Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #946 In Your Facebook: A Virtual Panopticon, Part 2

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Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel

Intro­duc­tion: In FTR #718 (record­ed on Inde­pen­dence Day week­end of 2010), we not­ed that the new social medium–Facebook-might very well be the oppo­site of the lib­er­at­ing, empow­er­ing enti­ty many believed it to be.

On the con­trary, we said–it received finan­cial back­ing from the CIA, per­mits unprece­dent­ed gath­er­ing and data­bas­ing of users’ per­son­al infor­ma­tion, and might very well be a “panopticon”–a type of prison in which the interned can nev­er see his or her jail­ers, but their keep­ers can see the interned at all times.

In par­tic­u­lar, we not­ed the promi­nent posi­tion of major Face­book investor Peter Thiel in “Mon­do Zucker­berg.” Of Ger­man (and prob­a­ble I.G. Far­ben) ori­gins, we opined that Thiel was Under­ground Reich. Opposed to democ­ra­cy because he feels it is inim­i­cal to wealth cre­ation and does­n’t believe women should be allowed to vote, Thiel has now emerged as one of the most promi­nent of Don­ald Trump’s sup­port­ers, tran­si­tion team cre­ators and influ­en­tial pol­i­cy wonks.

Where­as we explored the “vir­tu­al panop­ti­con” con­cept of Face­book with a ques­tion mark in 2010, we now feel affir­ma­tive­ly on the issue.

A very impor­tant sto­ry from New York mag­a­zine sets forth Face­book’s role in the just-con­clud­ed elec­tion.

A Panopticon

A Panop­ti­con

” . . . . Facebook’s size, reach, wealth, and pow­er make it effec­tive­ly the only one that mat­ters. And, boy, does it mat­ter. At the risk of being hyper­bol­ic, I think there are few events over the last decade more sig­nif­i­cant than the social network’s whole­sale acqui­si­tion of the tra­di­tion­al func­tions of news media (not to men­tion the polit­i­cal-par­ty appa­ra­tus). Trump’s ascen­dan­cy is far from the first mate­r­i­al con­se­quence of Facebook’s con­quer­ing inva­sion of our social, cul­tur­al, and polit­i­cal lives, but it’s still a brac­ing reminder of the extent to which the social net­work is able to upend exist­ing struc­ture and trans­form soci­ety — and often not for the bet­ter. . . .

” . . . . Facebook’s enor­mous audi­ence, and the mech­a­nisms of dis­tri­b­u­tion on which the site relies — i.e., the emo­tion­al­ly charged activ­i­ty of shar­ing, and the show-me-more-like-this feed­back loop of the news feed algo­rithm — makes it the only site to sup­port a gen­uine­ly lucra­tive mar­ket in which shady pub­lish­ers arbi­trage traf­fic by entic­ing peo­ple off of Face­book and onto ad-fes­tooned web­sites, using sto­ries that are alter­nate­ly made up, incor­rect, exag­ger­at­ed beyond all rela­tion­ship to truth, or all three. . . .

trump-hat” . . . . And at the heart of the prob­lem, any­way, is not the moti­va­tions of the hoax­ers but the struc­ture of social media itself. Tens of mil­lions of peo­ple, invig­o­rat­ed by insur­gent out­sider can­di­dates and anger at per­ceived polit­i­cal ene­mies, were served up or shared emo­tion­al­ly charged news sto­ries about the can­di­dates, because Facebook’s sort­ing algo­rithm under­stood from expe­ri­ence that they were seek­ing such sto­ries. Many of those sto­ries were lies, or ‘par­o­dies,’ but their appear­ance and place­ment in a news feed were no dif­fer­ent from those of any pub­lish­er with a com­mit­ment to, you know, not lying. As those peo­ple and their fol­low­ers clicked on, shared, or oth­er­wise engaged with those sto­ries — which they did, because Trump dri­ves engage­ment extreme­ly bigly — they were served up even more of them. The engage­ment-dri­ving feed­back loop reached the heights of Face­book itself, which shared fake news to its front page on more than one occa­sion after fir­ing the small team of edi­to­r­i­al employ­ees tasked with pass­ing news judg­ment. . . .

” . . . . Some­thing like 170 mil­lion peo­ple in North Amer­i­ca use Face­book every day, a num­ber that’s not only sev­er­al orders of mag­ni­tude larg­er than even the most opti­mistic cir­cu­la­tion reck­on­ings of major news out­lets but also about one-and-a-half times as many peo­ple as vot­ed on Tues­day. Forty-four per­cent of all adults in the Unit­ed States say they get news from Face­book . . . ”

Symp­to­matic of Face­book’s fil­ter of what its users see con­cerns the social medi­um’s recent non-cov­er­age of the wom­en’s march:

” . . . . We don’t usu­al­ly post on Pan­do at the week­end, but this is too top­i­cal and too shame­ful to wait until Mon­day. As you cer­tain­ly know, today is the day of the Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton in protest of Don­ald Trump. The main event is in DC, where some­thing close to 500,000 pro­test­ers of all gen­ders and ages have packed the streets — but there are also major protests in Chica­go, New York and around the world. Includ­ing Antarc­ti­ca.

You cer­tain­ly know this because the protest march is the top sto­ry on every major news out­let, and because updates and pho­tos from the event are flood­ing your Twit­ter and Face­book feeds.

And yet, here’s what Facebook’s trend­ing news feed looked like at the height of the march…
[see image of Carr’s news feed]
And here’s its trend­ing pol­i­tics feed…
[see image of trend­ing pol­i­tics fee]
Notice any­thing miss­ing?

Like, say, a half mil­lion women.

In case you think I’m see­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent from the rest of the world, be assured I’m not….”

Face­book has changed its algo­rithm, no longer fac­tor­ing in “likes” and oth­er per­son­al pref­er­ences in deter­min­ing its news feed.

This, how­ev­er, does not bode as well as Face­book would like us to believe. Face­book has pro­mot­ed, among oth­ers, Camp­bell Brown, to an impor­tant posi­tion in struc­tur­ing its news feed:  ” . . . . Brown has long­stand­ing ties not just to the tra­di­tion­al news media, but also to con­ser­v­a­tive pol­i­tics, although she describes her­self as a polit­i­cal inde­pen­dent. She is a close per­son­al friend of Bet­sy DeVos, the Repub­li­can megadonor who is Don­ald Trump’s nom­i­nee for Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary, and is mar­ried to Dan Senor, a for­mer top advi­sor to Mitt Rom­ney who also served as spokesper­son for the Coali­tion Pro­vi­sion­al Author­i­ty in the wake of the 2003 inva­sion of Iraq. . . .

. . . . And along­side her main­stream media expe­ri­ence, Brown is famil­iar with the world of non-tra­di­tion­al news out­lets spring­ing up online. In 2014, she found­ed a non­prof­it news site, The 74, which bills itself as non­par­ti­san but which crit­ics have said func­tions as advo­ca­cy jour­nal­ism, tilt­ed in favor of char­ter schools and against teach­ers’ unions. The site was launched with mon­ey from donors includ­ing the foun­da­tion run by DeVos, Trump’s pro­posed Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary. When the nom­i­na­tion was announced, Brown said she would recuse her­self from The 74’s cov­er­age of DeVos. . .”  

Brown is joined by Tuck­er Bounds, a for­mer John McCain advis­er and spokesman for the McCain/Palin cam­paign.

Exem­pli­fy­ing the ter­ri­fy­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties of the vir­tu­al panop­ti­con, we exam­ine the nexus of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, its prin­ci­pal investors, Robert and Rebekah Mer­cer and Steve Ban­non, a key mem­ber of the fir­m’s board of direc­tors and a polit­i­cal guru to Rebekah. ” . . . . For sev­er­al years, a data firm even­tu­al­ly hired by the Trump cam­paign, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, has been using Face­book as a tool to build psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files that rep­re­sent some 230 mil­lion adult Amer­i­cans. A spin­off of a British con­sult­ing com­pa­ny and some­time-defense con­trac­tor known for its coun­tert­er­ror­ism ‘psy ops’ work in Afghanistan, the firm does so by seed­ing the social net­work with per­son­al­i­ty quizzes. Respon­dents — by now hun­dreds of thou­sands of us, most­ly female and most­ly young but enough male and old­er for the firm to make infer­ences about oth­ers with sim­i­lar behav­iors and demo­graph­ics — get a free look at their Ocean scores. Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca also gets a look at their scores and, thanks to Face­book, gains access to their pro­files and real names.

“Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca worked on the ‘Leave’ side of the Brex­it cam­paign. In the Unit­ed States it takes only Repub­li­cans as clients: Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz in the pri­maries, Mr. Trump in the gen­er­al elec­tion. Cam­bridge is report­ed­ly backed by Robert Mer­cer, a hedge fund bil­lion­aire and a major Repub­li­can donor; a key board mem­ber is Stephen K. Ban­non, the head of Bre­it­bart News who became Mr. Trump’s cam­paign chair­man and is set to be his chief strate­gist in the White House. . .

” . . . . Their [the Mer­cers] data firm, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, was hired by the Cruz cam­paign. They switched to sup­port Trump short­ly after he clinched the nom­i­na­tion, and he even­tu­al­ly hired Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, as well. Their top polit­i­cal guru is Steve Ban­non, the for­mer Bre­it­bart News chair­man and White House chief strate­gist. They’re close, too, with Trump’s cam­paign man­ag­er Kellyanne Con­way, who also has a senior role in the White House. They nev­er speak to the press and hard­ly ever even release a pub­lic state­ment. Like Trump him­self, they’ve flout­ed the stan­dard play­book for how things are done in pol­i­tics. . . .”

Ban­non’s influ­ence on Rebekah Mer­cer is par­tic­u­lar­ly strong: ” . . . Anoth­er of the Repub­li­can oper­a­tives described Ban­non as the ‘Obi-Wan Keno­bi’ to Rebekah Mer­cer, and a third was even more point­ed: ‘Sven­gali.’ Ban­non is ‘real­ly, real­ly, real­ly influ­en­tial’ with Mer­cer, said the for­mer Bre­it­bart employ­ee. The Mer­cers, the for­mer employ­ee said, made their wish­es known through Ban­non, who would some­times cite the company’s finan­cial back­ers as a rea­son for Bre­it­bart not to do a sto­ry. Ban­non didn’t respond to a request for com­ment about this. . . .”

In turn, the influ­ence of Steve Ban­non with­in the Face­book vir­tu­al panop­ti­con is even more sin­is­ter con­sid­er­ing Ban­non’s polit­i­cal out­look: ” . . . . But, said the source, who request­ed anonymi­ty to speak can­did­ly about Ban­non, ‘There are some things he’s only going to share with peo­ple who he’s tight with and who he trusts.’

Bannon’s read­ings tend to have one thing in com­mon: the view that tech­nocrats have put West­ern civ­i­liza­tion on a down­ward tra­jec­to­ry and that only a shock to the sys­tem can reverse its decline. And they tend to have a dark, apoc­a­lyp­tic tone that at times echoes Bannon’s own pub­lic remarks over the years—a sense that human­i­ty is at a hinge point in his­to­ry. . . .”

One of the influ­ences on Ban­non is Cur­tis Yarvin, aka Men­cius Mold­bug, who has actu­al­ly opened a backchan­nel advi­so­ry con­nec­tion to the White House: ” . . . . Before he emerged on the polit­i­cal scene, an obscure Sil­i­con Val­ley com­put­er pro­gram­mer with ties to Trump backer and Pay­Pal co-founder Peter Thiel was explain­ing his behav­ior. Cur­tis Yarvin, the self-pro­claimed ‘neo­re­ac­tionary’ who blogs under the name ‘Men­cius Mold­bug,’ attract­ed a fol­low­ing in 2008 when he pub­lished a wordy trea­tise assert­ing, among oth­er things, that ‘non­sense is a more effec­tive orga­niz­ing tool than the truth.’ When the orga­niz­er of a com­put­er sci­ence con­fer­ence can­celed Yarvin’s appear­ance fol­low­ing an out­cry over his blog­ging under his nom de web, Ban­non took note: Bre­it­bart News decried the act of cen­sor­ship in an arti­cle about the programmer-blogger’s dis­missal.

Moldbug’s dense, dis­cur­sive mus­ings on history—‘What’s so bad about the Nazis?’ he asks in one 2008 post that con­demns the Holo­caust but ques­tions the moral supe­ri­or­i­ty of the Allies—include a belief in the util­i­ty of spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion that now looks like a tem­plate for Trump’s approach to truth. ‘To believe in non­sense is an unforge­able [sic] demon­stra­tion of loy­al­ty. It serves as a polit­i­cal uni­form. And if you have a uni­form, you have an army,’ he writes in a May 2008 post.It’s been a while since I post­ed any­thing real­ly con­tro­ver­sial and offen­sive here,’ he begins in a July 25, 2007, post explain­ing why he asso­ciates democ­ra­cy with ‘war, tyran­ny, destruc­tion and pover­ty.’

Mold­bug, who does not do inter­views and could not be reached for this sto­ry, has report­ed­ly opened up a line to the White House, com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Ban­non and his aides through an inter­me­di­ary, accord­ing to a source. Yarvin said he has nev­er spo­ken with Ban­non. . . .”

After dis­cussing Face­book’s new AI tech­nol­o­gy being employed to search users’ pho­tos, the pro­gram con­cludes with the shift of Sil­i­con Val­ley mon­ey to the GOP.

Pro­gram High­lights Include: 

  • Review of Steve Ban­non’s role on the NSC.
  • Review of the mar­tial law con­tin­gency plans drawn up by Oliv­er North dur­ing the Rea­gan admin­is­tra­tion, involv­ing the dep­u­tiz­ing of para­mil­i­tary right-wingers.
  • Review of Erik Prince’s rela­tion­ship to the Trump admin­is­tra­tion and Bet­sy De Vos, Trump’s edu­ca­tion sec­re­tary.

1. A very impor­tant sto­ry from New York mag­a­zine sets forth Face­book’s role in the just-con­clud­ed elec­tion.

” . . . . Facebook’s size, reach, wealth, and pow­er make it effec­tive­ly the only one that mat­ters. And, boy, does it mat­ter. At the risk of being hyper­bol­ic, I think there are few events over the last decade more sig­nif­i­cant than the social network’s whole­sale acqui­si­tion of the tra­di­tion­al func­tions of news media (not to men­tion the polit­i­cal-par­ty appa­ra­tus). Trump’s ascen­dan­cy is far from the first mate­r­i­al con­se­quence of Facebook’s con­quer­ing inva­sion of our social, cul­tur­al, and polit­i­cal lives, but it’s still a brac­ing reminder of the extent to which the social net­work is able to upend exist­ing struc­ture and trans­form soci­ety — and often not for the bet­ter. . . .

” . . . . Facebook’s enor­mous audi­ence, and the mech­a­nisms of dis­tri­b­u­tion on which the site relies — i.e., the emo­tion­al­ly charged activ­i­ty of shar­ing, and the show-me-more-like-this feed­back loop of the news feed algo­rithm — makes it the only site to sup­port a gen­uine­ly lucra­tive mar­ket in which shady pub­lish­ers arbi­trage traf­fic by entic­ing peo­ple off of Face­book and onto ad-fes­tooned web­sites, using sto­ries that are alter­nate­ly made up, incor­rect, exag­ger­at­ed beyond all rela­tion­ship to truth, or all three. . . .

” . . . . And at the heart of the prob­lem, any­way, is not the moti­va­tions of the hoax­ers but the struc­ture of social media itself. Tens of mil­lions of peo­ple, invig­o­rat­ed by insur­gent out­sider can­di­dates and anger at per­ceived polit­i­cal ene­mies, were served up or shared emo­tion­al­ly charged news sto­ries about the can­di­dates, because Facebook’s sort­ing algo­rithm under­stood from expe­ri­ence that they were seek­ing such sto­ries. Many of those sto­ries were lies, or ‘par­o­dies,’ but their appear­ance and place­ment in a news feed were no dif­fer­ent from those of any pub­lish­er with a com­mit­ment to, you know, not lying. As those peo­ple and their fol­low­ers clicked on, shared, or oth­er­wise engaged with those sto­ries — which they did, because Trump dri­ves engage­ment extreme­ly bigly — they were served up even more of them. The engage­ment-dri­ving feed­back loop reached the heights of Face­book itself, which shared fake news to its front page on more than one occa­sion after fir­ing the small team of edi­to­r­i­al employ­ees tasked with pass­ing news judg­ment. . . .

” . . . . Some­thing like 170 mil­lion peo­ple in North Amer­i­ca use Face­book every day, a num­ber that’s not only sev­er­al orders of mag­ni­tude larg­er than even the most opti­mistic cir­cu­la­tion reck­on­ings of major news out­lets but also about one-and-a-half times as many peo­ple as vot­ed on Tues­day. Forty-four per­cent of all adults in the Unit­ed States say they get news from Face­book . . . ”

“Don­ald Trump Won Because of Face­book” by Max Read; New York Mag­a­zine; 11/09/2016.

A close and — to pun­dits, jour­nal­ists, and Democ­rats — unex­pect­ed vic­to­ry like Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump’s is always overde­ter­mined, and no one par­tic­u­lar thing pushed Trump over the edge on Tues­day night. His cho­sen party’s late­ly increas­ing open­ness to explic­it white nation­al­ism, the still-recent glob­al-scale fail­ure of the lib­er­al eco­nom­ic con­sen­sus, the appar­ent­ly deep-seat­ed misog­y­ny and racism of the Amer­i­can elec­torate, Hillary Clinton’s mul­ti­ple short­com­ings as a can­di­date, or even the last-minute inter­ven­tion of FBI direc­tor James Comey might each have been, on its own, suf­fi­cient to hand the elec­tion to a man who is, by any reck­on­ing, a dan­ger­ous and unpre­dictable big­ot.

Still, it can be clar­i­fy­ing to iden­ti­fy the con­di­tions that allowed access to the high­est lev­els of the polit­i­cal syste a man so far out­side what was, until recent­ly, the polit­i­cal main­stream that not a sin­gle for­mer pres­i­den­tial can­di­date from his own par­ty would endorse him. In this case, the con­di­tion was: Face­book.

To some extent I’m using “Face­book” here as a stand-in for the half-dozen large and influ­en­tial mes­sage boards and social-media plat­forms where Amer­i­cans now con­gre­gate to dis­cuss pol­i­tics, but Facebook’s size, reach, wealth, and pow­er make it effec­tive­ly the only one that mat­ters. And, boy, does it mat­ter. At the risk of being hyper­bol­ic, I think there are few events over the last decade more sig­nif­i­cant than the social network’s whole­sale acqui­si­tion of the tra­di­tion­al func­tions of news media (not to men­tion the polit­i­cal-par­ty appa­ra­tus). Trump’s ascen­dan­cy is far from the first mate­r­i­al con­se­quence of Facebook’s con­quer­ing inva­sion of our social, cul­tur­al, and polit­i­cal lives, but it’s still a brac­ing reminder of the extent to which the social net­work is able to upend exist­ing struc­ture and trans­form soci­ety — and often not for the bet­ter.

The most obvi­ous way in which Face­book enabled a Trump vic­to­ry has been its inabil­i­ty (or refusal) to address the prob­lem of hoax or fake news. Fake news is not a prob­lem unique to Face­book, but Facebook’s enor­mous audi­ence, and the mech­a­nisms of dis­tri­b­u­tion on which the site relies — i.e., the emo­tion­al­ly charged activ­i­ty of shar­ing, and the show-me-more-like-this feed­back loop of the news feed algo­rithm — makes it the only site to sup­port a gen­uine­ly lucra­tive mar­ket in which shady pub­lish­ers arbi­trage traf­fic by entic­ing peo­ple off of Face­book and onto ad-fes­tooned web­sites, using sto­ries that are alter­nate­ly made up, incor­rect, exag­ger­at­ed beyond all rela­tion­ship to truth, or all three. (To real­ly ham­mer home the cyberdystopia aspect of this: A sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of the sites are run by Mace­don­ian teenagers look­ing to make some scratch.)

All through­out the elec­tion, these fake sto­ries, some­times papered over with flim­sy “par­o­dy site” dis­clo­sures some­where in small type, cir­cu­lat­ed through­out Face­book: The Pope endors­es Trump. Hillary Clin­ton bought $137 mil­lion in ille­gal arms. The Clin­tons bought a $200 mil­lion house in the Mal­dives. Many got hun­dreds of thou­sands, if not mil­lions, of shares, likes, and com­ments; enough peo­ple clicked through to the posts to gen­er­ate sig­nif­i­cant prof­its for their cre­ators. The valiant efforts of Snopes and oth­er debunk­ing orga­ni­za­tions were insuf­fi­cient; Facebook’s labyrinthine shar­ing and pri­va­cy set­tings mean that fact-checks get lost in the shuf­fle. Often, no one would even need to click on and read the sto­ry for the head­line itself to become a wide­ly dis­trib­uted talk­ing point, repeat­ed else­where online, or, some­times, in real life. (Here’s an in-the-wild sight­ing of a man telling a woman that Clin­ton and her long­time aide Huma Abe­din are lovers, based on “mate­r­i­al that appeared to have been print­ed off the inter­net.”)

Prof­it motive, on the part of Mace­do­nians or Amer­i­cans, was not the only rea­son to share fake news, of course — there was an obvi­ous ide­o­log­i­cal moti­va­tion to lie to or mis­lead poten­tial vot­ers — but the fake-news industry’s com­mit­ment to “engage­ment” above any par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal pro­gram has giv­en it a ter­ri­fy­ing­ly nihilis­tic sheen that old-fash­ioned pro­pa­gan­dists nev­er dis­played. (Say what you will about rat­fuc king, dude, at least it’s an ethos.) And at the heart of the prob­lem, any­way, is not the moti­va­tions of the hoax­ers but the struc­ture of social media itself. Tens of mil­lions of peo­ple, invig­o­rat­ed by insur­gent out­sider can­di­dates and anger at per­ceived polit­i­cal ene­mies, were served up or shared emo­tion­al­ly charged news sto­ries about the can­di­dates, because Facebook’s sort­ing algo­rithm under­stood from expe­ri­ence that they were seek­ing such sto­ries. Many of those sto­ries were lies, or “par­o­dies,” but their appear­ance and place­ment in a news feed were no dif­fer­ent from those of any pub­lish­er with a com­mit­ment to, you know, not lying. As those peo­ple and their fol­low­ers clicked on, shared, or oth­er­wise engaged with those sto­ries — which they did, because Trump dri­ves engage­ment extreme­ly bigly — they were served up even more of them. The engage­ment-dri­ving feed­back loop reached the heights of Face­book itself, which shared fake news to its front page on more than one occa­sion after fir­ing the small team of edi­to­r­i­al employ­ees tasked with pass­ing news judg­ment. Flush with Trump’s unique­ly pas­sion­ate sup­port­er base, Facebook’s vast, per­son­al­ized sew­er sys­tem has become clogged with tox­ic fat­bergs.

And it is, tru­ly, vast: Some­thing like 170 mil­lion peo­ple in North Amer­i­ca use Face­book every day, a num­ber that’s not only sev­er­al orders of mag­ni­tude larg­er than even the most opti­mistic cir­cu­la­tion reck­on­ings of major news out­lets but also about one-and-a-half times as many peo­ple as vot­ed on Tues­day. Forty-four per­cent of all adults in the Unit­ed States say they get news from Face­book, and access to to an audi­ence of that size would seem to demand some kind of civic respon­si­bil­i­ty — an oblig­a­tion to ensure that a group of peo­ple more siz­able than the Amer­i­can elec­torate is not being mis­led. But whether through a fail­ure of resources, of ide­ol­o­gy, or of imag­i­na­tion, Face­book has seemed both unin­ter­est­ed in and inca­pable of even acknowl­edg­ing that it has become the most effi­cient dis­trib­u­tor of mis­in­for­ma­tion in human his­to­ry.

Face­book con­nect­ed those sup­port­ers to each oth­er and to the can­di­date, gave them plat­forms far beyond what even the largest Estab­lish­ment media orga­ni­za­tions might have imag­ined, and allowed them to effec­tive­ly self-orga­nize out­side the par­ty struc­ture. Who needs a GOTV data­base when you have mil­lions of vot­ers worked into a fren­zy by nine months of shar­ing impas­sioned lies on Face­book, encour­ag­ing each oth­er to par­tic­i­pate?

Even bet­ter, Face­book allowed Trump to direct­ly com­bat the huge­ly neg­a­tive media cov­er­age direct­ed at him, sim­ply by giv­ing his cam­paign and its sup­port­ers anoth­er host of chan­nels to dis­trib­ute coun­ter­pro­gram­ming. This, pre­cise­ly, is why more good jour­nal­ism would have been unlike­ly to change anyone’s mind: The Post and the Times no longer have a monop­oly on infor­ma­tion about a can­di­date. End­less reports of cor­rup­tion, venal­i­ty, misog­y­ny, and incom­pe­tence mere­ly set­tle in a Face­book feed next to a hun­dred oth­er arti­cles from pro-Trump sources (if they set­tle into a Trump supporter’s feed at all) dis­put­ing or ignor­ing the deeply report­ed claims, or, as is often the case, just mak­ing up new and dif­fer­ent sto­ries.

2. Paul Carr over at Pan­do had a rather trou­bling obser­va­tion dur­ing the anti-Trump Woman’s March about Facebook’s cov­er­age of the Mil­lion Woman March in its news feed. Specif­i­cal­ly, his obser­va­tion that he was unable to observe any news on Face­book about the his­toric march at all:

“Hun­dreds of Thou­sands of Women March in Protest against Trump: Face­book News Tries to Silence Them All” by Paul Bradley Carr; Pan­do ; 1/21/2017.

We don’t usu­al­ly post on Pan­do at the week­end, but this is too top­i­cal and too shame­ful to wait until Mon­day.

As you cer­tain­ly know, today is the day of the Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton in protest of Don­ald Trump. The main event is in DC, where some­thing close to 500,000 pro­test­ers of all gen­ders and ages have packed the streets — but there are also major protests in Chica­go, New York and around the world. Includ­ing Antarc­ti­ca.

You cer­tain­ly know this because the protest march is the top sto­ry on every major news out­let, and because updates and pho­tos from the event are flood­ing your Twit­ter and Face­book feeds.

And yet, here’s what Facebook’s trend­ing news feed looked like at the height of the march…
[see image of Carr’s news feed]
And here’s its trend­ing pol­i­tics feed…
[see image of trend­ing pol­i­tics fee]
Notice any­thing miss­ing?

Like, say, a half mil­lion women.

In case you think I’m see­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent from the rest of the world, be assured I’m not….

@paulbradleycarr wow. just looked. very poor. i have one men­tion (for chica­go march) under pol­i­tics— Rachel Clarke (@rachelclarke) Jan­u­ary 21, 2017

@rachelclarke@paulbradleycarr I don’t see any in top trends OR pol­i­tics… and I’m in Chica­go so I thought it might show up— Aesha (@heyitsaesh) Jan­u­ary 21, 2017

…Facebook’s trend­ing news feed real­ly has oblit­er­at­ed the entire Women’s March in favor of sto­ries about pas­try chefs and pro­fes­sion­al wrestlers.

I’ve writ­ten plen­ty (most recent­ly this) about Facebook’s increas­ing cozi­ness with Don­ald Trump, and there’s plen­ty more to be writ­ten about the grow­ing unhap­pi­ness inside the com­pa­ny with the right-ward direc­tion that senior man­age­ment are tak­ing in an attempt to please (/avoid con­flict with) the incom­ing admin­is­tra­tion. Stay tuned.

For now, I’ve con­tact­ed Face­book to ask if the trend­ing news feed is yet anoth­er exam­ple of that attempt, or if there’s some mys­tery glitch that has caused the voic­es of hun­dreds of thou­sands of women to be silenced in favor of sto­ries that, by Facebook’s own num­bers, only a thou­sand or so peo­ple are talk­ing about. I’ll update this post if I hear back.

Update: A Face­book spokesper­son respond­ed to me on Tues­day after­noon, insist­ing that “some num­ber” of the fol­low­ing terms “began trend­ing on Sat­ur­day.”

#why­i­march

#Wom­ensMarch

Women’s March on Boston

Women’s March on Los Ange­les

Women’s March on Chica­go

Sun­dance Women’s March

He was unable to pro­vide sup­port­ing evi­dence for which of the terms trend­ed when, and who might have seen them. “Trend­ing is algo­rith­mi­cal­ly dri­ven based on con­ver­sa­tions on the plat­form,” he explained.

