Opinion | TD originals

America Remains Drunk on Power

A map of the world with currencies from all over the planet. (Christine Roy / Unsplash)

Data mining is not a new phenomenon. In fact, before Cambridge Analytica, Barack Obama mined data during his 2012 presidential campaign, and he was hailed as a political pioneer.

Remember any of these headlines?

Friended: How the Obama Campaign Connected With Young Voters,” from Time.

But the Obama team had a solution in place: a Facebook application that will transform the way campaigns are conducted in the future. For supporters, the app appeared to be just another way to digitally connect to the campaign. But to the Windy City number crunchers, it was a game changer. “I think this will wind up being the most groundbreaking piece of technology developed for this campaign,” says Teddy Goff, the Obama campaign’s digital director.

That’s because the more than 1 million Obama backers who signed up for the app gave the campaign permission to look at their Facebook friend lists. In an instant, the campaign had a way to see the hidden young voters. Roughly 85 percent of those without a listed phone number could be found in the uploaded friend lists. What’s more, Facebook offered an ideal way to reach them. “People don’t trust campaigns. They don’t even trust media organizations,” says Goff. “Who do they trust? Their friends.”

Obama, Facebook and the power of friendship: the 2012 data election,” from The Guardian.

A unified computer database that gathers and refines information on millions of potential voters is at the forefront of campaign technology—and could be the key to an Obama win.

How Obama’s Team Used Big Data to Rally Voters,” from MIT Technology Review.

After the voters returned Obama to office for a second term, his campaign became celebrated for its use of technology—much of it developed by an unusual team of coders and engineers—that redefined how individuals could use the Web, social media, and smartphones to participate in the political process. A mobile app allowed a canvasser to download and return walk sheets without ever entering a campaign office; a Web platform called Dashboard gamified volunteer activity by ranking the most active supporters; and “targeted sharing” protocols mined an Obama backer’s Facebook network in search of friends the campaign wanted to register, mobilize, or persuade.

But underneath all that were scores describing particular voters: a new political currency that predicted the behavior of individual humans. The campaign didn’t just know who you were; it knew exactly how it could turn you into the type of person it wanted you to be.

Facebook, according to Obama’s product manager, even condoned the work.

That might have been why Facebook changed its targeting rules in 2014.

Of course, Obama campaign advisers say they used Facebook data the right way. That may be true, by the letter of the law. What’s also true, as some people have noted, is the double standard in the way the privacy and Facebook stories—Obama in 2012 and Cambridge Analytica in 2018—have been reported.

Stand-up comedian and political commentator Jimmy Dore pointed out the other side of the story (starting at 7:20 in the video below).

In November 2017, Forbes ran an article about Cambridge Analytica titled “This Big Data Marketing Firm Claims To Have A Perfect Track Record In Winning Elections.”

Fast-forward to today, and Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, discovered that SCL Ltd—the British company that owns Cambridge Analytica—“does exactly the same activities in the UK that Cambridge Analytica was undertaking in the US.” Even more than that, SCL “is as Establishment as a company can get,” with a board member who is a “direct descendant of Queen Victoria” and another who “makes large donations to the Tory Party.”

But don’t expect to hear wall-to-wall coverage about how England meddled in the 2016 election. “They’re still not saying that,” Dore said. “They still won’t say ‘meddled in the election,’ ‘colluded with a foreign national.’ They don’t say that. They don’t say ‘a foreign government’ or ‘a foreign company working in collusion.’ I saw Rachel Maddow do an hour on this. She connected Cambridge Analytica to Russia. Why aren’t they saying ‘meddling’? Why aren’t they saying ‘colluded’? Interesting, right? Because it makes me think that the rest of the stuff they’re saying about Russia meddling and colluding is bullshit.”

It’s the same reason a young, white male who blows up people with homemade bombs or goes on a shooting rampage with a weapon of war in America is called a “challenged young man,” and not a terrorist, which is what he is. Labeling white killers terrorists has a certain connotation. It triggers a certain emotion. Fear. The power structure in America does not want Americans to be afraid of white people. That doesn’t fit the political narrative. Americans need to be afraid of nonwhites. Those scary browns and blacks are the terrorists.

The same goes for those evil “Russkies.” The British red coat is the proper shade of red.

Questioning “Russiagate” does not make someone a “Putin fan” or a “Kremlin stooge.” No, questioning an investigation that still has yet to produce “smoking gun” evidence makes some people conscious Americans—those who care about truth, justice and peace. War is profitable for warmongers, and having a big, bad enemy like Russia is good for business.

As Carl Sagan said, “You have to know the past to understand the present.”

Most of the news these days is political theater. The “official narrative” scriptwriters, like the best Hollywood scribes, are well compensated.

America has a terrible double standard. Democrats and Republicans are in the same club. That’s why the Obama and Trump campaigns both mine data. That’s why “Russia meddles in U.S. elections” and Britain doesn’t. Until the majority of Americans wake up from our “American dream,” we will continue on a path of endless war, greed and destruction.

We are all in this crazy race against the doomsday clock together. It’s not too late to put down the nukes and save humanity, but we must stop pointing the finger at “the other” and look within ourselves.

The Roman Empire fell because of a variety of internal and external challenges: declining morals and values, public health and environmental problems, political corruption, unemployment, inflation, urban decay, military spending and an overextended army. Sound familiar? Our addiction to empire is killing us. This planet is big enough for every global citizen to have a patch of serenity.

America is not perfect. Trump is not perfect. Obama is not perfect. No country or person is. We have to accept that reality, sober up and learn how to live again.

If we continue to live in denial, the ending wouldn’t be happy.

Eric Ortiz
Eric Ortiz is a journalist and innovator with two decades in digital media, Ortiz founded the mobile app startup Evrybit, a live storytelling and reporting tool, as a 2014 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at…
Eric Ortiz

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