can to help – but not until the results are in. As for the missiles…unless I am already home and hear about it instantly – the 22 minute flight time won’t even be enough to pick my child up from school – so I might as well wait until the mushroom cloud is rising to freak out about it. There is nothing I can do. We should all become 12 steppers with our insane addiction to panic news…

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (like hurricanes, nuclear war, or ignorant hate filled assholes doing awful things).
God grant me the courage to change the things I can (like not cussing at someone when they cut me off or helping my child with her homework even if I am tired)
God grant me the wisdom to know the difference. ( and to turn off the news and stop being manipulated into an artificial state of panic)

An Extra Day Every Week – What would you do with an 8th day?

If some magical being came down from wherever it usually is and told you “I’m going to give you an 8th day every week to do whatever you want with…” You’d probably be pretty stoked, right?

What would you do with that 8th day? It’s just for you, so what do you want to do with it? It’s yours, nobody can force you to work or do anything you don’t want to do on that 8th day…so what would you do?

You probably have a long list of stuff and I’m just guessing here, but I doubt watching TV or movies, surfing the internet, or doing drudgery is on your list. It’s probably a bit like my list – spend more time with important family, learn a new language, become a better musician, exercise, paint, become better at something you enjoy, or maybe even catch up on your sleep and lounge around in bed or sit around the house in your pajamas.

It would be pretty cool, right?

Well, guess what. I’m that magical being and I’m giving you your 8th day free of charge.

Alright, I can’t do that. I can only give it to myself and tell you how I am doing it so that you can also claim your 8th day.

I figured out in Janaury how much time I spend reading the news, watching TV, watching movies, and looking at Facebook and other websites – I’m not talking about productive time here, not work or actually interacting with people or educating myself or even writing…just wasting time, binge watching, reading status updates, looking at news stories, and just sitting in front of the computer sort of looking for something to do – all told, it came out to more than 4 hours per day…that’s 28 hours a week – so even if I gave myself 4 hours a week to watch a movie, watch an hour of TV, and surf the net for an hour – I’m still wasting an entire day each week on bullshit. There’s my 8th day…it was there all along. I was simply throwing it away. It needs to stop.

Because think about it – that’s one whole day a week. 52 days in a year – that’s 7 weeks and three days. What would you do with 52 extra days in the year? Let me take it further – it’s like throwing away every 6th year…does time fly? Would you like a free year for every six? So if I live to be 102, that means I’ve wasted 14.5 years of my life on bullshit…almost 15 years! What would you give to be able to live for 15 extra years!

I can hear some counterarguments…most of that wasted time is at night…yeah, so why can’t I do some of the not daytime essential activities I need to do each day during that same time and take my prime time for myself? It’s not sequential, so it’s not like a two week vacation – yeah but again, why not do non-sequential-essential activities during that time and free up my prime time?

I know, it’s hard to do some of those things we want to do in our hurry up and wait and waste your whole day societies – but maybe it is partly our fault that our societies are so messed up. What if we used that extra 15 years of life to dedicate to making our world a better place?

Just think about it. The gift is yours. You don’t have to give me anything in return. I just need to make sure I give myself this time. It’s really all we have.

Digital Enslavement

It’s too late for this blog post because let’s face it, only a small handful of people even read this blog and the truth of the matter is – I am fairly certain that barring a worldwide power outage or massive solar flares, the digital chains that bind the majority of the world are already too strong to be broken. First this – the populist movements which gained ground in 2016 did so using deep psychology and behavior control mechanisms combined with the very intelligent use of big data (everything you do on your phone, smart TV, smart car, Amazon, credit cards, or on the internet). If you think I am overstating things, you haven’t read this
http://motherboard.vice.com/read/big-data-cambridge-analytica-brexit-trump
I have posted the entire article as first translated at the bottom of this post. It is long, but if you want to know what is really going on, you need to read it. Here it is ina nutshell – big data (aka the internet) is tracking where you go (via the GPS in your phone), what you buy via credit cards, what you watch, which websites you visit, and based on the simple metric of what things you like via Facebook alone- can predict with somewhere around 90% accuracy your religious and political beliefs, your marital and parent status, your income, your gender and sexual preference, and pretty much everything else about you – including your personality type and what state, city, neighborhood, or district you live in. Every time you have taken one of those “Which Star wars or Harry Potter Character Are you?” quizzes and clicked that little button that lets them analyze your Facebook or access your Facebook, you have authorized them to look at all of your data – even if you have your profile on privacy lock-down (which I do, but which it turns out, doesn’t really matter). Alright, so privacy is dead, we all know that, not a big deal or not a deal we care about anymore – but here is where it gets interesting – using this data, the Trump and Brexit campaigns (and other movements we are unaware of) identified huge segments of the population and targeted them with specifically tailor made stories and wall posts which shaped the way they think and in turn, shaped the way they voted.
This quote from the article:

“On the day of the third presidential debate between Trump and Clinton, Trump’s team blasted out 175,000 distinct variations on his arguments, mostly via Facebook. The messages varied mostly in their microscopic details, in order to communicate optimally with their recipients: different titles, colors, subtitles, with different images or videos. The granularity of this message tailoring digs all the way down to tiny target groups, Nix explained to Das Magazin. “We can target specific towns or apartment buildings. Even individual people.””