I also asked whether it was accu­rate that Face­book is staffing up its pol­i­cy team with right-wingers or oth­ers sym­pa­thet­ic to Don­ald Trump. The spokesper­son declined to com­ment on the record.

Update II:

Face­book announces it is “updat­ing how top­ics are iden­ti­fied as trend­ing on Face­book”

3. So was Face­book inten­tion­al­ly sup­press­ing the Women’s March or is this is a case of an algo­rith­mic hic­cup that, for what­ev­er rea­son, con­clud­ed that Paul Carr wouldn’t care about such things. Well, accord­ing to the arti­cle below, the num­ber of peo­ple unable to find any trace of the Women’s March in their trend­ing news feed wasn’t lim­it­ed to Carr. But it also wasn’t lim­it­ed to sup­press­ing the Women’s March in trend­ing news feeds either since oth­ers report­ed that they were see­ing the Women’s March in their news feed but no men­tion of Trump’s inau­gu­ra­tion. So while it’s unclear what cause the numer­ous reports of major sto­ries not reach­ing some users’ news feeds but not oth­er feed, it’s pret­ty clear that rely­ing on Face­book for your news is prob­a­bly bad news (which shouldn’t be news to any­one):

“Peo­ple Want to Know Why the Women’s March Was Absent from Face­book Trend­ing News” by Katie Per­ry; Social Media Week; 1/23/2017.

Some peo­ple are ques­tion­ing why the Women’s March was absent from Facebook’s Trend­ing news sec­tion on Jan. 21. Oth­er users say they failed to see the Inau­gu­ra­tion on the list the day pri­or.

Jour­nal­ists and onlook­ers are seek­ing answers as to why Saturday’s Women’s March—fueled by some 3 mil­lion par­tic­i­pants in dozens of cities and towns worldwide—failed to appear on Facebook’s Trend­ing top­ics list for some users dur­ing the height of the event.

Accord­ing to Face­book, Trend­ing news items are deter­mined algo­rith­mi­cal­ly based on engage­ment, time­lines, loca­tion and Page like data. Those top­ics appear on the right-rail of the Face­book home screen and link to pop­u­lar arti­cles and posts that are rel­e­vant to each item. These arti­cles gen­er­al­ly line up with the top news sto­ries of the day, as deter­mined and report­ed on by more tra­di­tion­al news out­lets.

But some­thing puz­zling hap­pened on Jan. 21. Despite the Women’s March cap­tur­ing main­stream and local media atten­tion and spurring a flood of pho­tos and com­men­tary from those who marched, some users not­ed that the event was nowhere to be found with­in Facebook’s Trend­ing top­ics list. For Pan­do reporter Paul Bradley Carr, it didn’t even appear with­in the Polit­i­cal sub-sec­tion of Trend­ing top­ics.

Oth­er onlook­ers seem to have ver­i­fied Carr’s find­ing; how­ev­er, some peo­ple did see lim­it­ed cov­er­age (with­in the Polit­i­cal sub-sec­tion, for exam­ple). So far, Face­book has declined to com­ment, which has left room for ram­pant spec­u­la­tion as to whether this was a mere tech­no­log­i­cal glitch or some­thing more delib­er­ate. Note: By Sun­day evening Jan. 22, the march had made its way to my News Feed.

What’s also inter­est­ing is that many peo­ple report­ed not see­ing the Inau­gu­ra­tion as a Trend­ing top­ic the day before. Scrolling through pub­lic com­men­tary and screen­shots shared on Twit­ter, the sit­u­a­tion gets even murki­er. Some users saw the Women’s March trend­ing but not the Inau­gu­ra­tion. Oth­ers saw the oppo­site. The thing about a per­son­al­ized “front page” is that absent a large pool of data, it’s tough to know what real­ly went on behind the scenes.

So, why is what appears in Trend­ing so impor­tant? As was oft-dis­cussed dur­ing and after the last Elec­tion cycle, Amer­i­cans are increas­ing­ly rely­ing on social media as their lead­ing source of news. A Pew study from 2015 found that 40 per­cent of U.S. Face­book users pri­mar­i­ly view it as a des­ti­na­tion for news-gath­er­ing. Among users age 34 and younger, 60 per­cent say social plat­forms like Face­book and Twit­ter are “the most or an impor­tant way” to get news.

For crit­ics of Trend­ing and its influ­ence on the polit­i­cal land­scape, there are two issues at play. The first involves the alleged inter­fer­ence of human edi­tors in what has been posi­tioned as an algo­rith­mic cura­tion by Face­book. The sec­ond debate is more philo­soph­i­cal in nature, as it ques­tions the so-called “bub­bles” that an algo­rith­mic edi­tor nat­u­ral­ly cre­ates.

In fair­ness, right now there is lim­it­ed data avail­able to prove that the Women’s March was absent in a uni­ver­sal capac­i­ty. That said, anec­do­tal­ly, it appears that many peo­ple who should have seen the march did not. Draw­ing some assump­tions, it would have made sense that a tech reporter liv­ing in a major met­ro­pol­i­tan area would be exposed to news of the march—perhaps even in an over-indexed capacity—given that it’s like­ly he or she would have known peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing.

Oth­er jour­nal­ists not­ed that it seemed strange for Twit­ter to be show­ing the march on its own curat­ed news list, but not Face­book.

I think Twit­ter deserves the win for the cov­er­age around Wom­en’s March today. Face­book? Hmm…suspect w/no men­tion in trend­ing top­ics.— Ken Yeung (@thekenyeung) Jan­u­ary 22, 2017

In May 2016, Vox pub­lished an arti­cle which claimed that “Face­book has more influ­ence over Amer­i­cans than any media com­pa­ny in his­to­ry.” Whether curat­ed con­tent, such as what appears in Trend­ing, has been skewed by users’ per­son­al data or direc­tion­al­ly manip­u­lat­ed by human edi­tors, the net effect is sig­nif­i­cant: “So many peo­ple spend so much time on Face­book that even a small shift in the platform’s approach could have a big impact on what peo­ple read online,” says Vox’s Tim­o­thy B. Lee.

4.  Now that Face­book announced that it’s total­ly chang­ing its news feed algo­rithm so that every­one in the same region will see the same trend­ing news it’s also a bit of a moot mys­tery going for­ward. Sure, it’s not an entire­ly moot mys­tery since it would still be nice to know if Face­book was some­how using its algo­rithm as an excuse to sup­press very neg­a­tive news for Trump. But at least it sounds like there will be new and dif­fer­ent rea­sons for Facebook’s crap­py news feeds going for­ward:

“Face­book Tweaks Its ‘Trend­ing Top­ics’ Algo­rithm To Bet­ter Reflect Real News” by Lau­ra Sydell; Nation Pub­lic Radio; 1/25/2017.

An arti­cle in an online pub­li­ca­tion accus­ing Face­book of sup­press­ing the Women’s March in its trend­ing top­ics caused a lit­tle tem­pest on social media over the week­end. Face­book says it did not inten­tion­al­ly block any sto­ry and is reveal­ing a new way its trend­ing-top­ics algo­rithm will now oper­ate.

Paul Bradley Carr, writ­ing for online out­let Pan­do, on Sat­ur­day post­ed what he said were screen shots of his Face­book pages at the height of the world­wide march­es, which brought more than a mil­lion peo­ple into the streets around the globe to protest the agen­da of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion.

Despite images and sto­ries from the march­es fill­ing many people’s per­son­al Face­book feeds and the day’s media cov­er­age, Carr’s screen­shots showed no signs of the march in Trend­ing Top­ics — a fea­ture sup­posed to reflect pop­u­lar dis­cussed top­ics.

And Carr says he dis­cov­ered he was not the only one who didn’t see the Women’s March reflect­ed on Trend­ing Top­ics, accus­ing Face­book of try­ing to cozy up to the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. A very unsci­en­tif­ic poll by this reporter found that among peo­ple in my Face­book and Twit­ter net­work most did see the Women’s March or some­thing relat­ed trend­ing on their page. How­ev­er, a few did not.

Accord­ing to Face­book, the Trend­ing Top­ics — seen to the right of the main news feed on desk­top and in search on mobile — are “based on a num­ber of fac­tors includ­ing engage­ment, time­li­ness, Pages you’ve liked and your loca­tion.” (Face­book pays NPR and oth­er lead­ing news orga­ni­za­tions to pro­duce live video streams.)

Face­book rep­re­sen­ta­tives told NPR that the rea­son why some peo­ple did not see the march as trend­ing had to do with the algo­rithm behind the fea­ture. Although it took into account major news events and what’s pop­u­lar on the site, it also account­ed for the pref­er­ences of each per­son. It’s pos­si­ble that Carr’s algo­rith­mic pro­file indi­cat­ed he wouldn’t be inter­est­ed in the Women’s March.

In addi­tion, some peo­ple may have seen trend­ing top­ics they didn’t real­ize were about the Women’s March. For exam­ple, Ash­ley Judd and Madon­na were trend­ing — both women gave speech­es at the main march in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

And, Face­book says, none of this will hap­pen in the future.

As of Wednes­day, the com­pa­ny has once again changed its trend­ing algo­rithms. Per­son­al pref­er­ences are now out of the equa­tion. “Face­book will no longer be per­son­al­ized based on someone’s inter­ests,” Face­book says in a press release. “Every­one in the same region will see the same top­ics.” For now, a region is con­sid­ered a coun­try, so every­one in the U.S. should see the same top­ics.

The lat­est algo­rithm changes are part of Facebook’s ongo­ing effort to cur­tail the spread of fake news. Some fab­ri­cat­ed sto­ries show up in Trend­ing Top­ics, despite often orig­i­nat­ing on sites with no his­to­ry of vis­i­tors and get­ting no cov­er­age from legit­i­mate news media. It’s a lucra­tive busi­ness, explored by NPR in Novem­ber, when we tracked down one noto­ri­ous fake-news cre­ator.

The new algo­rithm would make hoax arti­cles less like­ly to trend because it will look at “the num­ber of pub­lish­ers that are post­ing arti­cles on Face­book about the same top­ic,” account­ing for cov­er­age by mul­ti­ple news out­lets, Face­book says.

 

5.  No more per­son­al­ized real­i­ty bub­bles for Face­book users. Now it’s region­al real­i­ty bub­bles. That’s progress! Maybe. It’s unclear. Espe­cial­ly since the new head of Facebook’s news divi­sion is a right-winger with close ties to Trump’s new edu­ca­tion sec­re­tary:

“Facebook’s New Head Of News Has Close Ties To Con­ser­v­a­tive Pol­i­tics” by Mol­ly Hens­ley-Clan­cy; Buz­zFeed; 1/6/2017.

Camp­bell Brown, a for­mer TV news anchor and edu­ca­tion reform activist, has per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al links to Bet­sy DeVos, Trump’s nom­i­nee for Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary.

Face­book has cho­sen Camp­bell Brown, a for­mer tele­vi­sion news anchor who worked most recent­ly as an edu­ca­tion reform activist, as its head of news part­ner­ships, tasked with rebuild­ing rela­tion­ships with news out­lets in the wake of a wave of fake news sto­ries that dom­i­nat­ed the site dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Brown has long­stand­ing ties not just to the tra­di­tion­al news media, but also to con­ser­v­a­tive pol­i­tics, although she describes her­self as a polit­i­cal inde­pen­dent. She is a close per­son­al friend of Bet­sy DeVos, the Repub­li­can megadonor who is Don­ald Trump’s nom­i­nee for Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary, and is mar­ried to Dan Senor, a for­mer top advi­sor to Mitt Rom­ney who also served as spokesper­son for the Coali­tion Pro­vi­sion­al Author­i­ty in the wake of the 2003 inva­sion of Iraq.

But she, and Senor, were cen­tral to the los­ing bat­tle against Don­ald Trump inside the Repub­li­can Par­ty. Last June, in a closed-door inter­view with Paul Ryan, she grilled the House Speak­er on his deci­sion to back Trump, ask­ing him how he would jus­ti­fy his deci­sion to a small child. She had ear­li­er blamed the news media for aid­ing Trump’s rise. “He is not a politi­cian. He is not a leader. He is a supreme nar­cis­sist,” wrote in Decem­ber, 2015, crit­i­ciz­ing TV net­works for their sat­u­ra­tion cov­er­age of the then-can­di­date. “You can deprive him of the one thing that keeps him going—airtime.”

At Face­book, she will work to nav­i­gate the social network’s some­times fraught role as a cen­tral play­er in the news indus­try. She won’t, how­ev­er, be mak­ing edi­to­r­i­al or con­tent-relat­ed deci­sions, such as decid­ing what sto­ries get play on Face­book, the com­pa­ny said.

“Right now we are watch­ing a mas­sive trans­for­ma­tion take place in the news busi­ness – both in the way peo­ple con­sume news and in the way reporters dis­sem­i­nate news,” Brown wrote in a Face­book post Fri­day. “Face­book is a major part of this trans­for­ma­tion.”

In the wake of the elec­tion, Face­book has weath­ered crit­i­cism over its inabil­i­ty to stem a tide of fake polit­i­cal news sto­ries. It has also scram­bled to mend ties with con­ser­v­a­tive pub­li­ca­tions after reports claimed its trend­ing news team sup­pressed sto­ries from con­ser­v­a­tive news out­lets.

In her post-media career as an edu­ca­tion activist, Brown found­ed an advo­ca­cy group, the Part­ner­ship for Edu­ca­tion­al Jus­tice, whose donors she chose to keep secret, that fre­quent­ly bat­tles with teach­ers’ unions. And she has worked in favor of char­ter school expan­sion, a pet project of Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg.

And along­side her main­stream media expe­ri­ence, Brown is famil­iar with the world of non-tra­di­tion­al news out­lets spring­ing up online. In 2014, she found­ed a non­prof­it news site, The 74, which bills itself as non­par­ti­san but which crit­ics have said func­tions as advo­ca­cy jour­nal­ism, tilt­ed in favor of char­ter schools and against teach­ers’ unions.

The site was launched with mon­ey from donors includ­ing the foun­da­tion run by DeVos, Trump’s pro­posed Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary. When the nom­i­na­tion was announced, Brown said she would recuse her­self from The 74’s cov­er­age of DeVos.

Ear­li­er this year, The 74 pub­lished an under­cov­er sting video made by con­ser­v­a­tive activist James O’Keefe, who posed under­cov­er as a teacher and filmed union rep­re­sen­ta­tives advis­ing him on how to han­dle a hypo­thet­i­cal assault of a child.

6. The guy just hired as the new Face­book Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Direc­tor who will be focused on prod­uct com­mu­ni­ca­tions, specif­i­cal­ly on the news feed, is Tuck­er Bounds.

“Axios AM” by Mike Allen; Axios ; 1/16/2017.

Good Mon­day morn­ing! Mar­tin Luther King Jr. Day is a per­fect time to reflect on his­toric days for our coun­try, as we head into Inau­gu­ra­tion Week. It’s three days and a wake-up till Pres­i­dent Trump.

Scoop … Face­book adds a well-known oper­a­tive: Tuck­er Bounds — co-founder of Sidewire, the online con­ver­sa­tion plat­form — is step­ping away from his oper­a­tional role and return­ing to Face­book, where he was direc­tor of cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions from 2011 to 2014. Tuck­er, who’ll keep his seat on the Side­wise board, starts Jan. 30 as Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Direc­tor, focused on prod­uct com­mu­ni­ca­tions, specif­i­cal­ly on News Feed. . . .

 

7. Fun fact: those Face­book per­son­al­i­ty tests that alleged­ly let you learn things about what make you tick allows who­ev­er set up that test learn what makes you tick too. Since it’s done through Face­book, they can iden­ti­fy your test results with your real iden­ti­ty. It’s a rather obvi­ous fun fact.

Here’s a less obvi­ous fun fact: if the Face­book per­son­al­i­ty test in ques­tion hap­pens to report your “Ocean score” (Open­ness, Con­sci­en­tious­ness, Extra­ver­sion, Agree­able­ness and Neu­roti­cism), that means the test your tak­ing was cre­at­ed by Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, a com­pa­ny with one of Don­ald Trump’s bil­lion­aire sug­ar-dad­dies, Robert Mer­cer, as a major investor. And it’s Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca that gets to learn all those fun facts about your psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­file too. And Steve Ban­non sat on its board:

“The Secret Agen­da of a Face­book Quiz” by McKen­zie Funk; The New York Times; 1/19/2017.

Do you pan­ic eas­i­ly? Do you often feel blue? Do you have a sharp tongue? Do you get chores done right away? Do you believe in the impor­tance of art?

If ever you’ve answered ques­tions like these on one of the free per­son­al­i­ty quizzes float­ing around Face­book, you’ll have learned what’s known as your Ocean score: How you rate accord­ing to the big five psy­cho­log­i­cal traits of Open­ness, Con­sci­en­tious­ness, Extra­ver­sion, Agree­able­ness and Neu­roti­cism. You may also be respon­si­ble the next time Amer­i­ca is shocked by an elec­tion upset.

For sev­er­al years, a data firm even­tu­al­ly hired by the Trump cam­paign, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, has been using Face­book as a tool to build psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files that rep­re­sent some 230 mil­lion adult Amer­i­cans. A spin­off of a British con­sult­ing com­pa­ny and some­time-defense con­trac­tor known for its coun­tert­er­ror­ism “psy ops” work in Afghanistan, the firm does so by seed­ing the social net­work with per­son­al­i­ty quizzes. Respon­dents — by now hun­dreds of thou­sands of us, most­ly female and most­ly young but enough male and old­er for the firm to make infer­ences about oth­ers with sim­i­lar behav­iors and demo­graph­ics — get a free look at their Ocean scores. Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca also gets a look at their scores and, thanks to Face­book, gains access to their pro­files and real names.

Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca worked on the “Leave” side of the Brex­it cam­paign. In the Unit­ed States it takes only Repub­li­cans as clients: Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz in the pri­maries, Mr. Trump in the gen­er­al elec­tion. Cam­bridge is report­ed­ly backed by Robert Mer­cer, a hedge fund bil­lion­aire and a major Repub­li­can donor; a key board mem­ber is Stephen K. Ban­non, the head of Bre­it­bart News who became Mr. Trump’s cam­paign chair­man and is set to be his chief strate­gist in the White House.

In the age of Face­book, it has become far eas­i­er for cam­paign­ers or mar­keters to com­bine our online per­sonas with our offline selves, a process that was once con­tro­ver­sial but is now so com­mon­place that there’s a term for it, “onboard­ing.” Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca says it has as many as 3,000 to 5,000 data points on each of us, be it vot­ing his­to­ries or full-spec­trum demo­graph­ics — age, income, debt, hob­bies, crim­i­nal his­to­ries, pur­chase his­to­ries, reli­gious lean­ings, health con­cerns, gun own­er­ship, car own­er­ship, home­own­er­ship — from con­sumer-data giants.

No data point is very infor­ma­tive on its own, but pro­fil­ing vot­ers, says Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, is like bak­ing a cake. “It’s the sum of the ingre­di­ents,” its chief exec­u­tive offi­cer, Alexan­der Nix, told NBC News. Because the Unit­ed States lacks Euro­pean-style restric­tions on sec­ond- or third­hand use of our data, and because our free­dom-of-infor­ma­tion laws give data bro­kers broad access to the inti­mate records kept by local and state gov­ern­ments, our lives are open books even with­out social media or per­son­al­i­ty quizzes.

Ever since the adver­tis­ing exec­u­tive Lester Wun­der­man coined the term “direct mar­ket­ing” in 1961, the abil­i­ty to tar­get spe­cif­ic con­sumers with ads — rather than blan­ket­ing the air­waves with mass appeals and hop­ing the right peo­ple will hear them — has been the marketer’s holy grail. What’s new is the effi­cien­cy with which indi­vid­u­al­ly tai­lored dig­i­tal ads can be test­ed and matched to our per­son­al­i­ties. Face­book is the microtargeter’s ulti­mate weapon.

The explo­sive growth of Facebook’s ad busi­ness has been over­shad­owed by its increas­ing role in how we get our news, real or fake. In July, the social net­work post­ed record earn­ings: quar­ter­ly sales were up 59 per­cent from the pre­vi­ous year, and prof­its almost tripled to $2.06 bil­lion. While active users of Face­book — now 1.71 bil­lion month­ly active users — were up 15 per­cent, the real sto­ry was how much each indi­vid­ual user was worth. The com­pa­ny makes $3.82 a year from each glob­al user, up from $2.76 a year ago, and an aver­age of $14.34 per user in the Unit­ed States, up from $9.30 a year ago. Much of this growth comes from the fact that adver­tis­ers not only have an enor­mous audi­ence in Face­book but an audi­ence they can slice into the tranch­es they hope to reach.

One recent adver­tis­ing prod­uct on Face­book is the so-called “dark post”: A news­feed mes­sage seen by no one aside from the users being tar­get­ed. With the help of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, Mr. Trump’s dig­i­tal team used dark posts to serve dif­fer­ent ads to dif­fer­ent poten­tial vot­ers, aim­ing to push the exact right but­tons for the exact right peo­ple at the exact right times.

Imag­ine the full capa­bil­i­ty of this kind of “psy­cho­graph­ic” adver­tis­ing. In future Repub­li­can cam­paigns, a pro-gun vot­er whose Ocean score ranks him high on neu­roti­cism could see storm clouds and a threat: The Demo­c­rat wants to take his guns away. A sep­a­rate pro-gun vot­er deemed agree­able and intro­vert­ed might see an ad empha­siz­ing tra­di­tion and com­mu­ni­ty val­ues, a father and son hunt­ing togeth­er.

In this elec­tion, dark posts were used to try to sup­press the African-Amer­i­can vote. Accord­ing to Bloomberg, the Trump cam­paign sent ads remind­ing cer­tain select­ed black vot­ers of Hillary Clinton’s infa­mous “super preda­tor” line. It tar­get­ed Miami’s Lit­tle Haiti neigh­bor­hood with mes­sages about the Clin­ton Foundation’s trou­bles in Haiti after the 2010 earth­quake. Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion rules are unclear when it comes to Face­book posts, but even if they do apply and the facts are skewed and the dog whis­tles loud, the already weak­en­ing pow­er of social oppro­bri­um is gone when no one else sees the ad you see — and no one else sees “I’m Don­ald Trump, and I approved this mes­sage.”

While Hillary Clin­ton spent more than $140 mil­lion on tele­vi­sion spots, old-media experts scoffed at Trump’s lack of old-media ad buys. Instead, his cam­paign pumped its mon­ey into dig­i­tal, espe­cial­ly Face­book. One day in August, it flood­ed the social net­work with 100,000 ad vari­a­tions, so-called A/B test­ing on a bib­li­cal scale, sure­ly more ads than could eas­i­ly be vet­ted by human eyes for com­pli­ance with Facebook’s “com­mu­ni­ty stan­dards.”

On Mon­day, after a sim­i­lar announce­ment from Google, Face­book said it would no longer allow fake-news web­sites to show ads, on their own sites, from Facebook’s ad net­work — a half-step that nei­ther blocks what appears on your news­feed nor affects how adver­tis­ers can micro­tar­get users on the social net­work.

There are sure­ly more changes to come. Mr. Zucker­berg is young, still skep­ti­cal that his radi­ant trans­paren­cy machine could be any­thing but a force for good, right­ly wary of polic­ing what the world’s diverse cit­i­zens say and share on his net­work, so far most­ly dis­mis­sive of Facebook’s role in the elec­tion. If Mr. Zucker­berg takes seri­ous­ly his oft-stat­ed com­mit­ments to diver­si­ty and open­ness, he must grap­ple hon­est­ly with the fact that Face­book is no longer just a social net­work. It’s an adver­tis­ing medi­um that’s now dan­ger­ous­ly easy to weaponize.

A Trump admin­is­tra­tion is unlike­ly to enforce trans­paren­cy about who is tar­get­ed by dark posts and oth­er hid­den polit­i­cal ads — or to ensure that politi­cians take mean­ing­ful own­er­ship of what the ads say. But Face­book can.

8. So what do we know about Robert Mer­cer, the man who first backed Ted Cruz in the 2016 race and then quick­ly switched to Trump? Well, there report­ed­ly isn’t very much known about his politics…except that he’s a lib­er­tar­i­an who backed Don­ald Trump after back­ing Ted Cruz. Which is pret­ty much all we need to know to know that he’s up to no good:

“What Does the Bil­lion­aire Fam­i­ly Back­ing Don­ald Trump Real­ly Want?” by Rosie Gray; The Atlantic; 1/27/2017.

The Mer­cers are enjoy­ing more influ­ence than ever with their can­di­date in the White House—but no one seems to know how they intend to use it.

She owns a cook­ie store. He loves mod­el trains. They both hate the Clin­tons. And beyond that, not much is clear about the moti­va­tions of the Mer­cer father-daugh­ter duo of Repub­li­can megadonors who have become two of the most pow­er­ful peo­ple in the coun­try over the last 18 months.

Hedge-fund bil­lion­aire Robert Mer­cer and his daugh­ter Rebekah were among the ear­li­est and strongest back­ers of Don­ald Trump while oth­er elite donors still dis­dained him. It turned out to be a good invest­ment. But now, with their favored can­di­date fresh­ly installed as pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, it remains unclear what they believe, or what they hope their invest­ment will yield.

The Mer­cers have been a qui­et but con­stant pres­ence in the back­ground of Repub­li­can pol­i­tics since the begin­ning of the 2016 cycle. They start­ed the cam­paign as back­ers of Ted Cruz, pour­ing mil­lions into one of the main super PACs sup­port­ing his can­di­da­cy. Their data firm, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, was hired by the Cruz cam­paign. They switched to sup­port Trump short­ly after he clinched the nom­i­na­tion, and he even­tu­al­ly hired Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, as well. Their top polit­i­cal guru is Steve Ban­non, the for­mer Bre­it­bart News chair­man and White House chief strate­gist. They’re close, too, with Trump’s cam­paign man­ag­er Kellyanne Con­way, who also has a senior role in the White House. They nev­er speak to the press and hard­ly ever even release a pub­lic state­ment. Like Trump him­self, they’ve flout­ed the stan­dard play­book for how things are done in pol­i­tics.

Clues to their pol­i­cy pref­er­ences can be found in their fam­i­ly foundation’s pat­tern of giv­ing. For exam­ple, they have giv­en more than once to groups ques­tion­ing cli­mate-change sci­ence. But their dona­tions have flown to groups all over the con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal map, rang­ing from lib­er­tar­i­an orga­ni­za­tions to move­ment con­ser­v­a­tive groups to the Koch broth­ers’ Free­dom Part­ners Action Fund to Bre­it­bart. That scat­ter­shot approach sug­gests the fam­i­ly has some ide­o­log­i­cal flex­i­bil­i­ty.

No one seems to know what moti­vates the Mer­cers or what poli­cies they want to see enact­ed, even peo­ple who have worked close­ly with them or for projects fund­ed by them. While they’ve poured mon­ey into con­ser­v­a­tive caus­es, they’ve also invest­ed in projects explic­it­ly aimed at over­turn­ing the mod­ern con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment, like Bre­it­bart News, in which they report­ed­ly invest­ed $10 mil­lion, and Trump him­self. And the mys­tery of their ide­o­log­i­cal moti­va­tions is made all the more strik­ing by their suc­cess in help­ing Trump reach the White House. A recent Wall Street Jour­nal sto­ry on the Mer­cers con­clud­ed: “It isn’t clear what spe­cif­ic poli­cies or posi­tions, if any, the Mer­cers are seek­ing for their sup­port of Mr. Trump.”

“All I can take away is that they just want to be pow­er play­ers,” said a for­mer Bre­it­bart News staffer, who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty because of a non-dis­clo­sure agree­ment. “I don’t know what their prin­ci­ples are. I don’t know how you switch from Ted Cruz to Don­ald Trump so quick­ly.”

“Most of these peo­ple I think I under­stand,” said a Repub­li­can oper­a­tive who has been engaged on sev­er­al Mer­cer-led efforts. (Like most peo­ple quot­ed in this sto­ry, the oper­a­tive declined to be iden­ti­fied for fear of legal or pro­fes­sion­al con­se­quences for speak­ing pub­licly about the Mer­cers.) “I don’t under­stand the Mer­cers.”

