Psychology’s role in shaping the future

I just finished reading Chris Wylie’s book about Cambridge Analytica and I suspect that much more alarming material is lurking behind the scenes in America than an impeachment inquiry… It appears that Donald Trump may have been prompted (not just encouraged) to seek the Presidency by the supporters of Cambridge Analytica who could and would help him win by applying “strategic influence” on the electorate through the use of Facebook as a psychological data collection tool and for targeted placement of coercive information. As explained by Wylie, who was instrumental in the formation of Cambridge Analytica’s tactics, they needed to suppress Clinton voters and encourage Trump voters and do it “just enough” to push their favored candidate, Trump, over the top. According to Wylie, they did the same thing in other countries before 2016 and they did it in England to produce the Brexit vote. 

Ghastly implications here; this isn’t just propaganda, it’s the deliberate targeted influencing of identified “vulnerable persons” to tip the balance in a favored candidate’s direction by increasing voting behavior for him/her — and by simultaneously undermining the confidence of those who are likely to vote for the other candidate so that they essentially “sit out the election.”

We all saw the “psychological tests” on Facebook, but we didn’t realize that our answers to the questions (and our likes, shares and web searches) and those of all of our Facebook friends were automatically being collected and fed into a Cambridge Analytica computer program that sorted us and actually became better at predicting our probable voting behavior than any means ever imagined before. Once they knew who to target for “information” it was sent selectively, millions of times throughout the US, and enough of us were influenced by that information to vote in the favored candidate’s direction, or effectively not vote at all.

The call “Drain the Swamp” energized lots of people in 2016 and the repetitious din of information about integrity, honesty and physical disability undermined the confidence of enough people, so that the favored candidate won by “just enough” to get into a position to hire the right bureaucrats and appoint the right judges that would advance the agenda of the Cambridge Analytica supporters who appear to have been one of the driving forces behind Trump’s candidacy. If this is what happened to us in 2016, the only word that comes to mind for it is Diabolical.

When a company pays a $5 million fine for unauthorized “data sharing” but makes $250 million for doing the sharing, it is easy to write off the $5 million as “the cost of doing business” and stay vigorously in business, perhaps under a different name. Thought is no match for emotion (especially anger). We need to approach future elections with as much thought as we can muster because we’ve been targeted for influence by coercive forces before and we will surely be targeted by them from now on. And we’ll blame each other for the results of elections that defy rational explanation. That’s how we’ll know we’ve been had, again.

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