This is not a conspiracy theory. This goes way beyond giving up our preferences, we have taught them how our individual brains work and told them exactly what our motivations are and with that information – there is a long established science which can be used to make us do exactly what we are told while we think we are doing exactly what we want. One branch of this is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT – which is used with autistic and neurological disorders to help patients gain control and live in our societies. The dark side of this science is that it can be used for straight up mind control. The politicians and idea marketers are not constrained by the same ethics as the CBT therapists or the psychological community.

Big Data means, in essence, that everything we do, both on and offline, leaves digital traces. Every purchase we make with our cards, every search we type into Google, every movement we make when our mobile phone is in our pocket, every “like” is stored. Especially every “like.”

You need to read the article below. We have manufactured the chains and then offered to try them on while handing them to our new masters. We never questioned why there was no key mechanism to unshackle us from our manacles. We should have. Now, we are stuck. There may be a way out, but the biggest obstacle is that most people have now been conditioned to believe that the chains are necessary for survival or worse that they are not even there or worse still that the chains are actually what give us life and liberty. This is the lie.

“I just showed that the bomb was there.”
By Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus for Das Magazin (Zurich)
3 December 2016 (original post)

Psychologist Michal Kosinski developed a method of analyzing people’s behavior down to the minutest detail by looking at their Facebook activity—thus helping Donald Trump to victory.

On November 9th, around 8:30 in the morning, Michal Kosinski awoke in his hotel room in Zurich. The 34-year-old had traveled here to give a presentation to the Risk Center at the ETH [Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule or Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich] at a conference on the dangers of Big Data and the so-called digital revolution. Kosinski gives such presentations all over the world. He is a leading expert on psychometrics, a data-driven offshoot of psychology. Turning on the television this morning in Zurich, he saw that the bomb had gone off: defying the predictions of nearly every leading statistician, Donald J. Trump had been elected president of the United States of America.

Kosinski watched Trump’s victory celebration and the remaining election returns for a long while. He suspected that his research could have had something to do with the result. Then he took a deep breath and turned off the television.

On the same day, a little-known British company headquartered in London issued a press release: “We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communications played such an integral part in president-elect Donald Trump’s extraordinary win,” Alexander James Ashburner Nix is quoted as saying. Nix is British, 41 years old, and CEO of Cambridge Analytica. He only appears in public in a tailored suit and designer eyeglasses, his slightly wavy blond hair combed back.

The meditative Kosinski, the well-groomed Nix, the widely grinning Trump—one made this digital upheaval possible, one carried it out, and one rode it to power.

How dangerous is Big Data?

Anyone who didn’t spend the last five years on the moon has heard the term Big Data. The emergence of Big Data has meant that everything we do, online or off-, leaves digital traces. Every purchase with a card, every Google search, every movement with a cellphone in your pocket, every “like” gets stored. Especially every “like.” For a while it wasn’t entirely clear what any of this data would be good for, other than showing us ads for blood pressure medication in our Facebook feeds after we google “high blood pressure.” It also wasn’t entirely clear whether or in what ways Big Data would be a threat or a boon to humanity.

Since November 9th, 2016, we know the answer. Because one and the same company was behind Trump’s online ad campaigns and late 2016’s other shocker, the Brexit “Leave” campaign: Cambridge Analytica, with its CEO Alexander Nix. Anyone who wants to understand the outcome of the US elections—and what could be coming up in Europe in the near future—must begin with a remarkable incident at the University of Cambridge in 2014, in Kosinski’s department of psychometrics.

Psychometrics, sometimes also known as psychography, is a scientific attempt to “measure” the personality of a person. The so-called Ocean Method has become the standard approach. Two psychologists were able to demonstrate in the 1980s that the character profile of a person can be measured and expressed in five dimensions, the Big Five: Openness (how open are you to new experiences?), Conscientiousness (how much of a perfectionist are you?), Extroversion (how sociable are you?), Agreeableness (how considerate and cooperative are you?), and Neuroticism (how sensitive/vulnerable are you?). With these five dimensions (O.C.E.A.N.), you can determine fairly precisely what kind of person you are dealing with—her needs and fears as well as how she will generally behave. For a long time, however, the problem was data collection, because to produce such a character profile meant asking subjects to fill out a complicated survey asking quite personal questions. Then came the internet. And Facebook. And Kosinski.