Rebekah Mer­cer “talks busi­ness. She talks data, she talks trends, she talks mes­sag­ing,” said anoth­er Repub­li­can oper­a­tive who has worked with the Mer­cers. “I have nev­er real­ly been in her pres­ence where she’s talked pol­i­cy.”

Asked to describe what’s moti­vat­ing them, Ban­non him­self was vague.

“Real­ly incred­i­ble folks,” Ban­non said in an email. “Nev­er ask for any­thing. Very mid­dle class val­ues as they came to their great wealth late in life.”

* * *

Robert Mer­cer got his start at IBM, work­ing there for over 20 years. He went to Renais­sance Tech­nolo­gies in 1993. It’s there that Mer­cer, already well into mid­dle age, became wealthy. Renais­sance, based in East Setauket, Long Island, includes three hedge funds man­ag­ing over $25 bil­lion in assets, as well as the mys­te­ri­ous Medal­lion Fund, an employ­ees-only fund that has made its investors unimag­in­ably rich. Mercer’s co-CEO is Jim Simons, a major donor to Democ­rats; one Repub­li­can oper­a­tive with con­nec­tions to the Mer­cers who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty joked that the pair were try­ing to “hedge the polit­i­cal sys­tem.”

Rebekah, known as Bekah, is one of Bob and Diana Mercer’s three daugh­ters. Along with her sis­ters Heather Sue and Jen­nifer (“Jen­ji”), she owns Ruby et Vio­lette, a cook­ie store in New York (the cook­ies are now sold exclu­sive­ly online). Rebekah, 43, is mar­ried to a French Mor­gan Stan­ley exec­u­tive, Syl­vain Mirochnikoff, with whom she has four chil­dren. Mer­cer did not respond to requests for com­ment for this sto­ry.

Bob Mer­cer, 70, is an enig­mat­ic fig­ure who has a rep­u­ta­tion for rarely speak­ing pub­licly. Near­ly every­one spo­ken to for this sto­ry used some vari­a­tion of the word “bril­liant” to describe him. There’s a touch of eccen­tric­i­ty, too; “I know a cou­ple things you can bond with Bob Mer­cer over is he hates the Fed­er­al Reserve and loves mod­el trains,” said one Repub­li­can oper­a­tive who has worked on Mer­cer-backed ini­tia­tives. (Mer­cer once sued a mod­el train man­u­fac­tur­er, alleg­ing that he was over­charged for a mod­el train set installed in Owl’s Nest, his expan­sive Long Island estate).

What­ev­er her actu­al beliefs, there’s one thing upon which peo­ple who have worked with Rebekah Mer­cer agree: She has a keen under­stand­ing of pol­i­tics and likes to be involved in the day-to-day run­ning of projects she’s involved in. Many donors like to play strate­gist, much to the annoy­ance of the actu­al strate­gists in their employ. But Mer­cer appears to be more suc­cess­ful at it than most.

“Almost all donors want to pre­tend they’re Karl Rove. They all want to play polit­i­cal mas­ter­mind,” said one of the Repub­li­can oper­a­tives who has worked on Mer­cer-fund­ed projects. But “I would say that Rebekah is as smart at pol­i­tics as you could be with­out ever hav­ing been at the grunt lev­el.”

“Her polit­i­cal instincts were always on the mon­ey,” said Hogan Gid­ley, a for­mer Mike Huck­abee aide who served as spokesman for the Make Amer­i­ca Num­ber One PAC which became the Mer­cers’ pro-Trump vehi­cle dur­ing the gen­er­al elec­tion. “We would be talk­ing about how a cer­tain ad should look or changes we should make to an ad, and she would just offer an idea that would just elic­it instan­ta­neous agree­ment. It wasn’t because they were large­ly fund­ing the PAC, it was because she was right.”

Gid­ley said Mer­cer was on every con­fer­ence call relat­ed to the super PAC’s oper­a­tions. Even so, he didn’t get a clear sense of Mer­cer or her father’s ide­ol­o­gy.

“They’re lib­er­tar­i­ans who under­stand that they might have to make com­pro­mis­es with social con­ser­v­a­tives,” said one per­son in the non-prof­it world who is a recip­i­ent of mul­ti­ple Mer­cer grants. “They’re just as at home at the Cato Insti­tute as they would be at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion on gen­er­al issues.”

The Mer­cers, the non-prof­it activist said, appeared to have two goals this elec­tion cycle: “They’ve been fight­ing the Clin­tons for­ev­er, and they want­ed to back the win­ning horse.”

That first goal has been clear for some time. The Mer­cers have for years had their hands in the cot­tage indus­try of anti-Clin­ton activ­i­ty in and around the con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment. Accord­ing to tax records from the Mer­cer Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion, they gave near­ly $3.6 mil­lion to Cit­i­zens Unit­ed between 2012 and 2014, which sued for access to Clin­ton Foun­da­tion-relat­ed emails last year and whose pres­i­dent David Bossie also got a senior job on the Trump cam­paign. They’ve also invest­ed in the Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Insti­tute, which pub­lish­es the con­ser­v­a­tive author Peter Schweiz­er. Schweizer’s book Clin­ton Cash was an influ­en­tial source of talk­ing points for Trump allies dur­ing this elec­tion cycle, pro­vid­ing fod­der for one of Trump’s ear­ly salvos against Clin­ton in a speech in June and reg­u­lar­ly pop­u­lat­ing the pages of Bre­it­bart. Ban­non co-found­ed GAI with Schweiz­er; Rebekah Mer­cer has sat on the board.

The Mer­cers’ activ­i­ties dur­ing the elec­tion cycle are among the clear­est pub­lic evi­dence of how their beliefs, what­ev­er they might be, trans­late into action.

At first, the Mer­cers went in for Cruz. They backed Keep the Promise 1, one of the main super PACs sup­port­ing Cruz, to the tune of $11 mil­lion. Like oth­er cam­paigns with which the Mer­cers have been involved, includ­ing Trump’s, the Cruz cam­paign engaged the Mercers’s data firm Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca. Cruz cam­paign offi­cials clashed with Cam­bridge over the par­tic­u­lars of the con­tract and lodged com­plaints about the prod­uct itself, accord­ing to mul­ti­ple sources famil­iar with what hap­pened; in one instance, the Cruz cam­paign was pay­ing for a data­base sys­tem, RIPON, that had not been built yet, lead­ing to a con­tentious argu­ment. They also caught wind of work Cam­bridge had done for the Ben Car­son cam­paign; work­ing on more than one pri­ma­ry cam­paign is a no-no for ven­dors. Else­where in Mer­cer-world, there were oth­er signs of trou­ble when it came to Cruz. In Jan­u­ary, before the pri­maries had even begun, Bre­it­bart News began attack­ing Cruz, insin­u­at­ing that he was inel­i­gi­ble to be pres­i­dent because of his Cana­di­an birth (a line also in heavy use by Trump at the time). Mean­while, the Mer­cers were still pub­licly behind Cruz.

“Cam­bridge Analytica’s data sci­ence team had an excel­lent rela­tion­ship with the Cruz cam­paign: we were part of the cam­paign start­ing from day one and all the way through the pri­maries and cau­cus­es until the final day, and we con­tin­ue to work with many of the prin­ci­pals from the cam­paign,” a spokesman for Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca said. On the work they had done for the Car­son cam­paign, the spokesman said “Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca is large enough to work on more than one cam­paign at any giv­en time, and we take FEC fire­wall reg­u­la­tions very seri­ous­ly. We would not work with mul­ti­ple clients if we did not have the scale to pro­vide devot­ed resources to ensure full com­pli­ance with fire­walling pro­ce­dures.” And on RIPON, the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca spokesman said “Ripon was being used by many sen­a­to­r­i­al and guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­dates in the 2014 mid-terms. Some bespoke mod­i­fi­ca­tions were request­ed by the Cruz cam­paign and we were of course hap­py to make those for them.”

The Bre­it­bart sto­ries were trou­bling to Cruz staff, who had seen Bre­it­bart as an ally and who didn’t think they had any rea­son to doubt the Mer­cers’ loy­al­ty.

What Cruz’s staff may not have tak­en into account was the behind-the-scenes influ­ence of Steve Ban­non.

“I don’t think [the Mer­cers are] as nation­al­is­tic as Steve,” said a Repub­li­can oper­a­tive who has worked for the Mer­cers. “Steve is an unapolo­getic nation­al­ist. I don’t think the Mer­cers are as much.” But “they share a real dis­dain for elit­ism. That’s what sort of binds them togeth­er.”

Anoth­er of the Repub­li­can oper­a­tives described Ban­non as the “Obi-Wan Keno­bi” to Rebekah Mer­cer, and a third was even more point­ed: “Sven­gali.” Ban­non is “real­ly, real­ly, real­ly influ­en­tial” with Mer­cer, said the for­mer Bre­it­bart employ­ee. The Mer­cers, the for­mer employ­ee said, made their wish­es known through Ban­non, who would some­times cite the company’s finan­cial back­ers as a rea­son for Bre­it­bart not to do a sto­ry. Ban­non didn’t respond to a request for com­ment about this.

That high­lights a third appar­ent goal, which became clear­er over the course of the cam­paign: dis­man­tling the estab­lish­ment. . . .

9. Guess which major world leader is report­ed­ly tak­ing the advice of Cur­tis Yarvin, a.k.a. Men­cius Mold­bug, the pro-monar­chy, pro-eugen­ics founder of the con­tem­po­rary “Dark Enlight­en­ment”?

“What Steve Ban­non Wants You to Read” by Eliana John­son and Eli Stokols; Politi­co; 2/07/2017.

Pres­i­dent Trump’s strate­gic advis­er is ele­vat­ing a once-obscure net­work of polit­i­cal thinkers.

The first weeks of the Trump pres­i­den­cy have brought as much focus on the White House’s chief strate­gist, Steve Ban­non, as on the new pres­i­dent him­self. But if Ban­non has been the dri­ving force behind the fren­zy of activ­i­ty in the White House, less atten­tion has been paid to the net­work of polit­i­cal philoso­phers who have shaped his think­ing and who now enjoy a direct line to the White House.

They are not main­stream thinkers, but their writ­ings help to explain the com­mo­tion that has defined the Trump administration’s ear­ly days. They include a Lebanese-Amer­i­can author known for his the­o­ries about hard-to-pre­dict events; an obscure Sil­i­con Val­ley com­put­er sci­en­tist whose online polit­i­cal tracts her­ald a “Dark Enlight­en­ment”; and a for­mer Wall Street exec­u­tive who urged Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion in anony­mous man­i­festos by liken­ing the tra­jec­to­ry of the coun­try to that of a hijacked airplane—and who now works for the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil.

Ban­non, described by one asso­ciate as “the most well-read per­son in Wash­ing­ton,” is known for rec­om­mend­ing books to col­leagues and friends, accord­ing to mul­ti­ple peo­ple who have worked along­side him. He is a vora­cious read­er who devours works of his­to­ry and polit­i­cal the­o­ry “in like an hour,” said a for­mer asso­ciate whom Ban­non urged to read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. “He’s like the Rain Man of nation­al­ism.”

But, said the source, who request­ed anonymi­ty to speak can­did­ly about Ban­non, “There are some things he’s only going to share with peo­ple who he’s tight with and who he trusts.”

Bannon’s read­ings tend to have one thing in com­mon: the view that tech­nocrats have put West­ern civ­i­liza­tion on a down­ward tra­jec­to­ry and that only a shock to the sys­tem can reverse its decline. And they tend to have a dark, apoc­a­lyp­tic tone that at times echoes Bannon’s own pub­lic remarks over the years—a sense that human­i­ty is at a hinge point in his­to­ry. His ascen­dant pres­ence in the West Wing is giv­ing once-obscure intel­lec­tu­als unex­pect­ed influ­ence over the high­est ech­e­lons of gov­ern­ment.

Bannon’s 2015 doc­u­men­tary, “Gen­er­a­tion Zero,” drew heav­i­ly on one of his favorite books, “The Fourth Turn­ing” by William Strauss and Neil Howe. The book explains a the­o­ry of his­to­ry unfold­ing in 80- to 100-year cycles, or “turn­ings,” the fourth and final stage of which is marked by peri­ods of cat­a­clysmic change in which the old order is destroyed and replaced—a cur­rent peri­od that, in Bannon’s view, was sparked by the 2008 finan­cial cri­sis and has now been man­i­fest­ed in part by the rise of Trump.

“The West is in trou­ble. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that, and Trump’s elec­tion was a sign of health,” said a White House aide who was not autho­rized to speak pub­licly. “It was a revolt against man­age­ri­al­ism, a revolt against expert rule, a revolt against the admin­is­tra­tive state. It opens the door to pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

All of these impuls­es are evi­dent in the White House, as the new administration—led by Ban­non and a cadre of like-mind­ed aides—has set about admin­is­ter­ing a sort of ide­o­log­i­cal shock ther­a­py in its first two weeks. A flur­ry of exec­u­tive orders slash­ing reg­u­la­tion and restrict­ing the influx of refugees bear the ide­o­log­i­cal mark­ings of obscure intel­lec­tu­als in both form and con­tent. The cir­cum­ven­tion of the bureau­cra­cy is a hall­mark of these thinkers, as is the neces­si­ty of restrict­ing immi­gra­tion.

Their think­ing has a clear nation­al­ist strain, and Ban­non has con­sid­ered hir­ing a staffer respon­si­ble for mon­i­tor­ing nation­al­ist move­ments around the world, accord­ing to two sources famil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion. French pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Marine Le Pen’s vis­it to Trump Tow­er in mid-Jan­u­ary was his hand­i­work. Le Pen has devot­ed her polit­i­cal career to soft­en­ing the image and broad­en­ing the appeal of the nation­al­ist move­ment in France by mar­gin­al­iz­ing its most extrem­ist mem­bers. Her views are typ­i­cal­ly nation­al­ist: She is hos­tile to the Euro­pean Union and free trade and oppos­es grant­i­ng for­eign­ers from out­side the EU the right to vote in local elec­tions. Bannon’s for­mer employ­er, Bre­it­bart News, has cov­ered Le Pen obses­sive­ly, cast­ing her as the French Trump.

***

Many polit­i­cal onlook­ers described Trump’s elec­tion as a “black swan” event: unex­pect­ed but enor­mous­ly con­se­quen­tial. The term was pop­u­lar­ized by Nas­sim Taleb, the best-sell­ing author whose 2014 book Antifrag­ile—which has been read and cir­cu­lat­ed by Ban­non and his aides—reads like a user’s guide to the Trump insur­gency.

It’s a broad­side against big gov­ern­ment, which Taleb faults for sup­press­ing the ran­dom­ness, volatil­i­ty and stress that keep insti­tu­tions and peo­ple healthy. “As with neu­rot­i­cal­ly over­pro­tec­tive par­ents, those who are try­ing to help us are hurt­ing us the most,” he writes. Taleb also offers a with­er­ing cri­tique of glob­al elites, whom he describes as a cor­rupt class of risk-averse insid­ers immune to the con­se­quences of their actions: “We are wit­ness­ing the rise of a new class of inverse heroes, that is, bureau­crats, bankers, Davos-attend­ing mem­bers of the I.A.N.D (Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Name Drop­pers), and aca­d­e­mics with too much pow­er and no real down­side and/or account­abil­i­ty. They game the sys­tem while cit­i­zens pay the price.”

It might as well have been the mis­sion state­ment of the Trump cam­paign. Asked in a phone inter­view this week whether he’s had meet­ings with Ban­non or his asso­ciates, Taleb said he could not com­ment. “Any­thing about pri­vate meet­ings would need to come from them,” he said, though he not­ed cryp­ti­cal­ly he’s had “cof­fee with friends.” He has been sup­port­ive of Trump but does not define him­self as a sup­port­er per se, though he said he would “be on the first train” to Wash­ing­ton were he invit­ed to the White House.

“They look like the incar­na­tion of ‘antifrag­ile’ peo­ple,” Taleb said of the new admin­is­tra­tion. “The def­i­n­i­tion of ‘antifrag­ile’ is hav­ing more upside than down­side. For exam­ple, Oba­ma had lit­tle upside because every­one thought he was bril­liant and would solve the world’s prob­lems, so when he didn’t it was dis­ap­point­ing. Trump has lit­tle down­side because he’s already been so heav­i­ly crit­i­cized. He’s heav­i­ly vac­ci­nat­ed because of his check­ered his­to­ry. Peo­ple have to under­stand: Trump did not run to be arch­bish­op of Can­ter­bury.”

Trump’s first two weeks in office have pro­duced a dizzy­ing blur of activ­i­ty. But the pres­i­dent has also need­less­ly sparked con­tro­ver­sy, argu­ing, for exam­ple, that his inau­gu­ra­tion crowd was the biggest ever and that mil­lions of peo­ple vot­ed ille­gal­ly in last November’s elec­tion, leav­ing even sea­soned polit­i­cal observers befud­dled.

Before he emerged on the polit­i­cal scene, an obscure Sil­i­con Val­ley com­put­er pro­gram­mer with ties to Trump backer and Pay­Pal co-founder Peter Thiel was explain­ing his behav­ior. Cur­tis Yarvin, the self-pro­claimed “neo­re­ac­tionary” who blogs under the name “Men­cius Mold­bug,” attract­ed a fol­low­ing in 2008 when he pub­lished a wordy trea­tise assert­ing, among oth­er things, that “non­sense is a more effec­tive orga­niz­ing tool than the truth.” When the orga­niz­er of a com­put­er sci­ence con­fer­ence can­celed Yarvin’s appear­ance fol­low­ing an out­cry over his blog­ging under his nom de web, Ban­non took note: Bre­it­bart News decried the act of cen­sor­ship in an arti­cle about the programmer-blogger’s dis­missal.

Moldbug’s dense, dis­cur­sive mus­ings on history—“What’s so bad about the Nazis?” he asks in one 2008 post that con­demns the Holo­caust but ques­tions the moral supe­ri­or­i­ty of the Allies—include a belief in the util­i­ty of spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion that now looks like a tem­plate for Trump’s approach to truth. “To believe in non­sense is an unforge­able [sic] demon­stra­tion of loy­al­ty. It serves as a polit­i­cal uni­form. And if you have a uni­form, you have an army,” he writes in a May 2008 post.

In one Jan­u­ary 2008 post, titled “How I stopped believ­ing in democ­ra­cy,” he decries the “George­town­ist world­view” of elites like the late diplo­mat George Ken­nan. Moldbug’s writ­ings, com­ing amid the fail­ure of the U.S. state-build­ing project in Iraq, are hard to parse clear­ly and are open to mul­ti­ple inter­pre­ta­tions, but the author seems aware that his views are provoca­tive. “It’s been a while since I post­ed any­thing real­ly con­tro­ver­sial and offen­sive here,” he begins in a July 25, 2007, post explain­ing why he asso­ciates democ­ra­cy with “war, tyran­ny, destruc­tion and pover­ty.”

Mold­bug, who does not do inter­views and could not be reached for this sto­ry, has report­ed­ly opened up a line to the White House, com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Ban­non and his aides through an inter­me­di­ary, accord­ing to a source. Yarvin said he has nev­er spo­ken with Ban­non. . . . .

***

If Taleb and Yarvin laid some of the the­o­ret­i­cal ground­work for Trump­ism, the most mus­cu­lar and con­tro­ver­sial case for elect­ing him president—and the most unre­lent­ing attack on Trump’s con­ser­v­a­tive critics—came from Michael Anton, a one­time con­ser­v­a­tive intel­lec­tu­al writ­ing under the pseu­do­nym Pub­lius Decius Mus.

Thanks to an entree from Thiel, Anton now sits on the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil staff. Ini­tial reports indi­cat­ed he would serve as a spokesman, but Anton is set to take on a pol­i­cy role, accord­ing to a source with knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion. A for­mer speech­writer for Rudy Giu­liani and George W. Bush’s Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil, Anton most recent­ly worked as a man­ag­ing direc­tor for Black­Rock, the Wall Street invest­ment firm.

10. Face­book has been devel­op­ing new arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence (AI) tech­nol­o­gy to clas­si­fy pic­tures on your Face­book page:

“Face­book Qui­et­ly Used AI to Solve Prob­lem of Search­ing Through Your Pho­tos” by Dave Ger­sh­gorn [Quartz]; Nextgov.com; 2/2/2017.

For the past few months, Face­book has secret­ly been rolling out a new fea­ture to U.S. users: the abil­i­ty to search pho­tos by what’s depict­ed in them, rather than by cap­tions or tags.

The idea itself isn’t new: Google Pho­tos had this fea­ture built in when it launched in 2015. But on Face­book, the update solves a long­stand­ing orga­ni­za­tion prob­lem. It means final­ly being able to find that pic­ture of your friend’s dog from 2013, or the self­ie your mom post­ed from Mount Rush­more in 2009… with­out 20 min­utes of scrolling.

To make pho­tos search­able, Face­book ana­lyzes every sin­gle image uploaded to the site, gen­er­at­ing rough descrip­tions of each one. This data is pub­licly available—there’s even a Chrome exten­sion that will show you what Facebook’s arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence thinks is in each picture—and the descrip­tions can also be read out loud for Face­book users who are vision-impaired.

For now, the image descrip­tions are vague, but expect them to get a lot more pre­cise. Today’s announce­ment spec­i­fied the AI can iden­ti­fy the col­or and type of clothes a per­son is wear­ing, as well as famous loca­tions and land­marks, objects, ani­mals and scenes (gar­den, beach, etc.) Facebook’s head of AI research, Yann LeCun, told reporters the same func­tion­al­i­ty would even­tu­al­ly come for videos, too.

Face­book has in the past cham­pi­oned plans to make all of its visu­al con­tent searchable—especially Face­book Live. At the company’s 2016 devel­op­er con­fer­ence, head of applied machine learn­ing Joaquin Quiñonero Can­dela said one day AI would watch every Live video hap­pen­ing around the world. If users want­ed to watch some­one snow­board­ing in real time, they would just type “snow­board­ing” into Facebook’s search bar. On-demand view­ing would take on a whole new mean­ing.

There are pri­va­cy con­sid­er­a­tions, how­ev­er. Being able to search pho­tos for spe­cif­ic cloth­ing or reli­gious place of wor­ship, for exam­ple, could make it easy to tar­get Face­book users based on reli­gious belief. Pho­to search also extends Facebook’s knowl­edge of users beyond what they like and share, to what they actu­al­ly do in real life. That could allow for far more spe­cif­ic tar­get­ing for adver­tis­ers. As with every­thing on Face­book, fea­tures have their cost—your data.

11. Here’s some­thing worth not­ing while sift­ing through the 2016 elec­tion after­math: Sil­i­con Valley’s long right­ward shift became offi­cial in 2016. At least if you look at the cor­po­rate PACs of tech giants like Microsoft, Google, Face­book, and Ama­zon. Sure, the employ­ees tend­ed to still favor donat­ing to Democ­rats, although not as much as before (and not at all at Microsoft). But when it came to the cor­po­rate PACs Sil­i­con Val­ley was see­ing red.

A new Oxfam study found that the just eight indi­vid­u­als – includ­ing tech titans Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zucker­berg, and Lar­ry Elli­son – own as much wealth as the poor­est half of the glob­al pop­u­la­tion. So, you know, wealth inequal­i­ty prob­a­bly isn’t a super big pri­or­i­ty for their super PACs.

“Sil­i­con Val­ley Takes a Right Turn” by Thomas B. Edsall; The New York Times; 1/12/2017.

In 2016, the cor­po­rate PACs asso­ci­at­ed with Microsoft, Face­book, Google and Ama­zon broke ranks with the tra­di­tion­al alle­giance of the broad tech sec­tor to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. All four donat­ed more mon­ey to Repub­li­can Con­gres­sion­al can­di­dates than they did to their Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nents.

As these tech­nol­o­gy firms have become cor­po­rate behe­moths, their con­cerns over gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­to­ry pol­i­cy have inten­si­fied — on issues includ­ing pri­va­cy, tax­a­tion, automa­tion and antitrust. These are ques­tions on which they appear to view Repub­li­cans as stronger allies than Democ­rats.

In 2016, the PACs of these four firms gave a total of $3.6 mil­lion to House and Sen­ate can­di­dates. Of that, $2.1 mil­lion went to Repub­li­cans, and $1.5 mil­lion went to Democ­rats. These PACs did not con­tribute to pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates.

The PACs stand apart from dona­tions by employ­ees in the tech­nol­o­gy and inter­net sec­tors. Accord­ing to OpenSe­crets, these employ­ees gave $42.4 mil­lion to Democ­rats and $24.2 mil­lion to Repub­li­cans.

In the pres­i­den­tial race, tech employ­ees (as opposed to cor­po­rate PACs) over­whelm­ing­ly favored Hillary Clin­ton over Don­ald Trump. Work­ers for inter­net firms, for exam­ple, gave her $6.3 mil­lion, and gave $59,622 to Trump. Employ­ees of elec­tron­ic man­u­fac­tur­ing firms donat­ed $12.6 mil­lion to Clin­ton and $534,228 to Trump.

Most tech exec­u­tives and employ­ees remain sup­port­ive of Democ­rats, espe­cial­ly on social and cul­tur­al issues. The Repub­li­can tilt of the PACs at Microsoft, Ama­zon, Google and Face­book sug­gests, how­ev­er, that as these com­pa­nies’ domains grow larg­er, their bot­tom-line inter­ests are becom­ing increas­ing­ly aligned with the poli­cies of the Repub­li­can Par­ty.

In terms of polit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions, Microsoft has led the right­ward charge. In 2008, the Microsoft PAC deci­sive­ly favored Democ­rats, 60–40, accord­ing to data com­piled by the indis­pens­able Cen­ter for Respon­sive Pol­i­tics. By 2012, Repub­li­can can­di­dates and com­mit­tees had tak­en the lead, 54–46; and by 2016, the Microsoft PAC had become deci­sive­ly Repub­li­can, 65–35.

In 2016, the Microsoft PAC gave $478,818 to Repub­li­can House can­di­dates and $272,000 to Demo­c­ra­t­ic House can­di­dates. It gave $164,000 to Repub­li­can Sen­ate can­di­dates, and $75,000 to Demo­c­ra­t­ic Sen­ate can­di­dates.

Microsoft employ­ees’ con­tri­bu­tions fol­lowed a com­pa­ra­ble pat­tern. In 2008 and 2012, Microsoft work­ers were solid­ly pro-Demo­c­ra­t­ic, with 71 per­cent and 65 per­cent of their con­tri­bu­tions going to par­ty mem­bers. By 2016, the company’s work force had shift­ed gears. Democ­rats got 47 per­cent of their dona­tions.

This was not small change. In 2016 Microsoft employ­ees gave a total of $6.47 mil­lion.

A sim­i­lar pat­tern is vis­i­ble at Face­book.

The firm first became a notice­able play­er in the world of cam­paign finance in 2012 when employ­ees and the com­pa­ny PAC togeth­er made con­tri­bu­tions of $910,000. That year, Face­book employ­ees backed Democ­rats over Repub­li­cans 64–35, while the company’s PAC tilt­ed Repub­li­can, 53–46.

By 2016, when total Face­book con­tri­bu­tions reached $3.8 mil­lion, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic advan­tage in employ­ee dona­tions shrank to 51–47, while the PAC con­tin­ued to favor Repub­li­cans, 56–44.

While the employ­ees of the three oth­er most valu­able tech com­pa­nies, Alpha­bet (Google), Ama­zon and Apple, remained Demo­c­ra­t­ic in their giv­ing in 2016, at the cor­po­rate lev­el of Alpha­bet and Ama­zon — that is, at the lev­el of their PACs — they have not.

Google’s PAC gave 56 per­cent of its 2016 con­tri­bu­tions to Repub­li­cans and 44 per­cent to Democ­rats. The Ama­zon PAC fol­lowed a sim­i­lar path, favor­ing Repub­li­cans over Democ­rats 52–48. (Apple does not have a PAC.)

Tech giants can no longer be described as insur­gents chal­leng­ing cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca.

“By just about every mea­sure worth col­lect­ing,” Farhad Man­joo of The Times wrote in Jan­u­ary 2016:

Amer­i­can con­sumer tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies are get­ting larg­er, more entrenched in their own sec­tors, more pow­er­ful in new sec­tors and bet­ter insu­lat­ed against sur­pris­ing com­pe­ti­tion from upstarts.

