Cambridge Analytica, a “election management agency” partly owned by conservative hedge-fund manager Robert Mercer, may have provided information to help target Russian propaganda for disrupting the 2016 elections. According to a story in The Daily Beast, Mercer’s data-crunching firm has become a focus for investigations into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
A data firm backed by some of Donald Trump’s closest allies is now facing scrutiny as part of an investigation into possible collusion between the president’s team and Russian operatives, The Daily Beast has learned.
When it comes to Russian interference in the US elections, Facebook, Twitter, and Google handily provided outlets for Russian propaganda. Targeted ads moved straight to screens in swing districts with content designed to break America open along racial lines and images or themes carefully tailored to appeal to individual voters. For the cost of a single television ad, Russia appears to have delivered thousands of racially charged ads designed to boost Trump’s chances right into the inbox, ad section, and Facebook page of millions of white voters.
Social media provided not just the delivery mechanism, as well as tools for helping to target voters most likely to be either persuaded to Trump, or discouraged from voting. But the detailed data that drove the design of the Russian campaigns—information that included personal information on individual voters—may have come from elsewhere, such as a firm whose specialty is providing exactly this information. And the ties between Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign go beyond just Mercer:
Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, had holdings in Cambridge Analytica worth between $1 million and $5 million as recently as April of this year, Bloomberg reported. Bannon, now back as the chairman of the pro-Trump media outlet Breitbart, hasn’t been publicly mentioned as a potential witness for or target of Russia investigators. He previously sat on the board of Cambridge Analytica.
Cambridge Analytica is an outgrowth of a British company, SCL Group, a behavioral research company that uses massive consumer databases to shape opinions for multiple purposes.
… SCL Group, which provides governments, political groups and companies around the world with services ranging from military disinformation campaigns to social media branding and voter targeting.
The micro-targeted information from Cambridge helped Ted Cruz win the Iowa caucuses, but when Trump became the nominee, Mercer put both his funds and his data firm behind efforts to promote Trump. Jared Kushner took the controls of Trump’s data operations, and used Cambridge Analytica to mimick what they did in other countries.
In Latvia, SCL said it ran a campaign in 2006 designed to stoke tensions between Latvians and ethnic Russian residents: “In essence, Russians were blamed for unemployment and other problems affecting the economy,” an SCL document said. Nix confirms the firm’s role, saying that its research found that such tensions would “influence voting behavior.”
Trump’s data team set out to replicate that success in the United States, opening up tensions along ethnic and racial lines to enforce the idea that the white middle class wasn’t getting a fair deal—a tactic remarkably similar to that used in the Russan propaganda efforts that have been revealed so far.
Cambridge’s parent company has proven itself uniquely “gifted” when it comes to using false statements and fake social movements to shift an election. And Mercer bought into this potential.
According to documents seen by Bloomberg, SCL says it helped a candidate in Trinidad by spraying graffiti slogans that appeared to be the work of young Trinidadians. “The client was then able to ‘adopt’ related policies and claim credit for listening to a ‘united youth,’ ” SCL documents show.
Companies like Cambridge Analytica and their parent, SCL, are engines that run on hate. They play up social, ethnic, and racial divides for the profit of their clients. Whether it’s planted news stories, created “social movements” or rumors spread through every means available, they’re the go-to company for generating discord … to win.
And they’ve bragged about how this “secret sauce” helped put Trump in office, and made some truly frightening claims about the depth of their knowledge and ability to manipulate.
Many companies compete in the market for political microtargeting, using huge data sets and sophisticated software to identify and persuade voters. But Mr. Nix’s little-known firm, Cambridge Analytica, claimed to have developed something unique: “psychographic” profiles that could predict the personality and hidden political leanings of every American adult.
Cambridge Analytica may have been little known outside conservative political circles until now, but that seems likely to change.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) is looking at Cambridge Analytica’s work for President Donald Trump’s campaign as part of its investigation into Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 race, according to sources familiar with the probe.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.