A new life began in 2008 for the Warsaw-born student Michal Kosinski when he was accepted to the prestigious University of Cambridge in England to work in the Cavendish Laboratory at the Psychometrics Center, the first-ever psychometrics laboratory. With a fellow student, Kosinski created a small app for Facebook (the social media site was more straightforward then than it is now) called MyPersonality. With MyPersonality, you could answer a handful of questions from the Ocean survey (“Are you easily irritated?” – “Are you inclined to criticize others?”) and receive a rating, or a “Personality Profile” consisting of traits defined by the Ocean method. The researchers, in turn, got your personal data. Instead of a couple dozen friends participating, as initially expected, first hundreds, then thousands, then millions of people had bared their souls. Suddenly the two doctoral students had access to the then-largest psychological data set ever produced.

The process that Kosinski and his colleagues developed over the years that followed is actually quite simple. First surveys are distributed to test subjects—this is the online quiz. From the subjects’ responses, their personal Ocean traits are calculated. Then Kosinski’s team would compile every other possible online data point of a test subject—what they’ve liked, shared, or posted on Facebook; gender, age, and location. Thus the researchers began to find correlations, and began to see that amazingly reliable conclusions could be drawn about a person by observing their online behavior. For example, men who “like” the cosmetics brand MAC are, to a high degree of probability, gay. One of the best indicators of heterosexuality is liking Wu-Tang Clan. People who follow Lady Gaga, furthermore, are most probably extroverted. Someone who likes philosophy is more likely introverted.

Kosinski and his team continued, tirelessly refining their models. In 2012, Kosinski demonstrated that from a mere 68 Facebook likes, a lot about a user could be reliably predicted: skin color (95% certainty), sexual orientation (88% certainty), Democrat or Republican (85%). But there’s more: level of intellect; religious affiliation; alcohol-, cigarette-, and drug use could all be calculated. Even whether or not your parents stayed together until you were 21 could be teased out of the data.

How good a model is, however, depends on how well it can predict the way a test subject will answer certain further questions. Kosinski charged ahead. Soon, with a mere ten “likes” as input his model could appraise a person’s character better than an average coworker. With seventy, it could “know” a subject better than a friend; with 150 likes, better than their parents. With 300 likes, Kosinski’s machine could predict a subject’s behavior better than their partner. With even more likes it could exceed what a person thinks they know about themselves.

The day he published these findings, Kosinski received two phonecalls. One was a threat to sue, the other a job offer. Both were from Facebook.
Only Visible to Friends

In the meantime, Facebook has introduced the differentiation between public and private posts. In “private” mode, only one’s own friends can see what one likes. This is still no obstacle for data-collectors: while Kosinski always requests the consent of the Facebook users he tests, many online quizzes these days demand access to private information as a precondition to taking a personality test. (Anyone who is not overly concerned about their private information and who wants to get assessed according to their Facebook likes can do so at Kosinski’s website, and then compare the results to those of a “classic” Ocean survey here).

It’s not just about likes on Facebook. Kosinski and his team have in the meantime figured out how to sort people according to Ocean criteria based only on their profile pictures. Or according to the number of their social media contacts (this is a good indicator of extroversion). But we also betray information about ourselves when we are offline. Motion sensors can show, for example, how fast we are moving a smartphone around or how far we are traveling (correlates with emotional instability). A smartphone, Kosinski found, is in itself a powerful psychological survey that we, consciously or unconsciously, are constantly filling out.

Above all, though—and this is important to understand—it also works another way: using all this data, psychological profiles can not only be constructed, but they can also be sought and found. For example if you’re looking for worried fathers, or angry introverts, or undecided Democrats. What Kosinski invented, to put it precisely, is a search engine for people. And he has been getting more and more acutely aware of both the potential and the danger his work presents.

The internet always seemed to him a gift from heaven. He wants to give back, to share. Information is freely reproducible, copyable, and everyone should benefit from it. This is the spirit of an entire generation, the beginning of a new era free of the limits of the physical world. But what could happen, Kosinski asked himself, if someone misused his search engine in order to manipulate people? His scientific work [e.g.] began to come with warnings: these prediction techniques could be used in ways that “pose a threat to an individual’s well-being, freedom, or even life.” But no one seemed to understand what he meant.

Around this time, in early 2014, a young assistant professor named Aleksandr Kogan approached Kosinski. He said he had received an inquiry from a company interested in Kosinski’s methods. They apparently wanted to psychometrically measure the profiles of ten million American Facebook users. To what purpose, Kogan couldn’t say: there were strict secrecy stipulations. At first, Kosinski was ready to accept—it would have meant a lot of money for his institute. But he hesitated. Finally Kogan divulged the name of the company: SCL, Strategic Communications Laboratories. Kosinski googled them [so did Antidote. Here. —ed.]: “We are a global election management agency,” said the company website [really, the website has even creepier language on it than that. “Behavioral change communication”? Go look already]. SCL offers marketing based on a “psychographic targeting” model. With an emphasis on “election management” and political campaigns? Disturbed, Kosinski clicked through the pages. What kind of company is this? And what do they have planned for the United States?