These firms are now among the biggest of big busi­ness. In a 2016 USA Today rank­ing of the most valu­able com­pa­nies world­wide, the top four were Alpha­bet, $554.8 bil­lion; Apple, $529.3 bil­lion; Microsoft, $425.4 bil­lion; and Face­book, $333.6 bil­lion. Those firms deci­sive­ly beat out Berk­shire Hath­away, Exxon Mobil, John­son & John­son and Gen­er­al Elec­tric.

In addi­tion to tech com­pa­nies’ con­cern about gov­ern­ment pol­i­cy on tax­a­tion, reg­u­la­tion and antitrust, there are oth­er sources of con­flict between tech firms and the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. Gre­go­ry Fer­en­stein, a blog­ger who cov­ers the tech indus­try, con­duct­ed a sur­vey of 116 tech com­pa­ny founders for Fast Com­pa­ny in 2015. Using data from a poll con­duct­ed by the firm Sur­vey­Mon­key, Fer­en­stein com­pared the views of tech founders with those of Democ­rats, in some cas­es, and the views of the gen­er­al pub­lic, in oth­ers.

Among Ferenstein’s find­ings: a minor­i­ty, 29 per­cent, of tech com­pa­ny founders described labor unions as “good,” com­pared to 73 per­cent of Democ­rats. Asked “is mer­i­toc­ra­cy nat­u­ral­ly unequal?” tech founders over­whelm­ing­ly agreed.

Fer­en­stein went on:

One hun­dred per­cent of the small­er sam­ple of founders to whom I pre­sent­ed this ques­tion said they believe that a tru­ly mer­i­to­crat­ic econ­o­my would be “most­ly” or “some­what” unequal. This is a key dis­tinc­tion: Oppor­tu­ni­ty is about max­i­miz­ing people’s poten­tial, which founders tend to believe is high­ly unequal. Founders may val­ue cit­i­zen con­tri­bu­tions to soci­ety, but they don’t think all cit­i­zens have the poten­tial to con­tribute equal­ly. When asked what per­cent of nation­al income the top 10% would hold in such a sce­nario, a major­i­ty (67%) of founders believed that the rich­est indi­vid­u­als would con­trol 50% or more of total income, while only 31% of the pub­lic believes such an out­come would occur in a mer­i­to­crat­ic soci­ety.

One of the most inter­est­ing ques­tions posed by Fer­en­stein speaks to mid­dle and work­ing class anx­i­eties over glob­al com­pe­ti­tion:

In inter­na­tion­al trade pol­i­cy, some peo­ple believe the U.S. gov­ern­ment should cre­ate laws that favor Amer­i­can busi­ness with poli­cies that pro­tect it from glob­al com­pe­ti­tion, such as fees on import­ed goods or mak­ing it cost­ly to hire cheap­er labor in oth­er coun­tries (“out­sourc­ing”). Oth­ers believe it would be bet­ter if there were less reg­u­la­tions and busi­ness­es were free to trade and com­pete with­out each coun­try favor­ing their own indus­tries. Which of these state­ments come clos­est to your belief?

There was a large dif­fer­ence between tech com­pa­ny offi­cials, 73 per­cent of whom chose free trade and less reg­u­la­tion, while only 20 per­cent of Democ­rats sup­port­ed those choic­es.

Fer­en­stein also found that tech founders are sub­stan­tial­ly more lib­er­al on immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy than Democ­rats gen­er­al­ly. 64 per­cent would increase total immi­gra­tion lev­els, com­pared to 39 per­cent of Democ­rats. Tech exec­u­tives are strong sup­port­ers of increas­ing the num­ber of high­ly trained immi­grants through the HB1 visa pro­gram.

Joel Kotkin, a fel­low in urban stud­ies at Chap­man Uni­ver­si­ty who writes about demo­graph­ic, social and eco­nom­ic trends, sees these dif­fer­ences as the source of deep con­flict with­in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty.

In a provoca­tive August, 2015, col­umn in the Orange Coun­ty Reg­is­ter, Kotkin wrote:

The dis­rup­tive force is large­ly Sil­i­con Val­ley, a nat­ur­al oli­garchy that now funds a par­ty tee­ter­ing toward pop­ulism and even social­ism. The fun­da­men­tal con­tra­dic­tions, as Karl Marx would have not­ed, lie in the col­li­sion of inter­ests between a group that has come to epit­o­mize self-con­scious­ly pro­gres­sive mega-wealth and a mass base which is increas­ing­ly con­cerned about down­ward mobil­i­ty.

The tech elite, Kotkin writes, “far from desert­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, more like­ly will aim take to take it over.” Until very recent­ly, the

con­flict between pop­ulists and tech oli­garchs has been mut­ed, in large part due to com­mon views on social issues like gay mar­riage and, to some extent, envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. But as the social issues fade, hav­ing been “won” by pro­gres­sives, the focus nec­es­sar­i­ly moves to eco­nom­ics, where the gap between these two fac­tions is great­est.

Kotkin sees future par­ti­san machi­na­tion in cyn­i­cal terms:

One can expect the oli­garchs to seek out a modus viven­di with the pop­ulists. They could exchange a regime of high­er tax­es and reg­u­la­tion for ever-expand­ing crony cap­i­tal­ist oppor­tu­ni­ties and polit­i­cal pro­tec­tion. As the hege­mons of today, Face­book and Google, not to men­tion Apple and Ama­zon, have an intense inter­est in pro­tect­ing them­selves, for exam­ple, from antitrust leg­is­la­tion. His­to­ry is pret­ty clear: Hero­ic entre­pre­neurs of one decade often turn into the insid­er cap­i­tal­ists of the next.

In 2016, Don­ald Trump has pro­duced an upheaval with­in the Repub­li­can Par­ty that shift­ed atten­tion away from the less explo­sive tur­moil in Demo­c­ra­t­ic ranks. . . .

 

 

Discussion

23 comments for “FTR #946 In Your Facebook: A Virtual Panopticon, Part 2”

  1. Oh what a sur­prise: Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s par­ent com­pa­ny, SCL, is try­ing to worm its way into the US’s pri­va­tized intel­li­gence indus­try:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    After work­ing for Trump’s cam­paign, British data firm eyes new U.S. gov­ern­ment con­tracts

    By Matea Gold and Frances Stead Sell­ers Feb­ru­ary 17

    Dur­ing last year’s race, Pres­i­dent Trump’s cam­paign paid mil­lions of dol­lars to a data sci­ence firm, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, that tout­ed its abil­i­ty to tar­get vot­ers through psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing.

    Now, with Trump in office, Cambridge’s British par­ent com­pa­ny is ramp­ing up its U.S. gov­ern­ment busi­ness by pur­su­ing con­tracts that could be dri­ven by the new president’s pol­i­cy agen­da, accord­ing to mul­ti­ple peo­ple with knowl­edge of the firm’s activ­i­ties who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty to describe pri­vate inter­ac­tions.

    The com­pa­ny, SCL Group, has hired addi­tion­al staffers who are work­ing out of a new office down the street from the White House. It has in recent weeks pitched offi­cials in key nation­al secu­ri­ty agen­cies on how its tech­nol­o­gy could be used to deter ter­ror­ism, bol­ster the military’s capac­i­ties as it pre­pares for a pos­si­ble buildup and help assess atti­tudes about immi­grants.

    SCL Group has ties to peo­ple in Trump’s inner cir­cle, includ­ing White House chief strate­gist Stephen K. Ban­non, who until recent­ly was on the board of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca.

    In addi­tion, one of Cambridge’s main financiers is hedge fund mag­nate Robert L. Mer­cer, whose daugh­ter Rebekah is one of the most influ­en­tial donors in Trump’s orbit, accord­ing to peo­ple with knowl­edge of Mercer’s invest­ment.

    Com­pa­ny exec­u­tives say they are not exploit­ing their ties to the White House and are sim­ply build­ing on gov­ern­ment work they have done in the past. But SCL’s move to expand its gov­ern­ment busi­ness reflects how cor­po­rate inter­ests con­nect­ed to the admin­is­tra­tion see new oppor­tu­ni­ties in Trump’s Wash­ing­ton, even as the pres­i­dent vows to “drain the swamp.” And it shows how con­trac­tors are view­ing the new administration’s spend­ing pri­or­i­ties as poten­tial­ly lucra­tive oppor­tu­ni­ties.

    SCL’s effort is being dri­ven by a for­mer aide to now-depart­ed nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er Michael Fly­nn, who served as an advis­er to the com­pa­ny in the past.

    As part of its out­reach to U.S. offi­cials, SCL is tout­ing more than 20 years of expe­ri­ence in shap­ing vot­er per­cep­tions and advis­ing mil­i­taries and gov­ern­ments around the world on how to con­duct effec­tive psy­cho­log­i­cal oper­a­tions. In mate­ri­als obtained by The Wash­ing­ton Post, the com­pa­ny sug­gests it could help the Pen­ta­gon and oth­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies with “counter rad­i­cal­iza­tion” pro­grams. At the State Depart­ment, SCL is offer­ing to assess the impact of for­eign pro­pa­gan­da cam­paigns, while the com­pa­ny says it could pro­vide intel­li­gence agen­cies with pre­dic­tions and insight on emerg­ing threats, among oth­er ser­vices.

    Gov­ern­ment offi­cials famil­iar with the com­pa­ny said that SCL just final­ized a $500,000 con­tract with the State Depart­ment in the works before the elec­tion and that its exec­u­tives recent­ly met with pro­cure­ment offi­cials at the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty.

    Alexan­der Nix, a senior SCL exec­u­tive who has over­seen its U.S. expan­sion, con­firmed the recent out­reach to fed­er­al agen­cies and acknowl­edged that the com­pa­ny was step­ping up its efforts to secure U.S. gov­ern­ment busi­ness. He said that the push is an exten­sion of the work the com­pa­ny has done as a sub­con­trac­tor on a vari­ety of gov­ern­ment projects dur­ing the last 14 years — and that SCL would have sought the new work no mat­ter who had won the elec­tion.

    “We’re clear­ly seek­ing to aug­ment our exist­ing client ser­vices and prod­ucts with some of the new tech­nolo­gies we’ve been devel­op­ing in our oth­er sec­tors, such as the polit­i­cal field,” he said in a phone inter­view. “But this is not a rad­i­cal shake-up or any­thing new.”

    “I’d like to think that regard­less of the out­come of the elec­tion, we’d be work­ing in this space,” Nix added and said he has not com­mu­ni­cat­ed with Ban­non about the company’s work. “We’ve sur­vived dif­fer­ent admin­is­tra­tions from left and right of the aisle, with dif­fer­ent pol­i­cy agen­das.”

    Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca col­lect­ed at least $6 mil­lion from the Trump cam­paign for its data-ana­lyt­ics work, fed­er­al fil­ings show. Ban­non was a key dri­ver of the company’s push into the U.S. polit­i­cal mar­ket in 2014, accord­ing to mul­ti­ple peo­ple famil­iar with his role.

    Com­pa­ny offi­cials declined to com­ment on Bannon’s rela­tion­ship with Cam­bridge.

    Nix said that any involve­ment Ban­non “may have had with the com­pa­ny is being dis­cussed” with fed­er­al ethics offi­cials. Ban­non, like oth­er top White House staff, is required to file a per­son­al finan­cial dis­clo­sure form that will become pub­lic lat­er this year.

    “They will be, I’m sure, mak­ing all that infor­ma­tion avail­able in due course,” Nix said.

    White House offi­cials did not respond to requests for com­ment. A spokes­woman for the Mer­cers said they could not be reached for com­ment.

    Trump’s sur­prise win has meant boom times for Cam­bridge, which is now in hot demand by polit­i­cal cam­paigns and cor­po­rate clients across the globe.

    “It’s like drink­ing from a fire hose,” Matt Oczkows­ki, Cambridge’s head of prod­uct, said in an inter­view at the company’s new Penn­syl­va­nia Avenue offices. “Besides Antarc­ti­ca, we’ve got­ten inter­est from every con­ti­nent.”

    Much of the curios­i­ty is dri­ven by Cambridge’s empha­sis on psy­cho­graph­ics, the study of per­son­al­i­ty traits. By mea­sur­ing qual­i­ties such as open­ness, con­sci­en­tious­ness and neu­roti­cism, offi­cials say they can craft more effec­tive appeals and dri­ve peo­ple to take action.

    The Mer­cers were ear­ly investors in the com­pa­ny, dis­mayed that the Repub­li­can Par­ty had lost the data war in the 2012 elec­tions.

    Ban­non, who was then oper­at­ing as the family’s polit­i­cal advis­er, was a par­tic­i­pant in strat­e­gy meet­ings as the com­pa­ny worked to sign up Amer­i­can cam­paign clients. “He was instru­men­tal in the roll­out of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca in the Unit­ed States,” said one per­son famil­iar with his role.

    The com­pa­ny first gar­nered atten­tion in 2015 when it was tapped by the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Sen. Ted Cruz (R‑Tex.). In the end, Cambridge’s work proved uneven, accord­ing to cam­paign offi­cials, who said that while its data sci­en­tists were impres­sive, its psy­cho­graph­ic analy­sis did not bear fruit. Com­pa­ny offi­cials said they were still learn­ing how to apply the approach in a tight­ly com­pressed pri­ma­ry envi­ron­ment.

    Cam­bridge then moved on to serve asthe Trump campaign’s data-sci­ence provider. While com­pa­ny offi­cials said they did not have suf­fi­cient time to employ psy­cho­graph­ics in that cam­paign, they did data mod­el­ing and polling that showed Trump’s strength in the indus­tri­al Mid­west, shap­ing a home­stretch strat­e­gy that led to his upset wins in Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin and Penn­syl­va­nia.

    Head­quar­tered in a non­descript build­ing on New Oxford Street in cen­tral Lon­don, SCL Group has the look of a staid insur­ance agency, with employ­ees work­ing at rows of com­put­er screens. But along with project man­agers, IT spe­cial­ists and “cre­atives” who design web­sites are psy­chol­o­gists and a team of data-sci­en­tists, many of whom hold doc­tor­ates in physics, quan­tum mechan­ics and astro­physics.

    SCL’s main offer­ing, first devel­oped by its affil­i­at­ed Lon­don think tank in 1989, involves gath­er­ing vast quan­ti­ties of data about an audience’s val­ues, atti­tudes and beliefs, iden­ti­fy­ing groups of “per­suad­ables” and then tar­get­ing them with tai­lored mes­sages. SCL began test­ing the tech­nique on health and devel­op­ment cam­paigns in Britain in the ear­ly 1990s, then branched out into inter­na­tion­al polit­i­cal con­sult­ing and lat­er defense con­tract­ing.

    Emma Bri­ant, who wrote about SCL’s work in her 2015 book “Pro­pa­gan­da and Counter-Ter­ror­ism: Strate­gies for Glob­al Change,” said its approach can be used to manip­u­late the pub­lic, which is large­ly unaware how much of their per­son­al infor­ma­tion is avail­able.

    “They are using sim­i­lar method­olo­gies to those the intel­li­gence agen­cies use with open­ly avail­able data in order to cre­ate a com­mer­cial advan­tage for them­selves,” said Bri­ant, a jour­nal­ism stud­ies lec­tur­er at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Sheffield in Britain, who is on leave to con­duct research at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty. “They are exploit­ing our depen­dence on social media.”

    Nix, who serves as Cambridge’s chief exec­u­tive, said that none of the infor­ma­tion the com­pa­ny col­lects is “par­tic­u­lar­ly intru­sive,” adding that SCL’s data-sci­ence tech­niques were pre­dom­i­nant­ly devel­oped in the polit­i­cal space, not for mil­i­tary clients.

    “This is not med­ical data or health data or finan­cial data,” he said of the U.S. data that Cam­bridge col­lects. “It’s what cere­al you eat for break­fast and what car you dri­ve.”

    SCL, which says it has worked in 100 coun­tries, offers mil­i­tary clients tech­niques in “soft pow­er.” Nix described it as a mod­ern-day upgrade of ear­ly efforts to win over a for­eign pop­u­la­tion by drop­ping pro­pa­gan­da leaflets from the air.

    In a 2015 arti­cle for a NATO pub­li­ca­tion, Steve Tatham, a British mil­i­tary psy­ops expert who leads SCL’s defense busi­ness out­side of the Unit­ed States, explained that one of the ben­e­fits of using the company’s tech­niques is that it “can be under­tak­en covert­ly.”

    “Audi­ence groups are not nec­es­sar­i­ly aware that they are the research sub­jects and government’s role and/or third par­ties can be invis­i­ble,” he wrote.

    In the Unit­ed States, the company’s efforts to win new gov­ern­ment con­tracts are being led by Josh Weeras­inghe, a for­mer vice pres­i­dent of glob­al mar­ket devel­op­ment at defense giant BAE Sys­tems who pre­vi­ous­ly worked with Fly­nn at the Office of the Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence. Fly­nn served as an advis­er to SCL on its efforts to expand its con­tract­ing work, accord­ing to two peo­ple famil­iar with his role.

    Weeras­inghe declined to com­ment. Fly­nn, oust­ed this week as Trump’s nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er amid ques­tions about his con­ver­sa­tions with Russ­ian offi­cials, could not be reached for com­ment.

    In ear­ly Feb­ru­ary, Weeras­inghe met with sev­er­al pro­cure­ment offi­cials at the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty. A DHS offi­cial said the gath­er­ing was focused on “whether their data ana­lyt­ics ser­vices could ben­e­fit the depart­ment.”

    The com­pa­ny also just final­ized a con­tract with the State Department’s Glob­al Engage­ment Cen­ter to pro­vide audi­ence analy­sis for the center’s efforts to dis­suade mil­i­tary-age males from join­ing the Islam­ic State, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the details. A State Depart­ment spokesman declined to com­ment on why SCL was select­ed.

    SCL’s efforts to land new gov­ern­ment con­tracts come as Trump has vowed to vast­ly expand the mil­i­tary. In late Jan­u­ary, he signed an exec­u­tive order to launch the “great rebuild­ing of the Armed Forces,” pledg­ing sup­port for more troops, weapons, ships and planes.

    Nix said that while an increase in defense spend­ing could “help” the company’s busi­ness, SCL’s gov­ern­ment divi­sion sees poten­tial beyond the Pen­ta­gon and Home­land Secu­ri­ty. “We see the appli­ca­tions for these tech­nolo­gies as much in tourism and health care and trea­sury,” he said.

    He reject­ed the idea that SCL’s inten­si­fy­ing pur­suit of gov­ern­ment con­tracts could be viewed as a con­flict of inter­est because of its role in help­ing elect the pres­i­dent.

    “Look, clear­ly the deci­sion-mak­ers on the cam­paign are very dif­fer­ent peo­ple than the ­deci­sion-mak­ers in gov­ern­ment,” he said, not­ing that the respon­si­bil­i­ty for con­tracts falls with pro­cure­ment offi­cials. “There is a code of ethics in order to make sure that is the case, and we adhere to that.”

    Cam­bridge now has a data­base of 230 mil­lion Amer­i­can adults, with up to 5,000 pieces of demo­graph­ic, con­sumer and lifestyle infor­ma­tion about each indi­vid­ual, as well as psy­cho­log­i­cal infor­ma­tion peo­ple have shared with the com­pa­ny through quizzes on social media and exten­sive sur­veys, Nix has said.

    “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,” Nix declared in a speech at a New York con­fer­ence in Sep­tem­ber 2016.

    ...

    “As part of its out­reach to U.S. offi­cials, SCL is tout­ing more than 20 years of expe­ri­ence in shap­ing vot­er per­cep­tions and advis­ing mil­i­taries and gov­ern­ments around the world on how to con­duct effec­tive psy­cho­log­i­cal oper­a­tions. In mate­ri­als obtained by The Wash­ing­ton Post, the com­pa­ny sug­gests it could help the Pen­ta­gon and oth­er gov­ern­ment agen­cies with “counter rad­i­cal­iza­tion” pro­grams. At the State Depart­ment, SCL is offer­ing to assess the impact of for­eign pro­pa­gan­da cam­paigns, while the com­pa­ny says it could pro­vide intel­li­gence agen­cies with pre­dic­tions and insight on emerg­ing threats, among oth­er ser­vices.

    If Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s creepy secret psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing and data col­lect­ing on hun­dreds of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans for the 2016 elec­tion did­n’t seem creepy and psy­op-ish enough, now it’s going to get to use those ser­vices for actu­al for­mal psy­ops. Oh good­ie. And with­out any con­flicts of inter­est *snick­er*:

    Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca col­lect­ed at least $6 mil­lion from the Trump cam­paign for its data-ana­lyt­ics work, fed­er­al fil­ings show. Ban­non was a key dri­ver of the company’s push into the U.S. polit­i­cal mar­ket in 2014, accord­ing to mul­ti­ple peo­ple famil­iar with his role.

    ...

    Ban­non, who was then oper­at­ing as the family’s polit­i­cal advis­er, was a par­tic­i­pant in strat­e­gy meet­ings as the com­pa­ny worked to sign up Amer­i­can cam­paign clients. “He was instru­men­tal in the roll­out of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca in the Unit­ed States,” said one per­son famil­iar with his role.

    ...

    In the Unit­ed States, the company’s efforts to win new gov­ern­ment con­tracts are being led by Josh Weeras­inghe, a for­mer vice pres­i­dent of glob­al mar­ket devel­op­ment at defense giant BAE Sys­tems who pre­vi­ous­ly worked with Fly­nn at the Office of the Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence. Fly­nn served as an advis­er to SCL on its efforts to expand its con­tract­ing work, accord­ing to two peo­ple famil­iar with his role.

    ...

    He reject­ed the idea that SCL’s inten­si­fy­ing pur­suit of gov­ern­ment con­tracts could be viewed as a con­flict of inter­est because of its role in help­ing elect the pres­i­dent.

    “Look, clear­ly the deci­sion-mak­ers on the cam­paign are very dif­fer­ent peo­ple than the ­deci­sion-mak­ers in gov­ern­ment,” he said, not­ing that the respon­si­bil­i­ty for con­tracts falls with pro­cure­ment offi­cials. “There is a code of ethics in order to make sure that is the case, and we adhere to that.”

    ...

    Yep, no con­flicts of inter­est there.

    You also have to won­der what Peter Thiel thinks of all this. After all, being the US gov­ern­men­t’s pri­vate CIA is sort of his thing. But he’s prob­a­bly ok with shar­ing the pri­va­tized intel­li­gence spoils with Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca. After all, there’s no doubt going to be an abun­dance of gov­ern­ment con­tracts to go around. Like con­tracts to iden­ti­fy indi­vid­u­als for mass round ups and depor­ta­tions. If there’s a con­tract for stuff like that, Palan­tir is prob­a­bly get­ting it:

    Truthout

    Peter Thiel Advis­es the Pres­i­dent While Palan­tir Plays Shad­ow CIA

    By Tim Tol­ka, Truthout | News Analy­sis
    Thurs­day, Feb­ru­ary 16, 2017

    Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies tried to keep a low pro­file, but with the Wall Street Jour­nal hail­ing it in 2009 as the “team of geeks who cracked the spy trade,” the firm drew a lot of atten­tion. If pro­vid­ing the soft­ware equiv­a­lent of a crys­tal ball to every US spy agency caused Palan­tir to be regard­ed as an omen of dystopi­an por­tent, there is now more chat­ter about Peter Thiel, chair­man of Palan­tir, serv­ing as a shad­owy spe­cial advis­er to Trump. Palan­tir made data-min­ing sexy and saves the lives of US sol­diers, but there are good rea­sons to fer­ret out the secrets of the firm and its founder. Palan­tir’s mis­sion is avowed­ly to “reduce ter­ror­ism” while pre­serv­ing pri­va­cy and civ­il lib­er­ties, but its prod­ucts in the hands of the Trump regime are a grave threat to both.

    When they first met, Trump told Thiel, “You are ter­rif­ic. We’re friends for life.” Trump iden­ti­fied in Thiel a huge asset for his cam­paign strat­e­gy and for his pol­i­cy agen­da. Trump and Thiel think alike when it comes to the press and immi­grants, yet they are both sim­i­lar­ly hyp­o­crit­i­cal in their con­cern for pri­va­cy and liti­gious­ness when they feel vio­lat­ed. Palan­tir’s mis­sion is avowed­ly to “reduce ter­ror­ism” while pre­serv­ing pri­va­cy and civ­il lib­er­ties, but its prod­ucts in the hands of the Trump regime are a grave threat to both.. Judg­ing by his pon­der­ous state­ments about com­put­ers, Trump knows noth­ing what­so­ev­er about tech­nol­o­gy, so Thiel — as the only advis­er oth­er than Ban­non from the tech indus­try — can show­case his lib­er­tar­i­an futur­ist Big Broth­er vision in the Oval Office, gen­er­at­ing more busi­ness for Palan­tir.

    Move over CIA! Along with Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, which fea­tures Ban­non as a board mem­ber, and the oth­er pri­vate intel­li­gence com­pa­ny Thiel found­ed, Quid, Trump has access to three pri­vate intel­li­gence com­pa­nies. Palan­tir’s exploits aren’t lim­it­ed to help­ing US mil­i­tary locate impro­vised explo­sive devices. In 2011, fed­er­al con­trac­tor HBGary’s hacked emails revealed Palan­tir’s involve­ment, which Bar­rett Brown went to prison to expose, in retal­ia­to­ry cam­paigns against Wik­iLeaks, labor unions and ThinkProgress. Palan­tir’s CEO Alex Karp apol­o­gized “to pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions in gen­er­al and [Glenn Green­wald] in par­tic­u­lar,” reaf­firm­ing the com­pa­ny’s com­mit­ment to build­ing soft­ware “that pro­tects pri­va­cy and civ­il lib­er­ties.”

    A Palan­tir employ­ee explained in a pro­mo­tion­al video: “If you have mul­ti­ple ana­lysts work­ing on the prob­lem, you have to have col­lab­o­ra­tion, and col­lab­o­ra­tion does­n’t make sense with­out access con­trol. Each per­son in your enter­prise has a lim­it­ed view because you have to respect the pri­va­cy of your users, of your cus­tomers, of cit­i­zens.” Con­sid­er­ing that Palan­tir was orig­i­nal­ly fund­ed by the CIA and has the NSA as a major client, that state­ment bor­ders on absurd.

    A recent post on Har­vard Busi­ness School’s tech blog not­ed “[Palan­tir’s] oper­at­ing mod­el, com­bined with motives for growth and prof­itabil­i­ty have recent­ly cre­at­ed con­flict between their busi­ness and oper­at­ing mod­el,” sug­gest­ing Palan­tir’s busi­ness devel­op­ment arm dis­trib­utes its soft­ware to as many clients as pos­si­ble, after which, tech sup­port even­tu­al­ly leaves them to use it as they please. This pos­es a pri­va­cy dilem­ma of dis­gruntling pro­por­tions, man­u­fac­tured by Palan­tir.

    Though his firm has var­i­ous gov­ern­ment con­tracts, Thiel has not signed any stan­dard ethics form. The for­mer ethics coun­sel of Pres­i­dent George H.W. Bush, Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Pro­fes­sor Richard Painter, stat­ed in an email to Truthout that Thiel “seems to be one more behind-the-scenes guy who will not be sub­ject to any of the ethics rules, along with [Carl] Icahn and per­haps even the Trump chil­dren.”

    House Democ­rats’ Move to Pro­tect Dream­ers’ Pri­va­cy

    On Decem­ber 5, 2016, 60 Demo­c­ra­t­ic House Rep­re­sen­ta­tives deliv­ered a let­ter to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma, urg­ing him to draft an exec­u­tive order to pro­tect the pri­va­cy rights of 740,000 Dream­ers enrolled in the Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA) pro­gram from attempts by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to use their per­son­al bio­met­ric data, social media pro­files, home address­es and crim­i­nal his­to­ries to track and deport them.

    Two weeks lat­er, The Verge report­ed on Palan­tir’s role as the secret engi­neer of the Ana­lyt­i­cal Frame­work for Intel­li­gence, a tool that can be used to lim­it migra­tion by track­ing peo­ple, ana­lyz­ing their activ­i­ties and assess­ing or “vet­ting” their risk. The Dream­ers’ uncer­tain­ty end­ed when Vox pub­lished six leaked exec­u­tive orders, one of which scraps the DACA pro­gram and leaves the Dream­ers slat­ed for depor­ta­tion once their cur­rent visas expire. Though Trump says his plan will “have a lot of heart,” there is still great uncer­tain­ty over the DACA pro­gram. Sen­a­tors Lind­sey Gra­ham and Dick Dur­ban have rein­tro­duced the Bar Removal of Indi­vid­u­als who Dream and Grow our Econ­o­my (BRIDGE) Act, which could offer Dream­ers pro­tec­tion as long as they have lived in the coun­try con­tin­u­ous­ly and have not been con­vict­ed of any sig­nif­i­cant crimes.

