How the Trump campaign (and Russia) used Facebook to win in 2016

From a recent interview Terry Gross did with Christopher Wylie,  former research director for the voter profiling outfit Cambridge Analytica, later acquired by Steve Bannon, with financing by Libertarian billionaire Robert Mercer, who threw his support to Trump after Lyin’ Ted dropped out of the race.  The work of this data-mining company was of incalculable value to Trump’s surgically precise 78,000 vote Electoral College victory in November 2016.

Here’s a bit of how the deal worked, how the Bannon-run Trump campaign mobilized marginal, alienated voters to cast their anger-fueled votes for plain talking Man of the People Donald J. Trump:

TERRY GROSS:   My guest became a whistleblower, exposing the role of the British voter profiling company Cambridge Analytica in the Trump presidential campaign and the Brexit campaign.  Christopher Wylie revealed how the company had harvested the information of tens of millions of Facebook users and combined that with other data to create psychological profiles and then use those profiles to target people susceptible to disinformation, racist thinking and conspiracy theories.   Cambridge Analytica then helped shape the disinformation narratives and pushed them out.

Wylie also revealed Cambridge Analytica’s links to Russia. Wylie had the documents and tapes to back him up.  He’d served as Cambridge Analytica’s research director for a year-and-a-half, then quit in 2014, disturbed by the direction it started taking after Steve Bannon became a major player in the company.

CHRISTOPHER WYLIE:  The basis of Cambridge Analytica’s work was essentially to take large amounts of highly granular data about each individual voter in the United States – a large bulk of that came from Facebook, but it came from many sources – and to look for patterns in that data to essentially infer different psychological attributes and, from that, to find target groups of people, particularly on the fringes of society, who would be more vulnerable to certain kinds of messaging.   They focused a lot on disinformation; They targeted people who were more prone to conspiratorial thinking.

And they used that data and they used social media more broadly to first identify those people and then engage those people and really begin to craft what, in my view, was an insurgency in the United States.

GROSS: Feeding them disinformation, sometimes conspiracy theories in support of the Trump campaign.

WYLIE:   Yes. And more broadly, you know, the – when Steve Bannon took over, he wasn’t just concerned about particular elections. He followed sort of this notion of the Breitbart doctrine, which is that politics exists downstream from culture – so don’t just focus on the day-to-day politics, try to actually make an impact on an enduring change in culture because politics will just flow from that.

GROSS:  When you say when Steve Bannon took over, he had a big role in Cambridge Analytica and then became campaign manager for Trump.

WYLIE:  Yes, he did. He found us in London. He convinced a billionaire to acquire the company, and then he transformed that company into, you know, a set of tools that he would be able to use to, in effect, manipulate a certain segment of the American voter population.


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