What Kosinski didn’t know at the time was that behind SCL there lay a complex business structure including ancillary companies in tax havens, as the Panama Papers and Wikileaks revelations have since shown. Some of these had been involved in political upheavals in developing countries; others had done work for NATO, developing methods for the psychological manipulation of the population in Afghanistan. And SCL is also the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, this ominous Big Data firm that managed online marketing for both Trump and the Brexit “Leave” campaign.

Kosinski didn’t know any of that, but he had a bad feeling: “The whole thing started to stink,” he remembers. Looking into it further, he discovered that Aleksandr Kogan had secretly registered a company to do business with SCL. A document obtained by Das Magazin confirms that SCL learned about Kosinski’s methods through Kogan. It suddenly dawned on Kosinski that Kogan could have copied or reconstructed his Ocean models in order to sell them to this election-manipulating company. He immediately broke off contact with him and informed the head of his institute. A complicated battle ensued within Cambridge University. The institute feared for its reputation. Aleksandr Kogan moved to Singapore, got married, and began calling himself Dr. Spectre. Michal Kosinski relocated to Stanford University in the United States.

For a year or so it was quiet. Then, in November 2015, the more radical of the two Brexit campaigns (leave.eu, led by Nigel Farage) announced that they had contracted with a Big Data firm for online marketing support: Cambridge Analytica. The core expertise of this company: innovative political marketing, so-called microtargeting, on the basis of the psychological Ocean model.

Kosinski started getting emails asking if he had had anything to do with it—for many, his is the first name to spring to mind upon hearing the terms Cambridge, Ocean, and analytics in the same breath. This is when he heard of Cambridge Analytica for the first time. Appalled, he looked up their website. His methods were being deployed, on a massive scale, for political purposes.

After the Brexit vote in July the email inquiries turned to insults and reproaches. Just look what you’ve done, friends and colleagues wrote. Kosinski had to explain over and over again that he had nothing to do with this company.

First Brexit, Then Trump

September 19th, 2016: the US presidential election is approaching. Guitar riffs fill the dark blue ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York: CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising.” The Concordia Summit is like the WEF in miniature. Decision makers from all over the world are invited; among the guests is Johann Schneider-Ammann [then nearing the end of his year term as president of Switzerland’s governing council].

A gentle women’s voice comes over the PA: “Please welcome Alexander Nix, Chief Executive Officer of Cambridge Analytica.” A lean man in a dark suit strides towards the center of the stage. An attentive quiet descends. Many in the room already know: this is Trump’s new Digital Man. “Soon you’ll be calling me Mr. Brexit,” Trump had tweeted cryptically a few weeks before. Political observers had already been pointing out the substantial similarities between Trump’s agenda and that of the rightwing Brexit camp; only a few had noticed the connection to Trump’s recent engagement with a largely unknown marketing company: Cambridge Analytica.

Before then, Trump’s online campaign had consisted more or less of one person: Brad Parscale, a marketing operative and failed startup founder who had built Trump a rudimentary website for $1,500. The 70-year-old Trump is not what one would call an IT-whiz; his desk is unencumbered by a computer. There is no such thing as an email from Trump, his personal assistant once let slip. It was she who persuaded him to get a smartphone—the one from which he has uninhibitedly tweeted ever since.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, was relying on the endowment of the first social media president, Barack Obama. She had the Democratic Party’s address lists, collected millions of dollars over the internet, received support from Google and Dreamworks. When it became known in June 2016 that Trump had hired Cambridge Analytica, Washington collectively sneered. Foreign noodlenecks in tailored suits who don’t understand this country and its people? Seriously?

“Ladies and gentlemen, honorable colleagues, it is my privilege to speak to you today about the power of Big Data and psychographics in the electoral process.” The Cambridge Analytica logo appears behind Alexander Nix—a brain, comprised of a few network nodes and pathways, like a subway map. “It’s easy to forget that only eighteen months ago Senator Cruz was one of the less popular candidates seeking nomination, and certainly one of the more vilified,” begins the blond man with his British diction that produces the same mixture of awe and resentment in Americans that high German does the Swiss. “In addition, he had very low name recognition; only about forty percent of the electorate had heard of him.”

Everyone in the room was aware of the sudden rise, in May 2016, of the conservative senator within the Republican field of presidential candidates. It was one of the strangest moments of the primary campaign. Cruz had been the last of a series of Republican opponents to come out of nowhere with what looked like a credible challenge to frontrunner Trump. “How did he do this?” continues Nix.