    ...

    A Plot to Expose Thiel’s Secrets and Con­flicts

    The non­prof­it news site Muck­Rock, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Moth­er­board news site, has filed six (of 500) Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act (FOIA) requests for its Thiel Fel­low­ship, which employs three jour­nal­ists to inves­ti­gate Thiel’s activ­i­ties. The NYPD, the CIA and the NSA claimed that any respon­sive doc­u­ments were exempt­ed to pro­tect nation­al secu­ri­ty. Michael Morisy, cofounder of Muck­Rock, acknowl­edged in an inter­view that Thiel has dri­ven tech for­ward and that Palan­tir could help gov­ern­ment improve cyber secu­ri­ty, but he cau­tioned, “It gets wor­ri­some when tools are cre­at­ed for mass sur­veil­lance with lit­tle pub­lic over­sight or con­trol.” He con­tin­ued, “Increas­ing­ly, local police are act­ing like intel­li­gence agen­cies. There’s not much scruti­ny. [Palan­tir] has won a lot of con­tracts with cities, states and fed­er­al agen­cies, but the pub­lic does­n’t know what it’s pay­ing for.”

    For Thiel, con­flicts of inter­est are often a sign that “some­one under­stands some­thing way bet­ter than if there’s no con­flict of inter­est.” In an inter­view with The New York Times’ Mau­reen Dowd, Thiel turned every ques­tion on its head, but such sophistry may not be suf­fi­cient for Palan­tir’s com­peti­tors and legal ethics experts. Pro­fes­sor Painter warned that if Thiel is still involved with the admin­is­tra­tion post-inau­gu­ra­tion, the US Depart­ment of Jus­tice or an agency inspec­tor gen­er­al could start inves­ti­ga­tions of his con­flicts of inter­est. Palan­tir’s com­peti­tors could also con­test awards of future gov­ern­ment con­tracts.

    Palan­tir did not respond to requests for com­ment and has sought to dis­tance itself from Trump’s agen­da, deny­ing that it would build a Mus­lim reg­istry. Regard­less, Palan­tir already pro­vid­ed the “see­ing stone” that Trump’s admin­is­tra­tion needs to become the most sophis­ti­cat­ed dic­ta­tor­ship in his­to­ry, in which Chair­man Thiel is set to play a most­ly shroud­ed role. Morisy of Muck­Rock, con­clud­ed, “I hope our insti­tu­tions live up to their oblig­a­tions to pro­tect the inter­est of tax­pay­ers and cit­i­zens. There was already a prob­lem of the revolv­ing door, now every­body’s on the same side of the door, involved in the pri­vate sec­tor and gov­ern­ment at the same time.” As a sign of the times, Thiel is con­sid­er­ing a run for gov­er­nor of Cal­i­for­nia.

    “Palan­tir did not respond to requests for com­ment and has sought to dis­tance itself from Trump’s agen­da, deny­ing that it would build a Mus­lim reg­istry. Regard­less, Palan­tir already pro­vid­ed the “see­ing stone” that Trump’s admin­is­tra­tion needs to become the most sophis­ti­cat­ed dic­ta­tor­ship in his­to­ry, in which Chair­man Thiel is set to play a most­ly shroud­ed role. Morisy of Muck­Rock, con­clud­ed, “I hope our insti­tu­tions live up to their oblig­a­tions to pro­tect the inter­est of tax­pay­ers and cit­i­zens. There was already a prob­lem of the revolv­ing door, now every­body’s on the same side of the door, involved in the pri­vate sec­tor and gov­ern­ment at the same time.” As a sign of the times, Thiel is con­sid­er­ing a run for gov­er­nor of Cal­i­for­nia.”

    While Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca might be the hot new thing on the pri­vate intel­li­gence block, it’s not going be easy to replace Palan­tir. Espe­cial­ly after it uses Thiel’s con­nec­tions to pri­va­tize even more intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices and pro­vide Trump with the tools it needs to effec­tive­ly destroy tar­get­ed pop­u­la­tions:

    ...
    On Decem­ber 5, 2016, 60 Demo­c­ra­t­ic House Rep­re­sen­ta­tives deliv­ered a let­ter to Pres­i­dent Oba­ma, urg­ing him to draft an exec­u­tive order to pro­tect the pri­va­cy rights of 740,000 Dream­ers enrolled in the Deferred Action for Child­hood Arrivals (DACA) pro­gram from attempts by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to use their per­son­al bio­met­ric data, social media pro­files, home address­es and crim­i­nal his­to­ries to track and deport them.

    Two weeks lat­er, The Verge report­ed on Palan­tir’s role as the secret engi­neer of the Ana­lyt­i­cal Frame­work for Intel­li­gence, a tool that can be used to lim­it migra­tion by track­ing peo­ple, ana­lyz­ing their activ­i­ties and assess­ing or “vet­ting” their risk. The Dream­ers’ uncer­tain­ty end­ed when Vox pub­lished six leaked exec­u­tive orders, one of which scraps the DACA pro­gram and leaves the Dream­ers slat­ed for depor­ta­tion once their cur­rent visas expire. Though Trump says his plan will “have a lot of heart,” there is still great uncer­tain­ty over the DACA pro­gram. Sen­a­tors Lind­sey Gra­ham and Dick Dur­ban have rein­tro­duced the Bar Removal of Indi­vid­u­als who Dream and Grow our Econ­o­my (BRIDGE) Act, which could offer Dream­ers pro­tec­tion as long as they have lived in the coun­try con­tin­u­ous­ly and have not been con­vict­ed of any sig­nif­i­cant crimes.
    ...

    Yep, there’s plen­ty of work to go around. And, of course, despite Thiel’s grow­ing role as one of Trump’s close advi­sors, there’s not going to be any con­flicts of inter­est:

    ...
    Though his firm has var­i­ous gov­ern­ment con­tracts, Thiel has not signed any stan­dard ethics form. The for­mer ethics coun­sel of Pres­i­dent George H.W. Bush, Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Pro­fes­sor Richard Painter, stat­ed in an email to Truthout that Thiel “seems to be one more behind-the-scenes guy who will not be sub­ject to any of the ethics rules, along with [Carl] Icahn and per­haps even the Trump chil­dren.”
    ...

    See, no prob­lems. So, yeah, Peter Thiel prob­a­bly isn’t com­plain­ing about the rise of his Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca. They might be com­peti­tors in one sense, but they’re part­ners in a much deep­er sense.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 22, 2017, 7:44 pm
  2. The Guardian has a long and crit­i­cal piece on Robert Mer­cer and the Mer­cer clan’s role in the rise of Bri­et­bart as the dom­i­nant ‘out­sider’ con­ser­v­a­tive media out­let and how deeply inter­twined that endeav­or is with the Mer­cers’ oth­er big invest­ments. Specif­i­cal­ly in the firms Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and its par­ent com­pa­ny SCL, where Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca spe­cial­izes in using AI and Big Data psy­cho­me­t­ric analy­sis on the data they col­lect on hun­dreds of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans to mod­el indi­vid­ual behav­ior and then SCL devel­ops strate­gies to use that infor­ma­tion and manip­u­late search engine results to change pub­lic opin­ions (the Trump cam­paign was appar­ent­ly very big into AI and Big Data dur­ing the cam­paign). As the arti­cle describes, not only does it looks like Cam­bridge Analytica/SCL are using their pro­pa­gan­da tech­niques to shape the US pub­lic opin­ion in a far-right direc­tion, but it looks like one of the ways its going about achiev­ing this shift in atti­tudes is by using its pro­pa­gan­da machine to the meme that all news out­lets that to the left of Bri­et­bart are “fake news” and can’t be trust­ed. Only far-right media can be trust­ed. That’s the meme get­ting pushed by this far-right Bri­et­bart-investor’s meme-machine com­pa­nies Cam­bridge Analytica/SCL.

    So, yes, the secre­tive far-right bil­lion­aire who runs mul­ti­ple firms that spe­cial­ize in mass psy­cho­me­t­ric pro­fil­ing using data col­lect­ed from Face­book and oth­er social media and who is, of course, close friends with Steve Ban­non, is using AI and Big Data to devel­op mass pro­pa­gan­da cam­paigns to turn the pub­lic against every­thing that isn’t like Bri­et­bart by con­vinc­ing the pub­lic that all non-Bri­et­bart­ian media out­lets are in a con­spir­a­cy to lie to the pub­lic, and espe­cial­ly lie about Trump:

    The Guardian

    Robert Mer­cer: the big data bil­lion­aire wag­ing war on main­stream media

    With links to Don­ald Trump, Steve Ban­non and Nigel Farage, the rightwing US com­put­er sci­en­tist is at the heart of a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar pro­pa­gan­da net­work

    Car­ole Cad­wal­ladr

    Sun­day 26 Feb­ru­ary 2017 04.00 EST
    Last mod­i­fied on Sun­day 26 Feb­ru­ary 2017 04.03 EST

    Just over a week ago, Don­ald Trump gath­ered mem­bers of the world’s press before him and told them they were liars. “The press, hon­est­ly, is out of con­trol,” he said. “The pub­lic doesn’t believe you any more.” CNN was described as “very fake news… sto­ry after sto­ry is bad”. The BBC was “anoth­er beau­ty”.

    That night I did two things. First, I typed “Trump” in the search box of Twit­ter. My feed was report­ing that he was crazy, a lunatic, a rav­ing mad­man. But that wasn’t how it was play­ing out else­where. The results pro­duced a stream of “Go Don­ald!!!!”, and “You show ’em!!!” There were star-span­gled ban­ner emo­jis and thumbs-up emo­jis and clips of Trump lay­ing into the “FAKE news MSM liars!”

    Trump had spo­ken, and his audi­ence had heard him. Then I did what I’ve been doing for two and a half months now. I Googled “main­stream media is…” And there it was. Google’s auto­com­plete sug­ges­tions: “main­stream media is… dead, dying, fake news, fake, fin­ished”. Is it dead, I won­der? Has FAKE news won? Are we now the FAKE news? Is the main­stream media – we, us, I – dying?

    I click Google’s first sug­gest­ed link. It leads to a web­site called CNSnews.com and an arti­cle: “The Main­stream media are dead.” They’re dead, I learn, because they – we, I – “can­not be trust­ed”. How had it, an obscure site I’d nev­er heard of, dom­i­nat­ed Google’s search algo­rithm on the top­ic? In the “About us” tab, I learn CNSnews is owned by the Media Research Cen­ter, which a click lat­er I learn is “America’s media watch­dog”, an organ­i­sa­tion that claims an “unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to neu­tral­is­ing left­wing bias in the news, media and pop­u­lar cul­ture”.

    Anoth­er cou­ple of clicks and I dis­cov­er that it receives a large bulk of its fund­ing – more than $10m in the past decade – from a sin­gle source, the hedge fund bil­lion­aire Robert Mer­cer. If you fol­low US pol­i­tics you may recog­nise the name. Robert Mer­cer is the mon­ey behind Don­ald Trump. But then, I will come to learn, Robert Mer­cer is the mon­ey behind an awful lot of things. He was Trump’s sin­gle biggest donor. Mer­cer start­ed back­ing Ted Cruz, but when he fell out of the pres­i­den­tial race he threw his mon­ey – $13.5m of it – behind the Trump cam­paign.

    It’s mon­ey he’s made as a result of his career as a bril­liant but reclu­sive com­put­er sci­en­tist. He start­ed his career at IBM, where he made what the Asso­ci­a­tion for Com­pu­ta­tion­al Lin­guis­tics called “rev­o­lu­tion­ary” break­throughs in lan­guage pro­cess­ing – a sci­ence that went on to be key in devel­op­ing today’s AI – and lat­er became joint CEO of Renais­sance Tech­nolo­gies, a hedge fund that makes its mon­ey by using algo­rithms to mod­el and trade on the finan­cial mar­kets.

    One of its funds, Medal­lion, which man­ages only its employ­ees’ mon­ey, is the most suc­cess­ful in the world – gen­er­at­ing $55bn so far. And since 2010, Mer­cer has donat­ed $45m to dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal cam­paigns – all Repub­li­can – and anoth­er $50m to non-prof­its – all rightwing, ultra-con­ser­v­a­tive. This is a bil­lion­aire who is, as bil­lion­aires are wont, try­ing to reshape the world accord­ing to his per­son­al beliefs.

    Robert Mer­cer very rarely speaks in pub­lic and nev­er to jour­nal­ists, so to gauge his beliefs you have to look at where he chan­nels his mon­ey: a series of yachts, all called Sea Owl; a $2.9m mod­el train set; cli­mate change denial (he funds a cli­mate change denial think­tank, the Heart­land Insti­tute); and what is maybe the ulti­mate rich man’s play­thing – the dis­rup­tion of the main­stream media. In this he is helped by his close asso­ciate Steve Ban­non, Trump’s cam­paign man­ag­er and now chief strate­gist. The mon­ey he gives to the Media Research Cen­ter, with its mis­sion of cor­rect­ing “lib­er­al bias” is just one of his media plays. There are oth­er big­ger, and even more delib­er­ate strate­gies, and shin­ing bright­ly, the star at the cen­tre of the Mer­cer media galaxy, is Bre­it­bart.

    It was $10m of Mercer’s mon­ey that enabled Ban­non to fund Bre­it­bart – a rightwing news site, set up with the express inten­tion of being a Huff­in­g­ton Post for the right. It has launched the careers of Milo Yiannopou­los and his like, reg­u­lar­ly hosts anti­se­mit­ic and Islam­o­pho­bic views, and is cur­rent­ly being boy­cotted by more than 1,000 brands after an activist cam­paign. It has been phe­nom­e­nal­ly suc­cess­ful: the 29th most pop­u­lar site in Amer­i­ca with 2bn page views a year. It’s big­ger than its inspi­ra­tion, the Huff­in­g­ton Post, big­ger, even, than Porn­Hub. It’s the biggest polit­i­cal site on Face­book. The biggest on Twit­ter.

    Promi­nent rightwing jour­nal­ist Andrew Bre­it­bart, who found­ed the site but died in 2012, told Ban­non that they had “to take back the cul­ture”. And, arguably, they have, though Amer­i­can cul­ture is only the start of it. In 2014, Ban­non launched Bre­it­bart Lon­don, telling the New York Times it was specif­i­cal­ly timed ahead of the UK’s forth­com­ing elec­tion. It was, he said, the lat­est front “in our cur­rent cul­tur­al and polit­i­cal war”. France and Ger­many are next.

    But there was anoth­er rea­son why I recog­nised Robert Mercer’s name: because of his con­nec­tion to Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, a small data ana­lyt­ics com­pa­ny. He is report­ed to have a $10m stake in the com­pa­ny, which was spun out of a big­ger British com­pa­ny called SCL Group. It spe­cialis­es in “elec­tion man­age­ment strate­gies” and “mes­sag­ing and infor­ma­tion oper­a­tions”, refined over 25 years in places like Afghanistan and Pak­istan. In mil­i­tary cir­cles this is known as “psy­ops” – psy­cho­log­i­cal oper­a­tions. (Mass pro­pa­gan­da that works by act­ing on people’s emo­tions.)

    Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca worked for the Trump cam­paign and, so I’d read, the Leave cam­paign. When Mer­cer sup­port­ed Cruz, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca worked with Cruz. When Robert Mer­cer start­ed sup­port­ing Trump, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca came too. And where Mercer’s mon­ey is, Steve Ban­non is usu­al­ly close by: it was report­ed that until recent­ly he had a seat on the board.

    Last Decem­ber, I wrote about Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca in a piece about how Google’s search results on cer­tain sub­jects were being dom­i­nat­ed by rightwing and extrem­ist sites. Jonathan Albright, a pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Elon Uni­ver­si­ty, North Car­oli­na, who had mapped the news ecosys­tem and found mil­lions of links between rightwing sites “stran­gling” the main­stream media, told me that track­ers from sites like Bre­it­bart could also be used by com­pa­nies like Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca to fol­low peo­ple around the web and then, via Face­book, tar­get them with ads.

    On its web­site, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca makes the aston­ish­ing boast that it has psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files based on 5,000 sep­a­rate pieces of data on 220 mil­lion Amer­i­can vot­ers – its USP is to use this data to under­stand people’s deep­est emo­tions and then tar­get them accord­ing­ly. The sys­tem, accord­ing to Albright, amount­ed to a “pro­pa­gan­da machine”.

    A few weeks lat­er, the Observ­er received a let­ter. Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was not employed by the Leave cam­paign, it said. Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca “is a US com­pa­ny based in the US. It hasn’t worked in British pol­i­tics.”

    Which is how, ear­li­er this week, I end­ed up in a Pret a Manger near West­min­ster with Andy Wig­more, Leave.EU’s affa­ble com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor, look­ing at snap­shots of Don­ald Trump on his phone. It was Wig­more who orches­trat­ed Nigel Farage’s trip to Trump Tow­er – the PR coup that saw him become the first for­eign politi­cian to meet the pres­i­dent elect.

    Wig­more scrolls through the snaps on his phone. “That’s the one I took,” he says point­ing at the now glob­al­ly famous pho­to of Farage and Trump in front of his gold­en ele­va­tor door giv­ing the thumbs-up sign. Wig­more was one of the “bad boys of Brex­it” – a term coined by Arron Banks, the Bris­tol-based busi­ness­man who was Leave.EU’s co-founder.

    Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca had worked for them, he said. It had taught them how to build pro­files, how to tar­get peo­ple and how to scoop up mass­es of data from people’s Face­book pro­files. A video on YouTube shows one of Cam­bridge Analytica’s and SCL’s employ­ees, Brit­tany Kaiser, sit­ting on the pan­el at Leave.EU’s launch event.

    Face­book was the key to the entire cam­paign, Wig­more explained. A Face­book ‘like’, he said, was their most “potent weapon”. “Because using arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that indi­vid­ual and how to con­vince them with what sort of advert. And you knew there would also be oth­er peo­ple in their net­work who liked what they liked, so you could spread. And then you fol­low them. The com­put­er nev­er stops learn­ing and it nev­er stops mon­i­tor­ing.”

    It sounds creepy, I say.

    “It is creepy! It’s real­ly creepy! It’s why I’m not on Face­book! I tried it on myself to see what infor­ma­tion it had on me and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ What’s scary is that my kids had put things on Insta­gram and it picked that up. It knew where my kids went to school.”

    They hadn’t “employed” Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, he said. No mon­ey changed hands. “They were hap­py to help.”

    Why?

    Because Nigel is a good friend of the Mer­cers. And Robert Mer­cer intro­duced them to us. He said, ‘Here’s this com­pa­ny we think may be use­ful to you.’ What they were try­ing to do in the US and what we were try­ing to do had mas­sive par­al­lels. We shared a lot of infor­ma­tion. Why wouldn’t you?” Behind Trump’s cam­paign and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, he said, were “the same peo­ple. It’s the same fam­i­ly.”

    There were already a lot of ques­tions swirling around Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, and Andy Wig­more has opened up a whole lot more. Such as: are you sup­posed to declare ser­vices-in-kind as some sort of dona­tion? The Elec­toral Com­mis­sion says yes, if it was more than £7,500. And was it declared? The Elec­toral Com­mis­sion says no. Does that mean a for­eign bil­lion­aire had pos­si­bly influ­enced the ref­er­en­dum with­out that influ­ence being appar­ent? It’s cer­tain­ly a ques­tion worth ask­ing.

    In the last month or so, arti­cles in first the Swiss and the US press have asked exact­ly what Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca is doing with US vot­ers’ data. In a state­ment to the Observ­er, the Infor­ma­tion Commissioner’s Office said: “Any busi­ness col­lect­ing and using per­son­al data in the UK must do so fair­ly and law­ful­ly. We will be con­tact­ing Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and ask­ing ques­tions to find out how the com­pa­ny is oper­at­ing in the UK and whether the law is being fol­lowed.”

    Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca said last Fri­day they are in touch with the ICO and are com­plete­ly com­pli­ant with UK and EU data laws. It did not answer oth­er ques­tions the Observ­er put to it this week about how it built its psy­cho­me­t­ric mod­el, which owes its ori­gins to orig­i­nal research car­ried out by sci­en­tists at Cam­bridge University’s Psy­cho­me­t­ric Cen­tre, research based on a per­son­al­i­ty quiz on Face­book that went viral. More than 6 mil­lion peo­ple end­ed up doing it, pro­duc­ing an aston­ish­ing trea­sure trove of data.

    These Face­book pro­files – espe­cial­ly people’s “likes” – could be cor­re­lat­ed across mil­lions of oth­ers to pro­duce uncan­ni­ly accu­rate results. Michal Kosin­s­ki, the centre’s lead sci­en­tist, found that with knowl­edge of 150 likes, their mod­el could pre­dict someone’s per­son­al­i­ty bet­ter than their spouse. With 300, it under­stood you bet­ter than your­self. “Com­put­ers see us in a more robust way than we see our­selves,” says Kosin­s­ki.

    But there are strict eth­i­cal reg­u­la­tions regard­ing what you can do with this data. Did SCL Group have access to the university’s mod­el or data, I ask Pro­fes­sor Jonathan Rust, the centre’s direc­tor? “Cer­tain­ly not from us,” he says. “We have very strict rules around this.”

    A sci­en­tist, Alek­san­dr Kogan, from the cen­tre was con­tract­ed to build a mod­el for SCL, and says he col­lect­ed his own data. Pro­fes­sor Rust says he doesn’t know where Kogan’s data came from. “The evi­dence was con­trary. I report­ed it.” An inde­pen­dent adju­di­ca­tor was appoint­ed by the uni­ver­si­ty. “But then Kogan said he’d signed a non-dis­clo­sure agree­ment with SCL and he couldn’t con­tin­ue [answer­ing ques­tions].”

    Kogan dis­putes this and says SCL sat­is­fied the university’s inquiries. But per­haps more than any­one, Pro­fes­sor Rust under­stands how the kind of infor­ma­tion peo­ple freely give up to social media sites could be used.

    “The dan­ger of not hav­ing reg­u­la­tion around the sort of data you can get from Face­book and else­where is clear. With this, a com­put­er can actu­al­ly do psy­chol­o­gy, it can pre­dict and poten­tial­ly con­trol human behav­iour. It’s what the sci­en­tol­o­gists try to do but much more pow­er­ful. It’s how you brain­wash some­one. It’s incred­i­bly dan­ger­ous.

    “It’s no exag­ger­a­tion to say that minds can be changed. Behav­iour can be pre­dict­ed and con­trolled. I find it incred­i­bly scary. I real­ly do. Because nobody has real­ly fol­lowed through on the pos­si­ble con­se­quences of all this. Peo­ple don’t know it’s hap­pen­ing to them. Their atti­tudes are being changed behind their backs.”

    Mer­cer invest­ed in Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, the Wash­ing­ton Post report­ed, “dri­ven in part by an assess­ment that the right was lack­ing sophis­ti­cat­ed tech­nol­o­gy capa­bil­i­ties”. But in many ways, it’s what Cam­bridge Analytica’s par­ent com­pa­ny does that rais­es even more ques­tions.

    Emma Bri­ant, a pro­pa­gan­da spe­cial­ist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Sheffield, wrote about SCL Group in her 2015 book, Pro­pa­gan­da and Counter-Ter­ror­ism: Strate­gies for Glob­al Change. Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca has the tech­no­log­i­cal tools to effect behav­iour­al and psy­cho­log­i­cal change, she said, but it’s SCL that strate­gis­es it. It has spe­cialised, at the high­est lev­el – for Nato, the MoD, the US state depart­ment and oth­ers – in chang­ing the behav­iour of large groups. It mod­els mass pop­u­la­tions and then it changes their beliefs.

    SCL was found­ed by some­one called Nigel Oakes, who worked for Saatchi & Saatchi on Mar­garet Thatcher’s image, says Bri­ant, and the com­pa­ny had been “mak­ing mon­ey out of the pro­pa­gan­da side of the war on ter­ror­ism over a long peri­od of time. There are dif­fer­ent arms of SCL but it’s all about reach and the abil­i­ty to shape the dis­course. They are try­ing to ampli­fy par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal nar­ra­tives. And they are selec­tive in who they go for: they are not doing this for the left.

    In the course of the US elec­tion, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca amassed a data­base, as it claims on its web­site, of almost the entire US vot­ing pop­u­la­tion – 220 mil­lion peo­ple – and the Wash­ing­ton Post report­ed last week that SCL was increas­ing staffing at its Wash­ing­ton office and com­pet­ing for lucra­tive new con­tracts with Trump’s admin­is­tra­tion. “It seems sig­nif­i­cant that a com­pa­ny involved in engi­neer­ing a polit­i­cal out­come prof­its from what fol­lows. Par­tic­u­lar­ly if it’s the manip­u­la­tion, and then res­o­lu­tion, of fear,” says Bri­ant.

    It’s the data­base, and what may hap­pen to it, that par­tic­u­lar­ly exer­cis­es Paul-Olivi­er Dehaye, a Swiss math­e­mati­cian and data activist who has been inves­ti­gat­ing Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and SCL for more than a year. “How is it going to be used?” he says. “Is it going to be used to try and manip­u­late peo­ple around domes­tic poli­cies? Or to fer­ment con­flict between dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties? It is poten­tial­ly very scary. Peo­ple just don’t under­stand the pow­er of this data and how it can be used against them.”

    There are two things, poten­tial­ly, going on simul­ta­ne­ous­ly: the manip­u­la­tion of infor­ma­tion on a mass lev­el, and the manip­u­la­tion of infor­ma­tion at a very indi­vid­ual lev­el. Both based on the lat­est under­stand­ings in sci­ence about how peo­ple work, and enabled by tech­no­log­i­cal plat­forms built to bring us togeth­er.

    Are we liv­ing in a new era of pro­pa­gan­da, I ask Emma Bri­ant? One we can’t see, and that is work­ing on us in ways we can’t under­stand? Where we can only react, emo­tion­al­ly, to its mes­sages? “Def­i­nite­ly. The way that sur­veil­lance through tech­nol­o­gy is so per­va­sive, the col­lec­tion and use of our data is so much more sophis­ti­cat­ed. It’s total­ly covert. And peo­ple don’t realise what is going on.”

    Pub­lic mood and pol­i­tics goes through cycles. You don’t have to sub­scribe to any con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry, Bri­ant says, to see that a mass change in pub­lic sen­ti­ment is hap­pen­ing. Or that some of the tools in action are straight out of the military’s or SCL’s play­book.

    But then there’s increas­ing evi­dence that our pub­lic are­nas – the social media sites where we post our hol­i­day snaps or make com­ments about the news – are a new bat­tle­field where inter­na­tion­al geopol­i­tics is play­ing out in real time. It’s a new age of pro­pa­gan­da. But whose? This week, Rus­sia announced the for­ma­tion of a new branch of the mil­i­tary: “infor­ma­tion war­fare troops”.

    Sam Wool­ley of the Oxford Inter­net Institute’s com­pu­ta­tion­al pro­pa­gan­da insti­tute tells me that one third of all traf­fic on Twit­ter before the EU ref­er­en­dum was auto­mat­ed “bots” – accounts that are pro­grammed to look like peo­ple, to act like peo­ple, and to change the con­ver­sa­tion, to make top­ics trend. And they were all for Leave. Before the US elec­tion, they were five-to-one in favour of Trump – many of them Russ­ian. Last week they have been in action in the Stoke byelec­tion – Russ­ian bots, organ­ised by who? – attack­ing Paul Nut­tall.

    You can take a trend­ing top­ic, such as fake news, and then weaponise it, turn it against the media that uncov­ered it

    “Pol­i­tics is war,” said Steve Ban­non last year in the Wall Street Jour­nal. And increas­ing­ly this looks to be true.

    There’s noth­ing acci­den­tal about Trump’s behav­iour, Andy Wig­more tells me. “That press con­fer­ence. It was absolute­ly bril­liant. I could see exact­ly what he was doing. There’s feed­back going on con­stant­ly. That’s what you can do with arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. You can mea­sure ever reac­tion to every word. He has a word room, where you fix key words. We did it. So with immi­gra­tion, there are actu­al­ly key words with­in that sub­ject mat­ter which peo­ple are con­cerned about. So when you are going to make a speech, it’s all about how can you use these trend­ing words.”

    Wig­more met with Trump’s team right at the start of the Leave cam­paign. “And they said the holy grail was arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence.”

    Who did?

    “Jared Kush­n­er and Jason Miller.”

    Lat­er, when Trump picked up Mer­cer and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, the game changed again. “It’s all about the emo­tions. This is the big dif­fer­ence with what we did. They call it bio-psy­cho-social pro­fil­ing. It takes your phys­i­cal, men­tal and lifestyle attrib­ut­es and works out how peo­ple work, how they react emo­tion­al­ly.”

    Bio-psy­cho-social pro­fil­ing, I read lat­er, is one offen­sive in what is called “cog­ni­tive war­fare”. Though there are many oth­ers: “recod­ing the mass con­scious­ness to turn patri­o­tism into col­lab­o­ra­tionism,” explains a Nato brief­ing doc­u­ment on coun­ter­ing Russ­ian dis­in­for­ma­tion writ­ten by an SCL employ­ee. “Time-sen­si­tive pro­fes­sion­al use of media to prop­a­gate nar­ra­tives,” says one US state depart­ment white paper. “Of par­tic­u­lar impor­tance to psy­op per­son­nel may be pub­licly and com­mer­cial­ly avail­able data from social media plat­forms.”

    Yet anoth­er details the pow­er of a “cog­ni­tive casu­al­ty” – a “moral shock” that “has a dis­abling effect on empa­thy and high­er process­es such as moral rea­son­ing and crit­i­cal think­ing”. Some­thing like immi­gra­tion, per­haps. Or “fake news”. Or as it has now become: “FAKE news!!!!”

    How do you change the way a nation thinks? You could start by cre­at­ing a main­stream media to replace the exist­ing one with a site such as Bre­it­bart. You could set up oth­er web­sites that dis­place main­stream sources of news and infor­ma­tion with your own def­i­n­i­tions of con­cepts like “lib­er­al media bias”, like CNSnews.com. And you could give the rump main­stream media, papers like the “fail­ing New York Times!” what it wants: sto­ries. Because the third prong of Mer­cer and Bannon’s media empire is the Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Insti­tute.

    Ban­non co-found­ed it with $2m of Mercer’s mon­ey. Mercer’s daugh­ter, Rebekah, was appoint­ed to the board. Then they invest­ed in expen­sive, long-term inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism. “The mod­ern eco­nom­ics of the news­room don’t sup­port big inves­tiga­tive report­ing staffs,” Ban­non told Forbes mag­a­zine. “You wouldn’t get a Water­gate, a Pen­ta­gon Papers today, because nobody can afford to let a reporter spend sev­en months on a sto­ry. We can. We’re work­ing as a sup­port func­tion.”

    Wel­come to the future of jour­nal­ism in the age of plat­form cap­i­tal­ism. News organ­i­sa­tions have to do a bet­ter job of cre­at­ing new finan­cial mod­els. But in the gaps in between, a deter­mined plu­to­crat and a bril­liant media strate­gist can, and have, found a way to mould jour­nal­ism to their own ends.

    In 2015, Steve Ban­non described to Forbes how the GAI oper­at­ed, employ­ing a data sci­en­tist to trawl the dark web (in the arti­cle he boasts of hav­ing access to $1.3bn worth of super­com­put­ers) to dig up the kind of source mate­r­i­al Google can’t find. One result has been a New York Times best­seller, Clin­ton Cash: The Untold Sto­ry of How and Why For­eign Gov­ern­ments and Busi­ness­es Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, writ­ten by GAI’s pres­i­dent, Peter Schweiz­er and lat­er turned into a film pro­duced by Rebekah Mer­cer and Steve Ban­non.

    This, Ban­non explained, is how you “weaponise” the nar­ra­tive you want. With hard researched facts. With those, you can launch it straight on to the front page of the New York Times, as the sto­ry of Hillary Clinton’s cash did. Like Hillary’s emails it turned the news agen­da, and, most cru­cial­ly, it divert­ed the atten­tion of the news cycle. Anoth­er clas­sic psy­ops approach. “Strate­gic drown­ing” of oth­er mes­sages.

    This is a strate­gic, long-term and real­ly quite bril­liant play. In the 1990s, Ban­non explained, con­ser­v­a­tive media couldn’t take Bill Clin­ton down because “they wound up talk­ing to them­selves in an echo cham­ber”.

    As, it turns out, the lib­er­al media is now. We are scat­tered, sep­a­rate, squab­bling among our­selves and being picked off like tar­gets in a shoot­ing gallery. Increas­ing­ly, there’s a sense that we are talk­ing to our­selves. And whether it’s Mercer’s mil­lions or oth­er fac­tors, Jonathan Albright’s map of the news and infor­ma­tion ecosys­tem shows how rightwing sites are dom­i­nat­ing sites like YouTube and Google, bound tight­ly togeth­er by mil­lions of links.

    Is there a cen­tral intel­li­gence to that, I ask Albright? “There has to be. There has to be some type of coor­di­na­tion. You can see from look­ing at the map, from the archi­tec­ture of the sys­tem, that this is not acci­den­tal. It’s clear­ly being led by mon­ey and pol­i­tics.”

    There’s been a lot of talk in the echo cham­ber about Ban­non in the last few months, but it’s Mer­cer who pro­vid­ed the mon­ey to remake parts of the media land­scape. And while Ban­non under­stands the media, Mer­cer under­stands big data. He under­stands the struc­ture of the inter­net. He knows how algo­rithms work.

    Robert Mer­cer did not respond to a request for com­ment for this piece. Nick Pat­ter­son, a British cryp­tog­ra­ph­er, who worked at Renais­sance Tech­nolo­gies in the 80s and is now a com­pu­ta­tion­al geneti­cist at MIT, described to me how he was the one who tal­ent-spot­ted Mer­cer. “There was an elite group work­ing at IBM in the 1980s doing speech research, speech recog­ni­tion, and when I joined Renais­sance I judged that the math­e­mat­ics we were try­ing to apply to finan­cial mar­kets were very sim­i­lar.”

    He describes Mer­cer as “very, very con­ser­v­a­tive. He tru­ly did not like the Clin­tons. He thought Bill Clin­ton was a crim­i­nal. And his basic pol­i­tics, I think, was that he’s a rightwing lib­er­tar­i­an, he wants the gov­ern­ment out of things.”

    He sus­pects that Mer­cer is bring­ing the bril­liant com­pu­ta­tion­al skills he brought to finance to bear on anoth­er very dif­fer­ent sphere. “We make math­e­mat­i­cal mod­els of the finan­cial mar­kets which are prob­a­bil­i­ty mod­els, and from those we try and make pre­dic­tions. What I sus­pect Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca do is that they build prob­a­bil­i­ty mod­els of how peo­ple vote. And then they look at what they can do to influ­ence that.”

    Find­ing the edge is what quants do. They build quan­ti­ta­tive mod­els that auto­mate the process of buy­ing and sell­ing shares and then they chase tiny gaps in knowl­edge to cre­ate huge wins. Renais­sance Tech­nolo­gies was one of the first hedge funds to invest in AI. But what it does with it, how it’s been pro­grammed to do it, is com­plete­ly unknown. It is, Bloomberg reports, the “black­est box in finance”.

    Johan Bollen, asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at Indi­ana Uni­ver­si­ty School of Infor­mat­ics and Com­put­ing, tells me how he dis­cov­ered one pos­si­ble edge: he’s done research that shows you can pre­dict stock mar­ket moves from Twit­ter. You can mea­sure pub­lic sen­ti­ment and then mod­el it. “Soci­ety is dri­ven by emo­tions, which it’s always been dif­fi­cult to mea­sure, col­lec­tive­ly. But there are now pro­grammes that can read text and mea­sure it and give us a win­dow into those col­lec­tive emo­tions.”

    The research caused a huge rip­ple among two dif­fer­ent con­stituen­cies. “We had a lot atten­tion from hedge funds. They are look­ing for sig­nals every­where and this is a huge­ly inter­est­ing sig­nal. My impres­sion is hedge funds do have these algo­rithms that are scan­ning social feeds. The flash crash­es we’ve had – sud­den huge drops in stock prices – indi­cates these algo­rithms are being used at large scale. And they are engaged in some­thing of an arms race.”

    The oth­er peo­ple inter­est­ed in Bollen’s work are those who want not only to mea­sure pub­lic sen­ti­ment, but to change it. Bollen’s research shows how it’s pos­si­ble. Could you reverse engi­neer the nation­al, or even the glob­al, mood? Mod­el it, and then change it?

    “It does seem pos­si­ble. And it does wor­ry me. There are quite a few pieces of research that show if you repeat some­thing often enough, peo­ple start invol­un­tar­i­ly to believe it. And that could be lever­aged, or weaponised for pro­pa­gan­da. We know there are thou­sands of auto­mat­ed bots out there that are try­ing to do just that.”

    THE war of the bots is one of the wilder and weird­er aspects of the elec­tions of 2016. At the Oxford Inter­net Institute’s Unit for Com­pu­ta­tion­al Pro­pa­gan­da, its direc­tor, Phil Howard, and direc­tor of research, Sam Wool­ley, show me all the ways pub­lic opin­ion can be mas­saged and manip­u­lat­ed. But is there a smok­ing gun, I ask them, evi­dence of who is doing this? “There’s not a smok­ing gun,” says Howard. “There are smok­ing machine guns. There are mul­ti­ple pieces of evi­dence.”

    “Look at this,” he says and shows me how, before the US elec­tion, hun­dreds upon hun­dreds of web­sites were set up to blast out just a few links, arti­cles that were all pro-Trump. “This is being done by peo­ple who under­stand infor­ma­tion struc­ture, who are bulk buy­ing domain names and then using automa­tion to blast out a cer­tain mes­sage. To make Trump look like he’s a con­sen­sus.”

    And that requires mon­ey?

    “That requires organ­i­sa­tion and mon­ey. And if you use enough of them, of bots and peo­ple, and clev­er­ly link them togeth­er, you are what’s legit­i­mate. You are cre­at­ing truth.”

    You can take an exist­ing trend­ing top­ic, such as fake news, and then weaponise it. You can turn it against the very media that uncov­ered it. Viewed in a cer­tain light, fake news is a sui­cide bomb at the heart of our infor­ma­tion sys­tem. Strapped to the live body of us – the main­stream media.

    One of the things that con­cerns Howard most is the hun­dreds of thou­sands of “sleep­er” bots they’ve found. Twit­ter accounts that have tweet­ed only once or twice and are now sit­ting qui­et­ly wait­ing for a trig­ger: some sort of cri­sis where they will rise up and come togeth­er to drown out all oth­er sources of infor­ma­tion.

    Like zom­bies?

    “Like zom­bies.”

    ...

    You can take an exist­ing trend­ing top­ic, such as fake news, and then weaponise it. You can turn it against the very media that uncov­ered it. Viewed in a cer­tain light, fake news is a sui­cide bomb at the heart of our infor­ma­tion sys­tem. Strapped to the live body of us – the main­stream media.”

    The right-wing media-verse, which is by far the biggest cre­ator and con­sumer of what is actu­al­ly ‘fake news’, is on the verge of using mod­ern pro­pa­gan­da tech­niques to help Don­ald Trump label all non-far-right media as ‘fake news’. Yeah, that’s scary.

    And note how the Mer­cers aren’t just pyscho-ana­lyz­ing every­one and run­ning a mass-psy­cho­log­i­cal profiling/shaping empire. They’re also fund­ing long-term inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism via the Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Insti­tute, which pays researchers to trawl the Dark-Web for facts that that won’t show up on Google so the rest of the Mer­cer pro­pa­gan­da machine can pro­ceed to blast those facts, true or not, across venues like Youtube:

    ...
    How do you change the way a nation thinks? You could start by cre­at­ing a main­stream media to replace the exist­ing one with a site such as Bre­it­bart. You could set up oth­er web­sites that dis­place main­stream sources of news and infor­ma­tion with your own def­i­n­i­tions of con­cepts like “lib­er­al media bias”, like CNSnews.com. And you could give the rump main­stream media, papers like the “fail­ing New York Times!” what it wants: sto­ries. Because the third prong of Mer­cer and Bannon’s media empire is the Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Insti­tute.

    Ban­non co-found­ed it with $2m of Mercer’s mon­ey. Mercer’s daugh­ter, Rebekah, was appoint­ed to the board. Then they invest­ed in expen­sive, long-term inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism=. “The mod­ern eco­nom­ics of the news­room don’t sup­port big inves­tiga­tive report­ing staffs,” Ban­non told Forbes mag­a­zine. “You wouldn’t get a Water­gate, a Pen­ta­gon Papers today, because nobody can afford to let a reporter spend sev­en months on a sto­ry. We can. We’re work­ing as a sup­port func­tion.”

    Wel­come to the future of jour­nal­ism in the age of plat­form cap­i­tal­ism. News organ­i­sa­tions have to do a bet­ter job of cre­at­ing new finan­cial mod­els. But in the gaps in between, a deter­mined plu­to­crat and a bril­liant media strate­gist can, and have, found a way to mould jour­nal­ism to their own ends.

    In 2015, Steve Ban­non described to Forbes how the GAI oper­at­ed, employ­ing a data sci­en­tist to trawl the dark web (in the arti­cle he boasts of hav­ing access to $1.3bn worth of super­com­put­ers) to dig up the kind of source mate­r­i­al Google can’t find. One result has been a New York Times best­seller, Clin­ton Cash: The Untold Sto­ry of How and Why For­eign Gov­ern­ments and Busi­ness­es Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, writ­ten by GAI’s pres­i­dent, Peter Schweiz­er and lat­er turned into a film pro­duced by Rebekah Mer­cer and Steve Ban­non.

    This, Ban­non explained, is how you “weaponise” the nar­ra­tive you want. With hard researched facts. With those, you can launch it straight on to the front page of the New York Times, as the sto­ry of Hillary Clinton’s cash did. Like Hillary’s emails it turned the news agen­da, and, most cru­cial­ly, it divert­ed the atten­tion of the news cycle. Anoth­er clas­sic psy­ops approach. “Strate­gic drown­ing” of oth­er mes­sages.

    This is a strate­gic, long-term and real­ly quite bril­liant play. In the 1990s, Ban­non explained, con­ser­v­a­tive media couldn’t take Bill Clin­ton down because “they wound up talk­ing to them­selves in an echo cham­ber”.

    As, it turns out, the lib­er­al media is now. We are scat­tered, sep­a­rate, squab­bling among our­selves and being picked off like tar­gets in a shoot­ing gallery. Increas­ing­ly, there’s a sense that we are talk­ing to our­selves. And whether it’s Mercer’s mil­lions or oth­er fac­tors, Jonathan Albright’s map of the news and infor­ma­tion ecosys­tem shows how rightwing sites are dom­i­nat­ing sites like YouTube and Google, bound tight­ly togeth­er by mil­lions of links.

    ...

    So, that’s all going to be some­thing to keep in mind as Trump’s war on ‘fake news’ unfolds: he’s got a crazy far-right bil­lion­aire back­ing him who has a busi­ness empire spe­cial­iz­ing in full-spec­trum per­son­al­ized influ­ence ped­dling, lit­er­al­ly covert per­son­al­ized psy­cho­log­i­cal influ­ence ped­dling where the tar­get is every­where. And this same bil­lion­aire has his own media empire that spe­cial­izes in push­ing high­ly ques­tion­able news and that media empire is intend­ed to replace the cur­rent media land­scape after they’ve fin­ished con­vinc­ing every­where that almost all news is ‘fake news’ unless its super-right-wing news.

    Also note how Trump him­self appears to be using the AI/psychological pro­fil­ing tech­niques and ser­vices offered by Cam­bridge Analytica/SCL: Trump is using them to find his key­words of choice for the top­ic at hand:

    ...

    There’s noth­ing acci­den­tal about Trump’s behav­iour, Andy Wig­more tells me. “That press con­fer­ence. It was absolute­ly bril­liant. I could see exact­ly what he was doing. There’s feed­back going on con­stant­ly. That’s what you can do with arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence. You can mea­sure ever reac­tion to every word. e has a word room, where you fix key words. We did it. So with immi­gra­tion, there are actu­al­ly key words with­in that sub­ject mat­ter which peo­ple are con­cerned about. So when you are going to make a speech, it’s all about how can you use these trend­ing words.”

    Wig­more met with Trump’s team right at the start of the Leave cam­paign. “And they said the holy grail was arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence.”

    Who did?

    “Jared Kush­n­er and Jason Miller.”

    Lat­er, when Trump picked up Mer­cer and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, the game changed again. “It’s all about the emo­tions. This is the big dif­fer­ence with what we did. They call it bio-psy­cho-social pro­fil­ing. It takes your phys­i­cal, men­tal and lifestyle attrib­ut­es and works out how peo­ple work, how they react emo­tion­al­ly.”

    ...

    So, yes, while Steve Ban­non is clear­ly Trump’s brain, Robert Mer­cer — the secre­tive far-right mass pro­pa­gan­da bil­lion­aire who does­n’t like to speak to the pub­lic — is appar­ent­ly Trump’s mouth. As we can see, Frankstein’s mon­ster has a real­ly scary broth­er, and he’s the pres­i­dent. You have to won­der about the the psy­cho­met­rics of the kind of nation that elect­ed Dr. Franken­stein’s mon­ster pres­i­dent but you can be sure they are off the charts in at least a few ways and not in a good way. And in some ways just as the doc­tor ordered.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 26, 2017, 4:15 pm
  3. Hi all,
    I just came across this video. It’s about the pow­er of data col­lec­tion and starts with a fam­i­ly’s con­tin­u­ous video record­ing of their son’s lan­guage acqui­si­tion over about 3 years. It’s actu­al­ly very sweet.

    But then...

    About 11 min­utes into the video, the ‘big data’ con­cepts and visu­al­iza­tions explained in the first part are expand­ed into the larg­er world of social media and tele­vi­sion con­tent and you begin to see some­thing extreme­ly unnerv­ing — I think it could right­ly be called the face of Big Broth­er. Con­nec­tions are made and mas­sive data trends of mil­lions of links are assem­bled into a coher­ent, and in my opin­ion, fright­en­ing­ly explic­it depic­tion of our cur­rent fas­cist tech­noc­ra­cy and it’s pro­pa­gan­da mech­a­nisms. It’s right there in the data. And it’s a Muthafug­ga!

    Of course, the pre­sen­ter is total­ly infat­u­at­ed with the tech­nol­o­gy; ‘Gee whiz, aren’t we clever?’

    The only thing going through my mind was the Cambridge/Mercer/Bannon/Underground Reich nexus play­ing this thing like a 21at cen­tu­ry Wurl­izter while the mass­es dance to their tune.

    Here is the link...

    http://www.ted.com/talks/deb_roy_the_birth_of_a_word

    It helps if you watch the whole thing to under­stand how the data is extract­ed and cor­re­lat­ed.

    God help us all.

    Posted by KalKanChowder | March 1, 2017, 1:52 pm
  4. Jane May­er has a mas­sive new piece in The New York­er on the rise of Robert Mer­cer and the Mer­cer clan as major financiers and pow­er-bro­kers in the con­tem­po­rary far-right. And while there’s an abun­dance of fas­ci­nat­ing tid­bits and threads run­ning through in the arti­cle, per­haps one of the most inter­est­ing threads is the role for­mer Demo­c­ra­t­ic poll­ster Pat Cad­dell has played in the rise of Trump. And part of what makes Cad­del­l’s role so inter­est­ing is how incred­i­bly cyn­i­cal it is when you fac­tor in every­thing we learn about the Mer­cers through­out the rest of the piece: Pat Cad­del­l’s polls lead­ing into the 2016 elec­tion were all point­ing towards a deep dis­en­chant­ment with estab­lish­ment politi­cians in either major par­ty and a strong desire to see an “out­sider” come to Wash­ing­ton and get gov­ern­ment work­ing for the peo­ple. And when Cad­dell, who was work­ing close­ly with Steve Ban­non at this point, looked at all the GOP can­di­dates in the 2016 race, Don­ald Trump was of course the can­di­date that most close­ly fit that “Mr. Smith goes to Wash­ing­ton” mod­el. Mer­cer then got behind Trump and the rest is his­to­ry.

    Envi­sion­ing Trump as the “Mr. Smith” can­di­date was clear­ly a cyn­i­cal tac­tic giv­en that Trump is set­ting out to destroy the safe­ty net and cre­ate a gov­ern­ment run almost exclu­sive­ly by and more the super-wealthy, as is becom­ing more and more clear with each day of his pres­i­den­cy But part of what made is so extra cyn­i­cal is the polit­i­cal views of Robert Mer­cer him­self. As the arti­cle notes, Mer­cer appears to be an Objec­tivist who believes that the only val­ue peo­ple have is derived from the mon­ey they make. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, Mer­cer also has con­tempt for the social safe­ty net and feels that the gov­ern­ment is harm­ing the strong through tax­es in order to help the weak and that this sit­u­a­tion is the oppo­site of how it should be. In oth­er words, the guy behind the “Mr. Smith, out for the lit­tle guy” Trump cam­paign active­ly hates the lit­tle guy and wants gov­ern­ment to stop help­ing him so much because the lit­tle guy has no actu­al val­ue:

    The New York­er

    The Reclu­sive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Pres­i­den­cy

    How Robert Mer­cer exploit­ed America’s pop­ulist insur­gency.
    By Jane May­er
    March 27, 2017 Issue

    Last month, when Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump toured a Boe­ing air­craft plant in North Charleston, South Car­oli­na, he saw a famil­iar face in the crowd that greet­ed him: Patrick Cad­dell, a for­mer Demo­c­ra­t­ic polit­i­cal oper­a­tive and poll­ster who, for forty-five years, has been prod­ding insur­gent Pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to attack the Wash­ing­ton estab­lish­ment. Cad­dell, who lives in Charleston, is per­haps best known for help­ing Jim­my Carter win the 1976 Pres­i­den­tial race. He is also remem­bered for hav­ing col­lab­o­rat­ed with his friend War­ren Beat­ty on the 1998 satire “Bul­worth.” In that film, a kamikaze can­di­date aban­dons the usu­al talk­ing points and exco­ri­ates both the major polit­i­cal par­ties and the media; vot­ers love his uncon­ven­tion­al­i­ty, and he becomes improb­a­bly pop­u­lar. If the plot sounds famil­iar, there’s a rea­son: in recent years, Cad­dell has offered polit­i­cal advice to Trump. He has not worked direct­ly for the Pres­i­dent, but at least as far back as 2013 he has been a con­trac­tor for one of Trump’s biggest finan­cial back­ers: Robert Mer­cer, a reclu­sive Long Island hedge-fund man­ag­er, who has become a major force behind the Trump Pres­i­den­cy.

    Dur­ing the past decade, Mer­cer, who is sev­en­ty, has fund­ed an array of polit­i­cal projects that helped pave the way for Trump’s rise. Among these efforts was pub­lic-opin­ion research, con­duct­ed by Cad­dell, show­ing that polit­i­cal con­di­tions in Amer­i­ca were increas­ing­ly ripe for an out­sider can­di­date to take the White House. Cad­dell told me that Mer­cer “is a libertarian—he despis­es the Repub­li­can estab­lish­ment,” and added, “He thinks that the lead­ers are cor­rupt crooks, and that they’ve ruined the coun­try.”

    Trump greet­ed Cad­dell warm­ly in North Charleston, and after giv­ing a speech he con­ferred pri­vate­ly with him, in an area reserved for V.I.P.s and for White House offi­cials, includ­ing Stephen Ban­non, the President’s top strate­gist, and Jared Kush­n­er, Trump’s son-in-law. Cad­dell is well known to this inner cir­cle. He first met Trump in the eight­ies. (“Peo­ple said he was just a clown,” Cad­dell said. “But I’ve learned that you should always pay atten­tion to suc­cess­ful ‘clowns.’ ”) Cad­dell shared the research he did for Mer­cer with Trump and oth­ers in the cam­paign, includ­ing Ban­non, with whom he has part­nered on numer­ous projects.

    The White House declined to divulge what Trump and Cad­dell dis­cussed in North Charleston, as did Cad­dell. But that after­noon Trump issued per­haps the most incen­di­ary state­ment of his Pres­i­den­cy: a tweet call­ing the news media “the ene­my of the Amer­i­can peo­ple.” The procla­ma­tion alarmed lib­er­als and con­ser­v­a­tives alike. William McRaven, the retired Navy admi­ral who com­mand­ed the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden, called Trump’s state­ment a “threat to democ­ra­cy.” The Pres­i­dent is known for tweet­ing impul­sive­ly, but in this case his words weren’t spon­ta­neous: they clear­ly echoed the think­ing of Cad­dell, Ban­non, and Mer­cer. In 2012, Cad­dell gave a speech at a con­fer­ence spon­sored by Accu­ra­cy in Media, a con­ser­v­a­tive watch­dog group, in which he called the media “the ene­my of the Amer­i­can peo­ple.” That dec­la­ra­tion was pro­mot­ed by Bre­it­bart News, a plat­form for the pro-Trump alt-right, of which Ban­non was the exec­u­tive chair­man, before join­ing the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion. One of the main stake­hold­ers in Bre­it­bart News is Mer­cer.

    Mer­cer is the co‑C.E.O. of Renais­sance Tech­nolo­gies, which is among the most prof­itable hedge funds in the coun­try. A bril­liant com­put­er sci­en­tist, he helped trans­form the finan­cial indus­try through the inno­v­a­tive use of trad­ing algo­rithms. But he has nev­er giv­en an inter­view explain­ing his polit­i­cal views. Although Mer­cer has recent­ly become an object of media spec­u­la­tion, Trevor Pot­ter, the pres­i­dent of the Cam­paign Legal Cen­ter, a non­par­ti­san watch­dog group, who for­mer­ly served as the chair­man of the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, said, “I have no idea what his polit­i­cal views are—they’re unknown, not just to the pub­lic but also to most peo­ple who’ve been active in pol­i­tics for the past thir­ty years.” Pot­ter, a Repub­li­can, sees Mer­cer as emblem­at­ic of a major shift in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics that has occurred since 2010, when the Supreme Court made a con­tro­ver­sial rul­ing in Cit­i­zens Unit­ed v. Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. That rul­ing, and sev­er­al sub­se­quent ones, removed vir­tu­al­ly all lim­its on how much mon­ey cor­po­ra­tions and non­prof­it groups can spend on fed­er­al elec­tions, and how much indi­vid­u­als can give to polit­i­cal-action com­mit­tees. Since then, pow­er has tilt­ed away from the two main polit­i­cal par­ties and toward a tiny group of rich mega-donors.

    Pri­vate mon­ey has long played a big role in Amer­i­can elec­tions. When there were lim­its on how much a sin­gle donor could give, how­ev­er, it was much hard­er for an indi­vid­ual to have a deci­sive impact. Now, Pot­ter said, “a sin­gle bil­lion­aire can write an eight-fig­ure check and put not just their thumb but their whole hand on the scale—and we often have no idea who they are.” He con­tin­ued, “Sud­den­ly, a ran­dom bil­lion­aire can change pol­i­tics and pub­lic policy—to sweep every­thing else off the table—even if they don’t speak pub­licly, and even if there’s almost no pub­lic aware­ness of his or her views.”

    Through a spokesman, Mer­cer declined to dis­cuss his role in launch­ing Trump. Peo­ple who know him say that he is painful­ly awk­ward social­ly, and rarely speaks. “He can bare­ly look you in the eye when he talks,” an acquain­tance said. “It’s prob­a­bly help­ful to be high­ly intro­vert­ed when get­ting lost in code, but in pol­i­tics you have to talk to peo­ple, in order to find out how the real world works.” In 2010, when the Wall Street Jour­nal wrote about Mer­cer assum­ing a top role at Renais­sance, he issued a terse state­ment: “I’m hap­py going through my life with­out say­ing any­thing to any­body.” Accord­ing to the paper, he once told a col­league that he pre­ferred the com­pa­ny of cats to humans.