Cambridge Analytica had begun engaging with US elections towards the end of 2014, initially to advise the Republican Ted Cruz, and paid by the secretive American tech billionaire Robert Mercer. Up to that point, according to Nix, election campaign strategy had been guided by demographic concepts. “But this is a really ridiculous idea, the idea that all women should receive the same message because of their gender; or all African-Americans because of their race.” The Hillary Clinton campaign team was still operating on precisely such amateurish assumptions—Nix need not even mention—which divide the electorate up into ostensibly homogeneous groups…exactly the same way as all the public opinion researchers who predicted a Clinton victory did.

Nix clicks to the next slide: five different faces, each representing a personality profile. It is the Ocean model. “At Cambridge, we’ve rolled out a long-form quantitative instrument to probe the underlying traits that inform personality. This is the cutting edge in experimental psychology.” It is now completely silent in the hall. “By having hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Americans undertake this survey, we were able to form a model to predict the personality of every single adult in the United States of America.” The success of Cambridge Analytica’s marketing arises from the combination of three elements: this psychological behavioral analysis of the Ocean model, Big Data evaluation, and ad targeting. Ad targeting is personalized advertisement tailored as precisely as possible to the character of a single consumer.

Nix explains forthrightly how his company does this (the presentation can be viewed on YouTube). From every available source, Cambridge Analytica buys up personal data: “What car you drive, what products you purchase in shops, what magazines you read, what clubs you belong to.” Voter and medical records. On the screen behind him are displayed the logos of global data traders like Acxiom and Experian—in the United States nearly all personal consumer data is available for purchase. If you want to know, for example, where Jewish women live, you can simply buy this information. Including telephone numbers. Now Cambridge Analytica crosschecks these data sets with Republican Party voter rolls and online data such as Facebook likes, and constructs an Ocean personality profile. From a selection of digital signatures there suddenly emerge real individual people with fears, needs, and interests—and home addresses.

The process is identical to the models that Michal Kosinski developed. Cambridge Analytica also uses IQ-Quiz and other small Ocean test apps in order to gain access to the powerful predictive personal information wrapped up in the Facebook likes of users. And Cambridge Analytica is doing precisely what Kosinski had warned about. They have assembled psychograms for all adult US citizens, 220 million people, and have used this data to influence electoral outcomes.

Nix clicks to the next slide. “This is a data dashboard that we prepared for the Cruz campaign for the Iowa caucus. It looks intimidating, but it’s actually very simple.” On the left, graphs and diagrams; on the right, a map of Iowa, where Cruz had done surprisingly well in the caucuses. On this map, hundreds of thousands of tiny dots, red and blue. Nix begins to narrow down search criteria to a category of Republican caucus-goers he describes as a “persuasion” group, whose common Ocean personality profile and home locations are now visible, a smaller set of people to whom advertisement can be more effectively tailored. Ultimately the criteria can be narrowed to a single individual, along with his name, age, address, interests, and political leanings. How does Cambridge Analyica approach this person with political messaging?

Earlier in the presentation, using the example of the Second Amendment, Nix showed two variations on how certain psychographic profiles are spoken to differently. “For a highly Neurotic and Conscientious audience, you’re going to need a message that is both rational and fear-based: the threat of a burglary and the ‘insurance policy’ of a gun is very persuasive.” A picture on the left side of the screen shows a gloved hand breaking a window and reaching for the inside door handle. On the right side, there is a picture of a man and child silhouetted against a sunset in tall grass, both with rifles, obviously duck hunting: “for a Closed and Agreeable audience, people who care about traditions and habits and family and community, talking about these values is going to be much more effective in communicating your message.”

How to Keep Clinton Voters Away

Trump’s conspicuous contradictions and his oft-criticized habit of staking out multiple positions on a single issue result in a gigantic number of resulting messaging options that creates a huge advantage for a firm like Cambridge Analytica: for every voter, a different message. Mathematician Cathy O’Neil had already observed in August that “Trump is like a machine learning algorithm” that adjusts to public reactions. On the day of the third presidential debate between Trump and Clinton, Trump’s team blasted out 175,000 distinct variations on his arguments, mostly via Facebook. The messages varied mostly in their microscopic details, in order to communicate optimally with their recipients: different titles, colors, subtitles, with different images or videos. The granularity of this message tailoring digs all the way down to tiny target groups, Nix explained to Das Magazin. “We can target specific towns or apartment buildings. Even individual people.”

In the Miami neighborhood of Little Haiti, Cambridge Analytica regaled residents with messages about the failures of the Clinton Foundation after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, in order to dissuade them from turning out for Clinton. This was one of the goals: to get potential but wavering Clinton voters—skeptical leftists, African-Americans, young women—to stay home. To “suppress” their votes, as one Trump campaign staffer bluntly put it. In these so-called dark posts (paid Facebook ads which appear in the timelines only of users with a particular suitable personality profile), African-Americans, for example, are shown the nineties-era video of Hillary Clinton referring to black youth as “super predators.”

“Blanket advertising—the idea that a hundred million people will receive the same piece of direct mail, the same television advert, the same digital advert—is dead,” Nix begins to wrap up his presentation at the Concordia Summit. “My children will certainly never understand this concept of mass communication. Today, communication is becoming ever increasingly targeted.

“The Cruz campaign is over now, but what I can tell you is that of the two candidates left in this election, one of them is using these technologies. And it’s going to be very interesting to see how they impact the next seven weeks. Thank you.” With that, he exits the stage.

It is not knowable just to what extent the American population is being targeted by Trump’s digital troopers—because they seldom attack through the mainstream broadcast media, but rather mostly with highly personalized ads on social media or through digital cable. And while the Clinton team sat back in the confidence that it was safe with its demographic calculations, a new crew was moving into the Trump online campaign headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, as Bloomberg journalist Sasha Issenberg noted with surprise after a visit. The Cambridge Analytica team, apparently just a dozen people, had received around $100,000 from Trump in July; in August another $250,000; five million in September. Altogether, says Nix, they took in around fifteen million.

And the company took even more radical measures: starting in July 2016, a new app was prepared for Trump campaign canvassers with which they could find out the political orientation and personality profile of a particular house’s residents in advance. If the Trump people ring a doorbell, it’s only the doorbell of someone the app has identified as receptive to his messages, and the canvassers can base their line of attack on personality-specific conversation guides also provided by the app. Then they enter a subject’s reactions to certain messaging back into the app, from where this new data flows back to the control rooms of Cambridge Analytica.

The company divided the US population into 32 personality types, and concentrated on only seventeen states. And just as Kosinski had determined that men who like MAC cosmetics on Facebook are probably gay, Cambridge Analytica found that a predeliction for American-produced cars is the best predictor of a possible Trump voter. Among other things, this kind of knowledge can inform Trump himself which messages to use, and where. The decision to focus candidate visits in Michigan and Wisconsin over the final weeks of the campaign was based on this manner of data analysis. The candidate himself became an implementation instrument of the model.

What is Cambridge Analytica Doing in Europe?

How great an influence did these psychometric methods have on the outcome of the election? Cambridge Analytica, when asked, did not want to disclose any documentation assessing the effectiveness of their campaign. It is possible that the question cannot be answered at all. Still, some indicators should be considered: there is the fact that Ted Cruz, thanks to the help of Cambridge Analytica, rose out of obscurity to become Trump’s strongest competitor in the primaries; there is the increase in rural voter turnout; there is the reduction, compared to 2008 and 2012, in African-American voter participation. The circumstance of Trump having spent so little money on advertising could also speak for the effectiveness of personality-specific targeting, as could the fact that three quarters of his marketing budget was spent in the digital realm. Facebook became his ultimate weapon and his best canvasser, as a Trump staffer tweeted. In Germany, the rightwing upstart party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) may like the sound of this, as they have more Facebook friends than Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) combined.

It is therefore not at all the case, as is so often claimed, that statisticians lost this election because their polls were so faulty. The opposite is true: statisticians won this election. It was just certain statisticians, the ones using the new method. It is a cruel irony of history that Trump, such a detractor of science, won the election thanks to science.

Another big winner in the election was Cambridge Analytica. Steve Bannon, a Cambridge Analytica board member and publisher of the ultra-rightwing online site Breitbart News, was named Trump’s chief strategist. Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, ambitious Front National activist and niece of the presidential candidate, has tweeted that she has accepted the firm’s invitation to collaborate. In an internal company video, there is a live recording of a discussion entitled “Italy.” Alexander Nix confirms that he is in the process of client acquisition, worldwide. They have received inquiries out of Switzerland and Germany.

Kosinski has been observing all of this from his office at Stanford. After the election, the university was in an uproar. Kosinski responded to the developments with the most powerful weapon available to researchers: a scientific analysis. Along with his research colleague Sandra Matz, he conducted a series of tests that will soon be published. The first results seen by Das Magazin are unsettling: psychological targeting, as Cambridge Analytica deployed it, increases the clickthru rate on Facebook ads by more than sixty percent. And the so-called conversion rate (the term for how likely a person is to act upon a personally-tailored ad, i.e. whether they buy a product or, yes, go vote) increases by a staggering 1400 percent.

The world has been turned upside down. The Brits are leaving the EU; Trump rules America. It all began with one man, who indeed tried to warn of the danger, and who still gets accusatory emails. “No,” says Kosinski quietly, shaking his head, “this is not my fault. I did not build the bomb. I just showed that it was there.”