    Sev­er­al peo­ple who have worked with Mer­cer believe that, despite his odd­i­ties, he has had sur­pris­ing suc­cess in align­ing the Repub­li­can Par­ty, and con­se­quent­ly Amer­i­ca, with his per­son­al beliefs, and is now unique­ly posi­tioned to exert influ­ence over the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion. In Feb­ru­ary, David Mager­man, a senior employ­ee at Renais­sance, spoke out about what he regards as Mercer’s wor­ri­some influ­ence. Mager­man, a Demo­c­rat who is a strong sup­port­er of Jew­ish caus­es, took par­tic­u­lar issue with Mercer’s empow­er­ment of the alt-right, which has includ­ed anti-Semit­ic and white-suprema­cist voic­es. Mager­man shared his con­cerns with Mer­cer, and the con­ver­sa­tion esca­lat­ed into an argu­ment. Mager­man told col­leagues about it, and, accord­ing to an account in the Wall Street Jour­nal, Mer­cer called Mager­man and said, “I hear you’re going around say­ing I’m a white suprema­cist. That’s ridicu­lous.” Mager­man insist­ed to Mer­cer that he hadn’t used those words, but added, “If what you’re doing is harm­ing the coun­try, then you have to stop.” After the Jour­nal sto­ry appeared, Mager­man, who has worked at Renais­sance for twen­ty years, was sus­pend­ed for thir­ty days. Undaunt­ed, he pub­lished an op-ed in the Philadel­phia Inquir­er, accus­ing Mer­cer of “effec­tive­ly buy­ing shares in the can­di­date.” He warned, “Robert Mer­cer now owns a size­able share of the Unit­ed States Pres­i­den­cy.”

    Nick Pat­ter­son, a for­mer senior Renais­sance employ­ee who is now a com­pu­ta­tion­al biol­o­gist at the Broad Insti­tute, agrees that Mercer’s influ­ence has been huge. “Bob has used his mon­ey very effec­tive­ly,” he said. “He’s not the first per­son in his­to­ry to use mon­ey in pol­i­tics, but in my view Trump wouldn’t be Pres­i­dent if not for Bob. It doesn’t get much more effec­tive than that.”

    Pat­ter­son said that his rela­tion­ship with Mer­cer has always been col­le­gial. In 1993, Pat­ter­son, at that time a Renais­sance exec­u­tive, recruit­ed Mer­cer from I.B.M., and they worked togeth­er for the next eight years. But Pat­ter­son doesn’t share Mercer’s lib­er­tar­i­an views, or what he regards as his sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty to con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries about Bill and Hillary Clin­ton. Dur­ing Bill Clinton’s Pres­i­den­cy, Pat­ter­son recalled, Mer­cer insist­ed at a staff lun­cheon that Clin­ton had par­tic­i­pat­ed in a secret drug-run­ning scheme with the C.I.A. The plot sup­pos­ed­ly oper­at­ed out of an air­port in Mena, Arkansas. “Bob told me he believed that the Clin­tons were involved in mur­ders con­nect­ed to it,” Pat­ter­son said. Two oth­er sources told me that, in recent years, they had heard Mer­cer claim that the Clin­tons have had oppo­nents mur­dered.

    The Mena sto­ry is one of sev­er­al dark fan­tasies put forth in the nineties by The Amer­i­can Spec­ta­tor, an arch­con­ser­v­a­tive mag­a­zine. Accord­ing to Pat­ter­son, Mer­cer read the pub­li­ca­tion at the time. David Brock, a for­mer Spec­ta­tor writer who is now a lib­er­al activist, told me that the alleged Mena con­spir­a­cy was based on a sin­gle dubi­ous source, and was eas­i­ly dis­proved by flight records. “It’s extreme­ly telling that Mer­cer would believe that,” Brock said. “It says some­thing about his con­spir­a­to­r­i­al frame of mind, and the fringe cir­cle he was in. We at the Spec­ta­tor called them Clin­ton Cra­zies.”

    Pat­ter­son also recalled Mer­cer argu­ing that, dur­ing the Gulf War, the U.S. should sim­ply have tak­en Iraq’s oil, “since it was there.” Trump, too, has said that the U.S. should have “kept the oil.” Expro­pri­at­ing anoth­er country’s nat­ur­al resources is a vio­la­tion of inter­na­tion­al law. Anoth­er one­time senior employ­ee at Renais­sance recalls hear­ing Mer­cer down­play the dan­gers posed by nuclear war. Mer­cer, speak­ing of the atom­ic bombs that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshi­ma and Nagasa­ki, argued that, out­side of the imme­di­ate blast zones, the radi­a­tion actu­al­ly made Japan­ese cit­i­zens health­i­er. The Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences has found no evi­dence to sup­port this notion. Nev­er­the­less, accord­ing to the one­time employ­ee, Mer­cer, who is a pro­po­nent of nuclear pow­er, “was very excit­ed about the idea, and felt that it meant nuclear acci­dents weren’t such a big deal.”

    Mer­cer strong­ly sup­port­ed the nom­i­na­tion of Jeff Ses­sions to be Trump’s Attor­ney Gen­er­al. Many civ­il-rights groups opposed the nom­i­na­tion, point­ing out that Ses­sions has in the past expressed racist views. Mer­cer, for his part, has argued that the Civ­il Rights Act, in 1964, was a major mis­take. Accord­ing to the one­time Renais­sance employ­ee, Mer­cer has assert­ed repeat­ed­ly that African-Amer­i­cans were bet­ter off eco­nom­i­cal­ly before the civ­il-rights move­ment. (Few schol­ars agree.) He has also said that the prob­lem of racism in Amer­i­ca is exag­ger­at­ed. The source said that, not long ago, he heard Mer­cer pro­claim that there are no white racists in Amer­i­ca today, only black racists. (Mer­cer, mean­while, has sup­port­ed a super PAC, Black Amer­i­cans for a Bet­ter Future, whose goal is to “get more Blacks involved in the Repub­li­can Par­ty.”)

    “Most peo­ple at Renais­sance didn’t chal­lenge him” about pol­i­tics, Pat­ter­son said. But Pat­ter­son clashed with him over cli­mate change; Mer­cer said that con­cerns about it were overblown. After Pat­ter­son shared with him a sci­en­tif­ic paper on the sub­ject, Mer­cer and his broth­er, Ran­dall, who also worked at the hedge fund, sent him a paper by a sci­en­tist named Arthur Robin­son, who is a bio­chemist, not a cli­mate expert. “It looked like a sci­en­tif­ic paper, but it was com­plete­ly loaded with selec­tive and biased infor­ma­tion,” Pat­ter­son recalled. The paper argued that, if cli­mate change were real, future gen­er­a­tions would “enjoy an Earth with far more plant and ani­mal life.” Robin­son owns a sheep ranch in Cave Junc­tion, Ore­gon, and on the prop­er­ty he runs a lab­o­ra­to­ry that he calls the Ore­gon Insti­tute of Sci­ence and Med­i­cine. Mer­cer helps sub­si­dize Robinson’s var­i­ous projects, which include an effort to fore­stall aging.

    Pat­ter­son sent Mer­cer a note call­ing Robinson’s argu­ments “com­plete­ly false.” He nev­er heard back. “I think if you stud­ied Bob’s views of what the ide­al state would look like, you’d find that, basi­cal­ly, he wants a sys­tem where the state just gets out of the way,” Pat­ter­son said. “Cli­mate change pos­es a prob­lem for that world view, because mar­kets can’t solve it on their own.”

    Mager­man told the Wall Street Jour­nal that Mercer’s polit­i­cal opin­ions “show con­tempt for the social safe­ty net that he doesn’t need, but many Amer­i­cans do.” He also said that Mer­cer wants the U.S. gov­ern­ment to be “shrunk down to the size of a pin­head.” Sev­er­al for­mer col­leagues of Mercer’s said that his views are akin to Objec­tivism, the phi­los­o­phy of Ayn Rand. Mager­man told me, “Bob believes that human beings have no inher­ent val­ue oth­er than how much mon­ey they make. A cat has val­ue, he’s said, because it pro­vides plea­sure to humans. But if some­one is on wel­fare they have neg­a­tive val­ue. If he earns a thou­sand times more than a school­teacher, then he’s a thou­sand times more valu­able.” Mager­man added, “He thinks soci­ety is upside down—that gov­ern­ment helps the weak peo­ple get strong, and makes the strong peo­ple weak by tak­ing their mon­ey away, through tax­es.” He said that this mind-set was typ­i­cal of “instant bil­lion­aires” in finance, who “have no stake in soci­ety,” unlike the indus­tri­al­ists of the past, who “built real things.”

    Anoth­er for­mer high-lev­el Renais­sance employ­ee said, “Bob thinks the less gov­ern­ment the bet­ter. He’s hap­py if peo­ple don’t trust the gov­ern­ment. And if the President’s a bozo? He’s fine with that. He wants it to all fall down.”

    The 2016 Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion posed a chal­lenge for some­one with Mercer’s ide­ol­o­gy. Mul­ti­ple sources described him as ani­mat­ed main­ly by hatred of Hillary Clin­ton. But Mer­cer also dis­trust­ed the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship. After the can­di­date he ini­tial­ly sup­port­ed, Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz, of Texas, dropped out of the race, Mer­cer sought a dis­rup­tive fig­ure who could upend both the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty and the Repub­li­can Par­ty. Pat­ter­son told me that Mer­cer seems to have applied “a very Renais­sance Tech­nolo­gies way of think­ing” to pol­i­tics: “He prob­a­bly esti­mat­ed the prob­a­bil­i­ty of Trump win­ning, and when it wasn’t very high he said to him­self, ‘O.K., what has to hap­pen in order for this twen­ty-per-cent thing to occur?’ It’s like play­ing a card game when you haven’t got a very good hand.”

    Mer­cer, as it hap­pens, is a superb pok­er play­er, and his polit­i­cal gam­ble appears to have paid off. Insti­tu­tion­al Investor has called it “Robert Mercer’s Trade of the Cen­tu­ry.”

    In the 2016 cam­paign, Mer­cer gave $22.5 mil­lion in dis­closed dona­tions to Repub­li­can can­di­dates and to polit­i­cal-action com­mit­tees. Tony Fab­rizio, a Repub­li­can poll­ster who worked for the Trump cam­paign, said that Mer­cer had “cat­a­pult­ed to the top of the heap of right-of-cen­ter pow­er bro­kers.” It’s worth not­ing that sev­er­al oth­er wealthy financiers, includ­ing Democ­rats such as Thomas Stey­er and Don­ald Suss­man, gave even more mon­ey to cam­paigns. (One of the top Demo­c­ra­t­ic donors was James Simons, the retired founder of Renais­sance Tech­nolo­gies.) Nev­er­the­less, Mercer’s polit­i­cal efforts stand apart. Adopt­ing the strat­e­gy of Charles and David Koch, the bil­lion­aire lib­er­tar­i­ans, Mer­cer enlarged his impact expo­nen­tial­ly by com­bin­ing short-term cam­paign spend­ing with long-term ide­o­log­i­cal invest­ments. He poured mil­lions of dol­lars into Bre­it­bart News, and—in what David Mager­man has called “an extreme exam­ple of mod­ern entre­pre­neur­ial philanthropy”—made dona­tions to dozens of polit­i­cal­ly tinged orga­ni­za­tions.

    Like many wealthy fam­i­lies, the Mer­cers have a pri­vate foun­da­tion. At first, the Mer­cer Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion, which was estab­lished in 2004, had an endow­ment of only half a mil­lion dol­lars, and most of its grants went to med­ical research and con­ven­tion­al char­i­ties. But by 2008, under the super­vi­sion of Mercer’s ardent­ly con­ser­v­a­tive daugh­ter, Rebekah, the foun­da­tion began giv­ing mil­lions of dol­lars to inter­con­nect­ed non­prof­it groups, sev­er­al of which played cru­cial roles in prop­a­gat­ing attacks on Hillary Clin­ton. By 2015, the most recent year for which fed­er­al tax records are avail­able, the foun­da­tion had grown into a $24.5‑million oper­a­tion that gave large sums to ultra­con­ser­v­a­tive orga­ni­za­tions.

    On top of this non­prof­it spend­ing, Mer­cer invest­ed in pri­vate busi­ness­es. He put ten mil­lion dol­lars into Bre­it­bart News, which was con­ceived as a con­ser­v­a­tive coun­ter­weight to the Huff­in­g­ton Post. The Web site freely mix­es right-wing polit­i­cal com­men­tary with juve­nile rants and racist innu­en­do; under Bannon’s direc­tion, the edi­tors intro­duced a rubric called Black Crime. The site played a key role in under­min­ing Hillary Clin­ton; by track­ing which neg­a­tive sto­ries about her got the most clicks and “likes,” the edi­tors helped iden­ti­fy which sto­ry lines and phras­es were the most potent weapons against her. Bre­it­bart News has been a remark­able suc­cess: accord­ing to Com­Score, a com­pa­ny that mea­sures online traf­fic, the site attract­ed 19.2 mil­lion unique vis­i­tors in Octo­ber.

    Mer­cer also invest­ed some five mil­lion dol­lars in Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, a firm that mines online data to reach and influ­ence poten­tial vot­ers. The com­pa­ny has said that it uses secret psy­cho­log­i­cal meth­ods to pin­point which mes­sages are the most per­sua­sive to indi­vid­ual online view­ers. The firm, which is the Amer­i­can affil­i­ate of Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Lab­o­ra­to­ries, in Lon­don, has worked for can­di­dates whom Mer­cer has backed, includ­ing Trump. It also report­ed­ly worked on the Brex­it cam­paign, in the Unit­ed King­dom.

    Alexan­der Nix, the C.E.O. of the firm, says that it has cre­at­ed “profiles”—consisting of sev­er­al thou­sand data points—for two hun­dred and twen­ty mil­lion Amer­i­cans. In pro­mo­tion­al mate­ri­als, S.C.L. has claimed to know how to use such data to wage both psy­cho­log­i­cal and polit­i­cal war­fare. “Per­suad­ing some­body to vote a cer­tain way,” Nix has said pub­licly, “is real­ly very sim­i­lar to per­suad­ing 14- to 25-year-old boys in Indone­sia to not join Al Qae­da.” Some crit­ics sug­gest that, at this point, Cam­bridge Analytica’s self-pro­mo­tion exceeds its effec­tive­ness. But Jonathan Albright, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Elon Uni­ver­si­ty, in North Car­oli­na, recent­ly pub­lished a paper, on Medi­um, call­ing Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca a “pro­pa­gan­da machine.”

    As impor­tant as Mercer’s busi­ness invest­ments is his hir­ing of advis­ers. Years before he start­ed sup­port­ing Trump, he began fund­ing sev­er­al con­ser­v­a­tive activists, includ­ing Steve Ban­non; as far back as 2012, Ban­non was the Mer­cers’ de-fac­to polit­i­cal advis­er. Some peo­ple who have observed the Mer­cers’ polit­i­cal evo­lu­tion wor­ry that Ban­non has become a Sven­gali to the whole fam­i­ly, exploit­ing its polit­i­cal inex­pe­ri­ence and tap­ping its for­tune to fur­ther his own ambi­tions. It was Ban­non who urged the Mer­cers to invest in a data-ana­lyt­ics firm. He also encour­aged the invest­ment in Bre­it­bart News, which was made through Grav­i­tas Max­imus, L.L.C., a front group that once had the same Long Island address as Renais­sance Tech­nolo­gies. In an inter­view, Ban­non praised the Mer­cers’ strate­gic approach: “The Mer­cers laid the ground­work for the Trump rev­o­lu­tion. Irrefutably, when you look at donors dur­ing the past four years, they have had the sin­gle biggest impact of any­body, includ­ing the Kochs.”

    Last sum­mer, Ban­non and some oth­er activists whom the Mer­cers have supported—including David Bossie, who ini­ti­at­ed the Cit­i­zens Unit­ed lawsuit—came togeth­er to res­cue Trump’s wob­bly cam­paign. Sam Nun­berg, an ear­ly Trump advis­er who watched Mercer’s group take over, said, “Mer­cer was smart. He invest­ed in the right peo­ple.”

    Ban­non and Rebekah Mer­cer have become par­tic­u­lar­ly close polit­i­cal part­ners. Last month, when Ban­non denounced “the cor­po­ratist, glob­al­ist media” at the Con­ser­v­a­tive Polit­i­cal Action Con­fer­ence, in his first pub­lic appear­ance since enter­ing the White House, Rebekah Mer­cer was part of his entourage. Ban­non sup­ports some ini­tia­tives, such as a major infra­struc­ture pro­gram, that are anath­e­ma to lib­er­tar­i­ans such as Robert Mer­cer. But the Wall Street Jour­nal has described Ban­non jok­ing and swear­ing on the deck of the Mer­cers’ yacht, the Sea Owl, as if he were a mem­ber of the fam­i­ly. Ban­non assured me that the Mer­cers, despite all their lux­u­ries, are “the most mid­dle-class peo­ple you will ever meet.”

    ...

    In 2014, Mer­cer accept­ed a life­time-achieve­ment award from the Asso­ci­a­tion for Com­pu­ta­tion­al Lin­guis­tics. In a speech at the cer­e­mo­ny, Mer­cer, who grew up in New Mex­i­co, said that he had a “jaun­diced view” of gov­ern­ment. While in col­lege, he had worked on a mil­i­tary base in Albu­querque, and he had showed his supe­ri­ors how to run cer­tain com­put­er pro­grams a hun­dred times faster; instead of sav­ing time and mon­ey, the bureau­crats ran a hun­dred times more equa­tions. He con­clud­ed that the goal of gov­ern­ment offi­cials was “not so much to get answers as to con­sume the com­put­er bud­get.” Mercer’s col­leagues say that he views the gov­ern­ment as arro­gant and inef­fi­cient, and believes that indi­vid­u­als need to be self-suf­fi­cient, and should not receive aid from the state. Yet, when I.B.M. failed to offer ade­quate sup­port for Mer­cer and Brown’s trans­la­tion project, they secured addi­tion­al fund­ing from DARPA, the secre­tive Pen­ta­gon pro­gram. Despite Mercer’s dis­dain for “big gov­ern­ment,” this fund­ing was essen­tial to his ear­ly suc­cess.

    Mean­while, Pat­ter­son kept ask­ing Mer­cer and Brown to join Renais­sance. He thought that their tech­nique of extract­ing pat­terns from huge amounts of data could be applied to the pile of num­bers gen­er­at­ed dai­ly by the glob­al trade in stocks, bonds, com­modi­ties, and cur­ren­cies. The pat­terns could gen­er­ate pre­dic­tive finan­cial mod­els that would give traders a deci­sive edge.

    In the spring of 1993, Mer­cer expe­ri­enced two dev­as­tat­ing loss­es: his moth­er was killed, in a car crash, and his father, a biol­o­gist, died six weeks lat­er. With life’s pre­car­i­ous­ness made painful­ly clear, and with tuition bills mount­ing, he decid­ed to leave I.B.M. for a high­er-pay­ing job at Renais­sance. Brown made the leap, too.

    Renais­sance was found­ed by James Simons, a leg­endary math­e­mati­cian, in 1982. Simons had run the math depart­ment at Stony Brook Uni­ver­si­ty, on Long Island, and the hedge fund took a unique­ly aca­d­e­m­ic approach to high finance. Andrew Lo, a finance pro­fes­sor at M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Man­age­ment, has described it as “the com­mer­cial ver­sion of the Man­hat­tan Project.” Intense­ly secre­tive and filled with peo­ple with Ph.D.s, it has been sen­sa­tion­al­ly prof­itable. Its Medal­lion Fund, which is open only to the firm’s three hun­dred or so employ­ees, has aver­aged returns of almost eighty per cent a year, before fees. Bloomberg News has called the Medal­lion Fund “per­haps the world’s great­est mon­ey­mak­ing machine.”

    In “More Mon­ey Than God,” Mal­la­by, who inter­viewed Mer­cer, describes his tem­pera­ment as that of an “icy cold pok­er play­er”; Mer­cer told him that he could not recall ever hav­ing had a night­mare. But Mer­cer warms up when talk­ing about com­put­ers. In the 2014 speech, he recalled the first time he used one, at a sci­ence camp, and likened the expe­ri­ence to falling in love. He also spoke of the gov­ern­ment lab in New Mex­i­co. “I loved the soli­tude of the com­put­er lab late at night,” he said. “I loved the air-con­di­tioned smell of the place. I loved the sound of the disks whirring and the print­ers clack­ing.” The speech last­ed forty minutes—“more than I typ­i­cal­ly talk in a month,” he not­ed.

    Pat­ter­son told me that when Mer­cer arrived at Renais­sance the firm’s equi­ties divi­sion was lag­ging behind oth­er areas, such as futures trad­ing. Mer­cer and Brown applied their algo­rithms to equi­ties trad­ing. “It took sev­er­al years,” Pat­ter­son recalled, but the equi­ties group even­tu­al­ly account­ed for the largest share of the Medal­lion Fund’s prof­its. Mer­cer and Brown’s code took into account near­ly every con­ceiv­able pre­dic­tor of mar­ket swings; their secret for­mu­la became so valu­able that, when a pair of Russ­ian math­e­mati­cians at the firm tried to take the recipe else­where, the com­pa­ny ini­ti­at­ed legal action against them.

    Renaissance’s prof­its were fur­ther enhanced by a con­tro­ver­sial tax maneu­ver, which became the sub­ject of a 2014 Sen­ate inquiry. Accord­ing to Sen­ate inves­ti­ga­tors, Renais­sance had pre­sent­ed count­less short-term trades as long-term ones, improp­er­ly avoid­ing some $6.8 bil­lion in tax­es. The Sen­ate didn’t allege crim­i­nal­i­ty, but it con­clud­ed that Renais­sance had com­mit­ted “abus­es.” The I.R.S. demand­ed pay­ment. (Renais­sance defend­ed its prac­tices, and the mat­ter remains con­test­ed, leav­ing a very sen­si­tive mate­r­i­al issue pend­ing before the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion.)

    The Medal­lion Fund made Renais­sance employ­ees among the wealth­i­est peo­ple in the coun­try. Forbes esti­mates that Simons, who has the biggest share, is worth eigh­teen bil­lion dol­lars. In 2009, Simons stepped aside, to focus on phil­an­thropy, and named Mer­cer and Brown co‑C.E.O.s. Insti­tu­tion­al Investor’s Alpha esti­mates that, in 2015, Mer­cer earned a hun­dred and thir­ty-five mil­lion dol­lars at Renais­sance.

    Mercer’s for­tune has allowed him and his fam­i­ly to indulge their wildest mate­r­i­al fan­tasies. He and Diana moved into a water­front estate in Head of the Har­bor, a sea­side com­mu­ni­ty on Long Island, and called the prop­er­ty Owl’s Nest. Mer­cer, a gun enthu­si­ast, built a pri­vate pis­tol range there. (He is also a part own­er of Cen­tre Firearms, a com­pa­ny that claims to have the country’s largest pri­vate cache of machine guns, as well as a weapon that Arnold Schwarzeneg­ger wield­ed in “The Ter­mi­na­tor.”) At Owl’s Nest, Mer­cer has installed a $2.7‑million mod­el-train set in his base­ment; trains chug through a minia­ture land­scape half the size of a bas­ket­ball court. The toy train attract­ed unwant­ed tabloid head­lines, such as “Boo-hoo over 2m Choo-choo,” after Mer­cer sued the man­u­fac­tur­er for over­charg­ing him. (The case was set­tled.)

    ...

    Rebekah worked for a few years at Renais­sance after grad­u­at­ing from Stan­ford. A for­mer col­league recalls her as smart but haughty. In 2003, she mar­ried a French­man, Syl­vain Mirochnikoff, who is a man­ag­ing direc­tor of Mor­gan Stan­ley. They had four chil­dren and bought a twen­ty-eight-mil­lion-dol­lar property—six apart­ments joined together—at Trump Place, on the Upper West Side. Now forty-three, she is divorc­ing Mirochnikoff. She home­schools the chil­dren, but in recent years she has become con­sumed by pol­i­tics. “She is the First Lady of the alt-right,” Christo­pher Rud­dy, the own­er of the con­ser­v­a­tive out­let News­max Media, said. “She’s respect­ed in con­ser­v­a­tive cir­cles, and clear­ly Trump has embraced her in a big way.”

    Ami­ty Shlaes, the con­ser­v­a­tive writer and the chair of the Calvin Coolidge Pres­i­den­tial Foun­da­tion, where Rebekah Mer­cer is a trustee, told me, “In the dull crowds of pol­i­cy, the Mer­cers are enchant­i­ng fire­crack­ers.” She likened the Mer­cer sis­ters to the Schuylers—the high-spir­it­ed, wit­ty sis­ters made famous by the musi­cal “Hamil­ton.” Shlaes went on, “The Mer­cers have strong val­ues, they’re kind of fun­ny, and they’re real­ly bright. Their brains are almost too strong.” Rebekah, she not­ed, sup­ports sev­er­al think tanks, but grows tired of talk; she “is into action.”

    After the Cit­i­zens Unit­ed deci­sion, in 2010, the Mer­cers were among the first peo­ple to take advan­tage of the oppor­tu­ni­ty to spend more mon­ey on pol­i­tics. In Ore­gon, they qui­et­ly gave mon­ey to a super PAC—an inde­pen­dent cam­paign-relat­ed group that could now take unlim­it­ed dona­tions. In New York, reporters dis­cov­ered that Robert Mer­cer was the sole donor behind a mil­lion-dol­lar adver­tis­ing cam­paign attack­ing what it described as a plan to build a “Ground Zero Mosque” in Man­hat­tan. The pro­posed build­ing was nei­ther a mosque nor at Ground Zero. The ads, which were meant to boost a Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty can­di­date for gov­er­nor, were con­demned as Islam­o­pho­bic.

    In Ore­gon, the Mer­cers gave six hun­dred and forty thou­sand dol­lars to a group that attacked Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Peter DeFazio, a Demo­c­rat, with a bar­rage of neg­a­tive ads dur­ing the final weeks of his 2010 reëlec­tion cam­paign. This effort also failed—it didn’t help when DeFazio announced that a New York hedge-fund man­ag­er and his daugh­ter were med­dling in Ore­gon pol­i­tics.

    Press accounts spec­u­lat­ed that Robert Mer­cer may have tar­get­ed DeFazio because DeFazio had pro­posed a tax on a type of high-vol­ume stock trade that Renais­sance fre­quent­ly made. But sev­er­al asso­ciates of Mercer’s say that the truth is stranger. DeFazio’s Repub­li­can oppo­nent was Arthur Robinson—the bio­chemist, sheep ranch­er, and cli­mate-change denial­ist. The Mer­cers became his devot­ed sup­port­ers after read­ing Access to Ener­gy, an off­beat sci­en­tif­ic newslet­ter that he writes. The fam­i­ly has giv­en at least $1.6 mil­lion in dona­tions to Robinson’s Ore­gon Insti­tute of Sci­ence and Med­i­cine. Some of the mon­ey was used to buy freez­ers in which Robin­son is stor­ing some four­teen thou­sand sam­ples of human urine. Robin­son has said that, by study­ing the urine, he will find new ways of extend­ing the human life span.

    Robin­son holds a degree in chem­istry from Cal­tech, but his work is not respect­ed in most sci­en­tif­ic cir­cles. (The Ore­gon sen­a­tor Jeff Merkley, a Demo­c­rat, has called Robin­son an “extrem­ist kook.”) Robin­son appears to be the source of Robert Mercer’s san­guine view of nuclear radi­a­tion: in 1986, Robin­son co-authored a book sug­gest­ing that the vast major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans would sur­vive “an all-out atom­ic attack on the Unit­ed States.” Robinson’s insti­tute dis­miss­es cli­mate change as a “false reli­gion.” A peti­tion that he orga­nized in 1998 to oppose the Kyoto Pro­to­col, claim­ing to rep­re­sent thir­ty thou­sand sci­en­tists skep­ti­cal of glob­al warm­ing, has been crit­i­cized as decep­tive. The Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences has warned that the peti­tion nev­er appeared in a peer-reviewed jour­nal, though it is print­ed in “a for­mat that is near­ly iden­ti­cal to that of sci­en­tif­ic arti­cles.” The peti­tion, how­ev­er, still cir­cu­lates online: in the past year, it was the most shared item about cli­mate change on Face­book.

    Robin­son, who calls him­self a “Jesus-plus-noth­ing-else” Chris­t­ian, has become a hero to the reli­gious right for home­school­ing his six chil­dren. Robert and Rebekah Mer­cer have praised a cur­ricu­lum that Robin­son sells. (An adver­tise­ment for it casts doubt on evo­lu­tion: “No demon­stra­tion has ever been made of the process of ‘spon­ta­neous ori­gin of life.’ ”) Robin­son has said that the “social­ist” agen­da of pub­lic schools is “evil” and rep­re­sents “a form of child abuse.”