Translated by Antidote

How Mass Media Shapes Personal Identity

What is human nature?A huge part of being a human being is the ability to ask one’s self ‘Who am I?’ Certainly, we cannot know for certain that all creatures don’t ask themselves the same question, but since, as human beings, we are able to communicate the thoughts that we have within ourselves to other human beings outside of ourselves, we can be certain that a part of being human is this desire to understand who we are. While, on the surface, ‘Who am I?’ may seem to be a simple question that can be answered with a name, a profession, or a nationality; it is, in fact, a much more profound question that generates more questions than it does answers. The questions follow on the heels of one another and after the simple answers we might at first be tempted to give. These questions can start with our original answers. Why is my name …? Why am I a certain profession? How did I come to think of this profession, and thus myself, in this way? Why do I consider myself a member of this nation, state, or organization and how did I learn to think of it in this manner? These and further questions lead, inevitably to the great questions of philosophy. The questions that do not have solid and verifiable answers. Questions such as ‘Why am I here?’ ‘Where was I before I was born?’ ‘Where will I go when I die?’ and ‘Am I a part of my body or is my body simply something I am attached to at the moment?’

While it is beyond the scope of this paper (or arguably any paper) to address the deepest of these questions, I believe that it is possible to address the surface questions of how we form our identity and where the information our identities are built with comes from. Our identities are formed by the people that surround us at any point in our lives. Parents and siblings, teachers and classmates, colleagues and friends; all of these relationships aid in the building of our sense of self. These are the direct human contacts that help us determine our likes and dislikes, our passions and joys, and our endeavors towards future selves that we have, as yet, to become. Within and surrounding nearly all of these relationships, however, is another force that shapes us. It is a force which is visible and invisible, pervasive and consuming, and with us, in this modern world, from the day we are born until the day we die. This force is that of the mass media. Mass media is present during our entire waking lives in the form of books, film, music, newspapers, art, and advertisements. The influence of mass media shapes our concepts of who we are, what is important to us, and how we live our lives.

Michael Foucault addresses this influence in Text, Discourse, and Ideology.

…in every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized, and redistributed by a certain number of procedures whose role is to ward off its powers and dangers, to gain mastery over its chance events, to evade its ponderous, formidable materiality. (Foucault, p. 50).

Foucault goes on to talk about how by creating the way we think about things, our society is able to actually limit the things we think about. Foucault refers to this as principles of exclusion within discourse. An example might be that one thinks of oneself as an ‘American’ and not a ‘North American’ and thus in the individuals thinking, the identities of both Mexican and Canadian are excluded by the simple exclusion of the word ‘North’. Thus we reach one of the many ways that the mass media is able to shape the individual identity, through the conditioning of thoughts towards thinking in a certain way. Any message which is able to achieve mass media is controlled and selected by the author(s), is arranged in a way that the author(s) feel describes their worldview (or more insidiously, arranged how they want others to view the world), and is then distributed within the population that either 1) shares that world view or 2) is likely to share that worldview in the future.

Manuel Castells in The Power of Identity provides specific examples of how the mass media shapes the individual identity. Castells looks at modern social movements as diverse as militias in the United States, Japanese doomsday cults, Al Qaeda , and WTO protestors and shows how all of these movements were able to spread and attract followers, not because of the inherent message of the groups, but more importantly because of the message in the media and how it came to be accepted as a truth in the societies represented and thus aided in the formation of the identity of individuals through mass media outlets such as Rush Limbaugh, al-Jazeera, Indy Media, and even the nightly news. Castells sums this up neatly:

…the actual conspiracy with no names (or multiple names) and with no organization (or hundreds of them) flows in the information networks, feeding paranoia, connecting anger, and maybe spilling blood. (Castells. p. 95)

Not all of the identity formed by the mass media is negative however. Purnima Mankekar shows how television in India helped to shape and empower the images of womanhood among those who watched serials on television. Mankekar demonstrates that mass media is capable of not only fostering domination of the individual but also able to bring about resistance to domination. Indian women who had a preconceived notion of their identity and watched the notions of womanhood within India on television programs reshaped their views on what it is to be a woman in India based on the message transmitted in the mass media and as a result have begun to redefine what it is to be a woman in modern India.

Jayhasinjy Jhala goes even further by examining the effects of films intended for a western audience when viewed by an Indian audience. The ethnographic films are documentaries about Yanaomamo culture that have taken place with the advent of television and mass media within that culture. Jhala and his wife showed films made for Western audiences to groups of Indian nationals and got very different reactions to the films than from Western audiences. The Indian audiences had not had the same messages broadcast to them in the building of identity as those of the West and thus had a very different reaction to the films. While this study did not necessarily demonstrate the effects of the films upon the identity of the Indian audiences, certainly they demonstrate the differences in national character that local mass media have in the way that individuals view the world in front of them.

This is important to consider because in our vast world media culture, a message that is intended for one audience often has very different reception by an audience that has constructed its identity from a different set of cultural markers. Take for example the typical action film in which the hero kills his enemies in overwhelming shows of firepower and yet to the western audience remains sympathetic. To a Western audience, the hero is justified because his innate character are understood within the tropes and markers of that society. When the same film is shown to an audience that has been conditioned by different cultural influences, the overall meaning of the film and the sympathies of the audience are often completely different.

In The Tongan Tradition of Going to the Movies, Elizabeth Hahn, looks at the very different way in which citizens of Tonga encounter western media and the effects that these differences create in the identity of the viewer as opposed to the effects which influence the identity of a viewer from the West. The Tongan experience of the cinema is a much less restrained experience than that of going to the movies in a Western country. Westerners are often annoyed by the shouts and applause that come from the audience. This difference is born of the different cultural practices of each culture. In a traditional Tongan performance, the viewer is led through the event by a narrator who personalizes the experience for the viewer while in the West, the viewer is expected to detach from the experience. Thus, it can be argued that watching a typical film for someone from the West has little to do with the identity of the individual, those in Tonga are much more likely to leave a film feeling changed by the event. A Tongan viewing may, in fact, have more to do with the identity of the individual than with the story of the film itself. This is a result of the traditional culture of the place more than differences spread through mass culture, but may, in the course of time, have a greater effect upon shaping the future Tongan identity than that of the Western viewer.

Mass media of course has become much more than just film, television, and the printed word in the past few decades. Today the mass media is also interactive because of the advent of the internet. The internet has enabled people to find communities that fit their interests and thus has made it possible for an entirely new sort of identity to be possible across the world. As an example, a person who is drawn to an obscure hobby such as collecting pencils that have the erasers chewed off, no longer has to exist in isolation. It is probable that there are more than a few such collectors in the world and that at least one of them (and probably more) are on the internet. As a result, the chewed top pencil collector can find those with similar interests and perhaps will discover that he or she shares more than a single interest in this community. The chewed off pencil community may have bulletin boards, blogs, newsgroups, or even annual get togethers. Because of the collaborative nature of the internet, such collectors will be able to form a more concrete identity within a community of such like minded individuals. The same is, of course, true for those interested in more common pursuits.

Tom Boellstoroff documents one such avenue for the creation of identity through online mass media in his Coming of Age in Second Life. Second Life is an online world where participants can create alter egos with avatars, interests, and even real world incomes. Boellstoroff did traditional anthropological fieldwork in the virtual world of Second Life. Second Life, like all forms of human interaction, creates unique forms and means of shaping the human identity.

While some see virtual worlds as marking the emergence of the post-human, through terms like homo cyber I argue that the forms of selfhood and sociality characterizing virtual worlds are profoundly human…it is in being virtual that we are human. Virtual worlds reconfigure selfhood and sociality, but this is only possible because they rework the virtuality that characterizes human beings in the actual world. (Boellsteroff 2008: 29)

Thus, we see yet another way that the inner self of the human being can be shaped by the social world of human society, even when there are no humans physically present. This would seem to answer the question as to whether the sense of self is contained within the body or the body is separate from the self. In the case of virtual worlds, the body is not present and yet the self is.

This idea though, may not be as new as the technology that creates it. Some writers have theorized that all forms of mass media are similar to Second Life in that the self that is consuming the media is able to pick and choose from among different programs, magazines, and films and thus is actually not having the sense of self created by mass media, but using mass media to nurture an already formed sense of self. Not everyone agrees with these ideas though. Many , believe that mass media tends to encourage some forms of self identity while discouraging others. David Morley argues in The Construction of the Viewer that

…the celebration of audience creativity and pleasure can all too easily collude with a system of media power which actually excludes or marginalizes most alternative or oppositional voices or perspectives.
(Morley, p. 14)

Morley’s point is well made. After all, many forms of mass media today are generally controlled by business and government. Business wants to increase profits while government wants to encourage behavior that provides more control. With these goals in mind, what is it that mass media is encouraging and discouraging in its consumers?

In looking at the mass media today, one should look critically. What are those in control of mass media trying to make us believe about ourselves? When I ask myself ‘Who am I?’, how much of the answer comes from within me and how much has come from sources outside of me? Who benefits from the conception of self that is being taught, pushed, forced upon each of us through the mass media? Are we being accidentally shaped into something different from who we are by being an unintended audience? Are we developing new ideas or just regurgitating the ideas that have been fed to us through print, video, and digital media?

Mass media plays a huge role in the development of the self in the world of today. We are exposed to ideas, people, places, and communities that can cause us to bloom or, in many cases, cause us to hide who we really are. The sense of self is yours and yours alone. No one can tell you who you are or answer any of the profound questions for you. No one except for your self.