    Even though 2010 was a suc­cess­ful elec­tion year for Repub­li­cans, the can­di­dates that the Mer­cers had sup­port­ed in Ore­gon and New York both lost deci­sive­ly. Their invest­ments had achieved noth­ing. Wealthy polit­i­cal donors some­times make easy marks for cam­paign oper­a­tives. Patrick Cad­dell, the for­mer poll­ster, told me, “These peo­ple who get so rich by run­ning busi­ness­es get so tak­en in when it comes to pol­i­tics. They’re just sheep. The con­sul­tants suck it out of them. A lot of them are sur­round­ed by palace guards, but that’s not true of the Mer­cers.”

    By 2011, the Mer­cers had joined forces with Charles and David Koch, who own Koch Indus­tries, and who have run a pow­er­ful polit­i­cal machine for decades. The Mer­cers attend­ed the Kochs’ semi­an­nu­al sem­i­nars, which pro­vide a struc­ture for right-wing mil­lion­aires look­ing for effec­tive ways to chan­nel their cash. The Mer­cers admired the savvi­ness of the Kochs’ plan, which called for atten­dees to pool their con­tri­bu­tions in a fund run by Koch oper­a­tives. The fund would strate­gi­cal­ly deploy the mon­ey in races across the coun­try, although, at the time, the Kochs’ chief aim was to defeat Barack Oba­ma in 2012. The Kochs will not reveal the iden­ti­ties of their donors, or the size of con­tri­bu­tions, but the Mer­cers report­ed­ly began giv­ing at least a mil­lion dol­lars a year to the Kochs’ fund. Even­tu­al­ly, they con­tributed more than twen­ty-five mil­lion.

    The Mer­cers also joined the Coun­cil for Nation­al Pol­i­cy, which the Times has described as a “lit­tle-known club of a few hun­dred of the most pow­er­ful con­ser­v­a­tives in the coun­try.” The Mer­cers have con­tributed hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars. The group swears par­tic­i­pants to secre­cy. But a leaked 2014 ros­ter revealed that it includ­ed many peo­ple who pro­mot­ed anti-Clin­ton con­spir­a­cy sto­ries, includ­ing Joseph Farah, the edi­tor of World­Net­Dai­ly. The group also brought the Mer­cers into the orbit of two peo­ple who have become key fig­ures in the Trump White House: Kellyanne Con­way, who was on the group’s exec­u­tive com­mit­tee, and Steve Ban­non.

    In 2011, the Mer­cers met Andrew Bre­it­bart, the founder of the fiery news out­let that bears his name, at a con­fer­ence orga­nized by the Club for Growth, a con­ser­v­a­tive group. They were so impressed by him that they became inter­est­ed in invest­ing in his oper­a­tion. Bre­it­bart, a glee­ful­ly offen­sive provo­ca­teur, was the tem­pera­men­tal oppo­site of Robert Mer­cer. (In 2010, Bre­it­bart told this mag­a­zine, “I like to call some­one a rav­ing cunt every now and then, when it’s appro­pri­ate, for effect.”) Nev­er­the­less, the Mer­cers were attract­ed to Breitbart’s vision of “tak­ing back the cul­ture” by build­ing a media enter­prise that could wage infor­ma­tion war­fare against the main­stream press, empow­er­ing what Bre­it­bart called “the silenced major­i­ty.”

    Bre­it­bart soon intro­duced the Mer­cers to Steve Ban­non. For a while, Bre­it­bart News oper­at­ed out of office space that Ban­non owned in San­ta Mon­i­ca. A Har­vard Busi­ness School grad­u­ate, Ban­non had worked at Gold­man Sachs, but he even­tu­al­ly left the world of finance and began mak­ing polit­i­cal films. His ambi­tion, appar­ent­ly, was to become the Michael Moore of the right. In the aughts, he direct­ed polem­i­cal doc­u­men­taries, among them “Fire from the Heart­land” and “Dis­trict of Cor­rup­tion.” A for­mer asso­ciate of Bannon’s in Cal­i­for­nia recalls him as a strate­gic thinker who was adept at manip­u­lat­ing the media. A vora­cious read­er, he was quick and charm­ing, but, accord­ing to the for­mer asso­ciate, he had a chip on his shoul­der about class. He often spoke of hav­ing grown up in a blue-col­lar Irish Catholic fam­i­ly in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia, and of hav­ing served as a naval offi­cer when he was young. Ban­non seemed to feel exclud­ed from the social world of Wall Street peers who had attend­ed prep schools. He had left Gold­man Sachs, in 1990, with­out mak­ing part­ner, and, though he was well off, he had missed out on the gigan­tic prof­its that part­ners had made when the com­pa­ny went pub­lic, in 1999.

    In 2011, Ban­non draft­ed a busi­ness plan for the Mer­cers that called for them to invest ten mil­lion dol­lars in Bre­it­bart News, in exchange for a large stake. At the time, the Bre­it­bart site was lit­tle more than a col­lec­tion of blogs. The Mer­cers signed the deal that June, and one of its pro­vi­sions placed Ban­non on the company’s board.

    Nine months lat­er, Andrew Bre­it­bart died, at forty-three, of a heart attack, and Ban­non became the site’s exec­u­tive chair­man, over­see­ing its con­tent. The Mer­cers, mean­while, became Bannon’s prin­ci­pal patrons. The Wash­ing­ton Post recent­ly pub­lished a house-rental lease that Ban­non signed in 2013, on which he said that his salary at Bre­it­bart News was sev­en hun­dred and fifty thou­sand dol­lars.

    Under Bannon’s lead­er­ship, the Web site expand­ed dra­mat­i­cal­ly, adding a fleet of full-time writ­ers. It became a new force on the right, boost­ing extreme insur­gents against the G.O.P. estab­lish­ment, such as David Brat, who, in 2014, took the seat of Eric Can­tor, the Vir­ginia con­gress­man. But it also pro­vid­ed a pub­lic forum for pre­vi­ous­ly shunned white-nation­al­ist, sex­ist, and racist voic­es. One pun­dit hired by Ban­non was Milo Yiannopou­los, who spe­cial­ized in puerile insults. (He recent­ly resigned from the site, after a video of him lewd­ly defend­ing ped­erasty went viral.)

    In 2014, Ban­non began host­ing a radio show that often fea­tured Patrick Cad­dell, who effec­tive­ly had been ban­ished by Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty lead­ers after years of tem­pes­tu­ous cam­paigns and fallings-out. On the air, Cad­dell float­ed dark the­o­ries about Hillary Clin­ton, and often sound­ed a lot like Ban­non, describ­ing “eco­nom­ic nation­al­ism” as the dri­ving force in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Under Barack Oba­ma, he said, Amer­i­ca had turned into a “banana repub­lic.”

    By 2016, Bre­it­bart News claims, it had the most shared polit­i­cal con­tent on Face­book, giv­ing the Mer­cers a plat­form that no oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive donors could match. Rebekah Mer­cer is high­ly engaged with Breitbart’s con­tent. An insid­er there said, “She reads every sto­ry, and calls when there are gram­mat­i­cal errors or typos.” Though she doesn’t dic­tate a polit­i­cal line to the edi­tors, she often points out areas of cov­er­age that she thinks require more atten­tion. Her views about the Wash­ing­ton estab­lish­ment, includ­ing the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship, are scathing. “She was at the avant-garde of shut­ter­ing both polit­i­cal par­ties,” the insid­er at Bre­it­bart said. “She went a long way toward the rede­f­i­n­i­tion of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.”

    The Mer­cers’ invest­ment in Bre­it­bart enabled Ban­non to pro­mote anti-estab­lish­ment politi­cians whom the main­stream media dis­missed, includ­ing Trump. In 2011, David Bossie, the head of the con­ser­v­a­tive group Cit­i­zens Unit­ed, intro­duced Trump to Ban­non; at the time, Trump was think­ing about run­ning against Oba­ma. Ban­non and Trump met at Trump Tow­er and dis­cussed a pos­si­ble cam­paign. Trump decid­ed against the idea, but the two kept in touch, and Ban­non gave Trump admir­ing cov­er­age. Ban­non noticed that, when Trump spoke to crowds, peo­ple were elec­tri­fied. Ban­non began to think that Trump might be “the one” who could shake up Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

    “Bre­it­bart gave Trump a big role,” Sam Nun­berg, the aide who worked on the ear­ly stages of Trump’s cam­paign, has said. “They gave us an out­let. No one else would. It allowed us to define our nar­ra­tive and com­mu­ni­cate our mes­sage. It real­ly start­ed with the birther thing”—Trump’s false claim that Oba­ma was not born an Amer­i­can citizen—“and then immi­gra­tion, and Iran. Trump was devel­op­ing his mes­sage.” By 2013, Nun­berg said, Trump, like oth­ers on Bre­it­bart, was “hit­ting the estab­lish­ment” by slam­ming the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship in Con­gress, includ­ing Paul Ryan. Nun­berg added, “It wasn’t like Char­lie Rose was ask­ing us on.”

    The Mer­cer Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion kept expand­ing its polit­i­cal invest­ments. Between 2011 and 2014, it gave near­ly eleven mil­lion dol­lars to the Media Research Cen­ter, an advo­ca­cy group whose “sole mis­sion,” accord­ing to its Web site, “is to expose and neu­tral­ize the pro­pa­gan­da arm of the Left: the nation­al news media.” The group’s founder, L. Brent Bozell III, is best known for his suc­cess­ful cam­paign to get CBS sanc­tioned for show­ing Janet Jackson’s bared breast dur­ing the 2004 Super Bowl broad­cast. The Mer­cers have been among the M.R.C.’s biggest donors, and their mon­ey has allowed the group to revamp its news site, and it now claims to reach more than two hun­dred mil­lion Amer­i­cans a week.

    In 2012, the Mer­cer Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion donat­ed two mil­lion dol­lars to Cit­i­zens Unit­ed, which had traf­ficked in Clin­ton hatred for years. Dur­ing the Clin­ton Admin­is­tra­tion, David Bossie, the group’s leader, was a Repub­li­can con­gres­sion­al aide, and he was forced to resign after releas­ing mis­lead­ing mate­r­i­al about a Clin­ton asso­ciate. In 2008, Cit­i­zens Unit­ed released a vit­ri­olic film, “Hillary: The Movie.” Two years ago, after the group received an addi­tion­al five hun­dred and fifty thou­sand dol­lars from the Mer­cers’ foun­da­tion, it filed a Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act request demand­ing access to Hillary Clinton’s State Depart­ment e‑mails. When the e‑mails were released, her Pres­i­den­tial cam­paign became mired in neg­a­tive news sto­ries.

    Ban­non has often col­lab­o­rat­ed with Bossie, pro­duc­ing half a dozen films with him. In 2012, Bossie sug­gest­ed a new joint project: a movie that urged Democ­rats and inde­pen­dents to aban­don Oba­ma in the Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The film’s approach was influ­enced by polling work that Patrick Cad­dell had shared with Ban­non. The data sug­gest­ed that attack­ing Oba­ma was coun­ter­pro­duc­tive; it was more effec­tive to express “dis­ap­point­ment” in him, by con­trast­ing him with ear­li­er Pres­i­dents.

    Cad­dell and Ban­non made an unholy alliance, but they had things in com­mon: both men were Irish Catholic sons of the South, scourges to their respec­tive par­ties, and prone to apoc­a­lyp­tic pro­nounce­ments. “We hit it off right away,” Cad­dell told me. “We’re both rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies.” Ban­non was excit­ed by Caddell’s polling research, and he per­suad­ed Cit­i­zens Unit­ed to hire Cad­dell to con­vene focus groups of dis­il­lu­sioned Oba­ma sup­port­ers. Many of these vot­ers became the cen­tral fig­ures of “The Hope & the Change,” an anti-Oba­ma film that Ban­non and Cit­i­zens Unit­ed released dur­ing the 2012 Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Con­ven­tion. After Cad­dell saw the film, he point­ed out to Ban­non that its open­ing imi­tat­ed that of “Tri­umph of the Will,” the 1935 ode to Hitler, made by the Nazi film­mak­er Leni Riefen­stahl. Ban­non laughed and said, “You’re the only one that caught it!” In both films, a plane flies over a blight­ed land, as omi­nous music swells; then clouds in the sky part, augur­ing a new era. The dis­ap­point­ed vot­ers in the film “seared into me,” Ban­non said, the fact that mid­dle-class Amer­i­cans bad­ly want­ed change, and could be lured away from the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty if they felt that they had been conned.

    In 2012, Cit­i­zens United’s foun­da­tion paid Ban­non Strate­gic Advi­sors, a con­sul­tan­cy group found­ed by Ban­non, three hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars for what it described to the I.R.S. as “fund-rais­ing” ser­vices. Bossie told me that the tax fil­ing must have been made in error: the pay­ment was actu­al­ly for Bannon’s “film devel­op­ment” work. Char­i­ta­ble groups are barred from spend­ing tax-deductible con­tri­bu­tions on par­ti­san pol­i­tics, yet, as Bre­it­bart News not­ed at the time, “The Hope & the Change” was a “par­ti­san” film “tar­get­ing Democ­rats” dur­ing an elec­tion year. Even so, the Mer­cers took a hefty tax deduc­tion for their two-mil­lion-dol­lar dona­tion to Cit­i­zens Unit­ed.

    Bossie told me that “the Mer­cers are very inter­est­ed in films.” Indeed, Rebekah Mer­cer is on the board of the Mov­ing Pic­ture Insti­tute, a con­ser­v­a­tive group devot­ed to coun­ter­ing Hol­ly­wood lib­er­al­ism with orig­i­nal online enter­tain­ment. Among its recent projects was a car­toon, “Every­one Coughs,” which spread the rumor that Hillary Clin­ton was mor­tal­ly ill. The film end­ed by depict­ing an ani­mat­ed Clin­ton lit­er­al­ly cough­ing her­self to death.

    On Elec­tion Night in 2012, the Mer­cers and oth­er top con­ser­v­a­tive donors set­tled into the V.I.P. sec­tion of a Repub­li­can Par­ty vic­to­ry cel­e­bra­tion, hav­ing been assured that their invest­ments would pay off. Obama’s defeat of Mitt Rom­ney par­tic­u­lar­ly infu­ri­at­ed Rebekah Mer­cer, who con­clud­ed that the poll­sters, the data crunch­ers, and the spin doc­tors were all frauds. Soon after­ward, Repub­li­can Par­ty offi­cials invit­ed big donors to the Uni­ver­si­ty Club, in New York, for a post­mortem on the elec­tion. Atten­dees were stunned when Rebekah Mer­cer “ripped the shit out of them,” a friend of hers told me, adding, “It was real­ly her com­ing out.” As the Finan­cial Times has report­ed, from that point on Mer­cer want­ed to know exact­ly how her dona­tions were being spent, and want­ed to invest only in what anoth­er friend described as “things that she thinks put lead on the tar­get.”

    That year, Rebekah Mer­cer joined the board of the Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Insti­tute, a non­prof­it group, based in Tal­la­has­see, which Ban­non had recent­ly found­ed. In 2013, the Mer­cer Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion con­tributed a mil­lion dol­lars to the insti­tute, and in 2014 it con­tributed anoth­er mil­lion. In 2015, it donat­ed $1.7 mil­lion, which exceed­ed the group’s entire bud­get the pre­vi­ous year. The G.A.I., mean­while, paid Ban­non three hun­dred and sev­en­ty-six thou­sand dol­lars dur­ing its first four years; it told the I.R.S. that Ban­non was work­ing for it thir­ty hours a week, osten­si­bly on top of his full-time job run­ning Bre­it­bart News.

    The G.A.I. billed itself as a non­par­ti­san research insti­tute, but in 2015 Ban­non told Bloomberg Busi­ness­week that its mis­sion was to dig up dirt on politi­cians and feed it to the main­stream media. (A G.A.I. staffer called this “weaponiz­ing” infor­ma­tion.) The group report­ed­ly hired an expert to comb the Deep Web—sites that don’t show up in stan­dard searches—for incrim­i­nat­ing infor­ma­tion about its tar­gets. The plan was to exploit the main­stream media’s grow­ing inabil­i­ty to finance inves­tiga­tive report­ing by doing it for them. The strat­e­gy paid off spec­tac­u­lar­ly in April, 2015, when the Times ran a front-page arti­cle based on the book “Clin­ton Cash,” a com­pendi­um of cor­rup­tion alle­ga­tions against the Clin­tons, which was writ­ten by the G.A.I.’s pres­i­dent, the con­ser­v­a­tive writer Peter Schweiz­er. (The G.A.I. had giv­en the paper an advance copy.) The book trig­gered one sto­ry after anoth­er about Hillary Clinton’s sup­posed crim­i­nal­i­ty, and became a best-sell­er. In 2016, a film ver­sion, co-pro­duced by Ban­non and Rebekah Mer­cer, débuted at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, as the Mer­cers’ yacht bobbed off­shore.

    The G.A.I. also under­mined Jeb Bush, the can­di­date favored by the Repub­li­can estab­lish­ment, with anoth­er Schweiz­er book, “Bush Bucks.” As Ban­non put it in a 2015 inter­view, it depict­ed Bush as a fig­ure of “grimy, low-ener­gy crony cap­i­tal­ism.”

    Dur­ing this peri­od, the Mer­cers con­tin­ued giv­ing mon­ey to elec­tion cam­paigns. In 2014, Robert Mer­cer made a two-and-a-half-mil­lion-dol­lar con­tri­bu­tion to the Kochs’ Free­dom Part­ners Action Fund. This exceed­ed the two-mil­lion-dol­lar con­tri­bu­tions of David and Charles Koch, prompt­ing a mem­o­rable head­line about Mer­cer from Bloomberg News: “The Man Who Out-koched the Kochs.”

    Rebekah Mer­cer, mean­while, was grow­ing impa­tient with the Kochs. She felt that they need­ed to inves­ti­gate why their net­work had failed to defeat Oba­ma in 2012. Instead, the Kochs gath­ered donors and pre­sent­ed them with more emp­ty rhetoric. Mer­cer demand­ed an account­ing of what had gone wrong, and when they ignored her she decid­ed to start her own oper­a­tion. In a fur­ther blow, Mer­cer soured sev­er­al oth­er top donors on the Kochs.

    In 2012, one area in which the Repub­li­cans had lagged bad­ly behind the Democ­rats was in the use of dig­i­tal ana­lyt­ics. The Mer­cers decid­ed to finance their own big-data project. In 2014, Michal Kosin­s­ki, a researcher in the psy­chol­o­gy depart­ment at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge, was work­ing in the emerg­ing field of psy­cho­met­rics, the quan­ti­ta­tive study of human char­ac­ter­is­tics. He learned from a col­league that a British com­pa­ny, Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Lab­o­ra­to­ries, want­ed to hire aca­d­e­mics to pur­sue sim­i­lar research, for com­mer­cial pur­pos­es. Kosin­s­ki had cir­cu­lat­ed per­son­al­i­ty tests on Face­book and, in the process, obtained huge amounts of infor­ma­tion about users. From this data, algo­rithms could be fash­ioned that would pre­dict people’s behav­ior and antic­i­pate their reac­tions to oth­er online prompts. Those who took the Face­book quizzes, how­ev­er, had been promised that the infor­ma­tion would be used strict­ly for aca­d­e­m­ic pur­pos­es. Kosin­s­ki felt that repur­pos­ing it for com­mer­cial use was uneth­i­cal, and pos­si­bly ille­gal. His con­cerns deep­ened when he researched S.C.L. He was dis­turbed to learn that the com­pa­ny spe­cial­ized in psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare, and in influ­enc­ing elec­tions. He spurned the chance to work with S.C.L., although his col­league signed a con­tract with the com­pa­ny.

    Kosin­s­ki was fur­ther dis­con­cert­ed when he learned that a new Amer­i­can affil­i­ate of S.C.L., Cam­bridge Analytica—owned prin­ci­pal­ly by an Amer­i­can hedge-fund tycoon named Robert Mercer—was attempt­ing to influ­ence elec­tions in the U.S. Kosin­s­ki, who is now an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of orga­ni­za­tion­al behav­ior at Stanford’s busi­ness school, sup­ports the idea of using psy­cho­me­t­ric data to “nudge” peo­ple toward social­ly pos­i­tive behav­ior, such as vot­ing. But, he told me, “there’s a thin line between con­vinc­ing peo­ple and manip­u­lat­ing them.”

    It is unclear if the Mer­cers have pushed Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca to cross that line. A com­pa­ny spokesman declined to com­ment for this sto­ry. What is clear is that Mer­cer, hav­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ized the use of data on Wall Street, was eager to accom­plish the same feat in the polit­i­cal realm. He screened many data-min­ing com­pa­nies before invest­ing, and he chose Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, in part, because its high con­cen­tra­tion of accom­plished sci­en­tists remind­ed him of Renais­sance Tech­nolo­gies. Rebekah Mer­cer, too, has been deeply involved in the ven­ture. Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca shares a cor­po­rate address in Man­hat­tan with a group she chairs, Reclaim New York, which oppos­es gov­ern­ment spend­ing. (Ban­non has report­ed­ly served as a cor­po­rate offi­cer for both Reclaim and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca.)

    Polit­i­cal sci­en­tists and con­sul­tants con­tin­ue to debate Cam­bridge Analytica’s record in the 2016 cam­paign. David Karpf, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty who stud­ies the polit­i­cal use of data, calls the firm’s claim to have spe­cial psy­cho­me­t­ric pow­ers “a mar­ket­ing pitch” that’s “untrue.” Karpf wor­ries, though, that the com­pa­ny “could take a very dark turn.” He explained, “What they could do is set up a MoveOn-style oper­a­tion with a Tea Par­ty-ish list that they could whip up. Typ­i­cal­ly, lists like that are used to pres­sure elect­ed offi­cials, but the dan­ger­ous thing would be if it was used instead to pres­sure fel­low-cit­i­zens. It could encour­age vig­i­lan­tism.” Karpf said of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, “There is a max­i­mal­ist sce­nario in which we should be ter­ri­fied to have a tool like this in pri­vate hands.”

    Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca is not the only data-dri­ven polit­i­cal project that the Mer­cers have backed. In 2013, at a con­ser­v­a­tive con­fer­ence in Palm Beach, an oil tycoon named William Lee Han­ley, who had com­mis­sioned some polls from Patrick Cad­dell, asked him to show the data to Mer­cer and Ban­non, who were at the event. The data showed mount­ing anger toward wealthy élites, who many Amer­i­cans believed had cor­rupt­ed the gov­ern­ment so that it served only their inter­ests. There was a hunger for a pop­ulist Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who would run against the major polit­i­cal par­ties and the rul­ing class. The data “showed that some­one could just walk into this elec­tion and sweep it,” Cad­dell told me. When Mer­cer saw the num­bers, he asked for the polling to be repeat­ed. Cad­dell got the same results. “It was stun­ning,” he said. “The coun­try was on the verge of an upris­ing against its lead­ers. I just fell over!”

    Until Elec­tion Day in 2016, Mer­cer and Hanley—two of the rich­est men in America—paid Cad­dell to keep col­lect­ing polling data that enabled them to exploit the public’s resent­ment of élites such as them­selves. Caddell’s orig­i­nal goal was to per­suade his spon­sors to back an inde­pen­dent can­di­date, but they nev­er did. In 2014, Cad­dell and two part­ners went pub­lic with what they called the Can­di­date Smith project, which pro­mot­ed data sug­gest­ing that the pub­lic want­ed a “Mr. Smith Goes to Wash­ing­ton” figure—an outsider—as Pres­i­dent. Dur­ing the next year or so, Caddell’s poll num­bers tilt­ed more and more away from the estab­lish­ment. Caddell’s part­ner Bob Perkins, an adver­tis­ing exec­u­tive and a for­mer finance direc­tor of the Repub­li­can Par­ty, told me, “By then, it was clear there wouldn’t be a third-par­ty can­di­date. But we thought that a Repub­li­can who har­nessed the angst had a real chance.” At one point, Cad­dell test­ed all the declared Pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, includ­ing Trump, as a pos­si­ble Mr. Smith. “Peo­ple didn’t think Trump had the tem­pera­ment to be Pres­i­dent,” Cad­dell said. “He clear­ly wasn’t the best Smith, but he was the only Smith. He was the only one with the resources and the name recog­ni­tion.” As Bernie Sanders’s cam­paign showed, the pop­ulist rebel­lion wasn’t par­ti­san. Cad­dell wor­ried, though, that there were dark under­tones in the num­bers: Amer­i­cans were increas­ing­ly yearn­ing for a “strong man” to fix the coun­try.

    Cad­dell cir­cu­lat­ed his research to any­one who would lis­ten, and that includ­ed peo­ple inside the Trump cam­paign. “Pat Cad­dell is like an Old Tes­ta­ment prophet,” Ban­non said. “He’s been talk­ing about alien­ation of the vot­ers for twen­ty-five years, and peo­ple didn’t pay attention—but he’s a bril­liant guy, and he nailed it.” The polit­i­cal con­sul­tant and strate­gist Roger Stone, who is a long­time Trump con­fi­dant, was fas­ci­nat­ed by the research, and he for­ward­ed a memo about it to Trump. Cad­dell said that he spoke with Trump about “some of the data,” but not­ed, “With Trump, it’s all instinct—he is not exact­ly a deep-dive thinker.”

    Robert Mer­cer, too, was kept informed. Perkins said, “He just loves the num­bers. Most peo­ple say, ‘Tell me what you think—don’t show me the num­bers.’ But he’s, like, ‘Give me the num­bers!’ ”

    ...

    Bren­dan Fis­ch­er, a lawyer at the Cam­paign Legal Cen­ter, said that the Mer­cers’ finan­cial entan­gle­ment with the Trump cam­paign was “bizarre” and poten­tial­ly “ille­gal.” The group has filed a com­plaint with the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, which notes that, at the end of the 2016 cam­paign, the super PAC run by the Mer­cers paid Glit­ter­ing Steel—a film-pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny that shares an address in Los Ange­les with Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and Bre­it­bart News—two hun­dred and eighty thou­sand dol­lars, sup­pos­ed­ly for cam­paign ads attack­ing Hillary Clin­ton. Although Ban­non was run­ning Trump’s cam­paign, Fis­ch­er said that it appears to have paid him noth­ing. Mean­while, the Mer­cers’ super PAC made a pay­ment of about five mil­lion dol­lars to Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, which was incor­po­rat­ed at the same address as Ban­non Strate­gic Advi­sors. Super PACs are legal­ly required to stay inde­pen­dent of a candidate’s cam­paign. But, Fis­ch­er said, “it rais­es the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the Mer­cers sub­si­diz­ing Steve Bannon’s work for the Trump cam­paign.”

    On Decem­ber 3rd, the Mer­cer fam­i­ly host­ed a vic­to­ry cel­e­bra­tion at Owl’s Nest—a cos­tume par­ty with a heroes-and-vil­lains theme. Rebekah Mer­cer wel­comed sev­er­al hun­dred guests, includ­ing Don­ald Trump. In extem­po­ra­ne­ous remarks, Trump thanked the Mer­cers, say­ing that they had been “instru­men­tal in bring­ing some orga­ni­za­tion” to his cam­paign. He specif­i­cal­ly named Ban­non, Con­way, and Bossie. Trump then joked that he’d just had the longest con­ver­sa­tion of his life with Bob Mercer—and it was just “two words.” A guest at the par­ty told me, “I was look­ing around the room, and I thought, No doubt about it—the peo­ple whom the Mer­cers invest­ed in, my com­rades, are now in charge.”

    After the elec­tion, Rebekah Mer­cer was reward­ed with a seat on Trump’s tran­si­tion team. “She basi­cal­ly bought her­self a seat,” Fis­ch­er said. She had strong feel­ings about who should be nom­i­nat­ed to Cab­i­net posi­tions and oth­er top gov­ern­ment jobs. Not all her ideas were embraced. She unsuc­cess­ful­ly pushed for John Bolton, the hawk­ish for­mer Ambas­sador to the Unit­ed Nations, to be named Sec­re­tary of State. So far, her sug­ges­tion that Arthur Robin­son, the Ore­gon bio­chemist, be named the nation­al sci­ence advis­er has gone nowhere. Like her father, she advo­cates a return to the gold stan­dard, but as of yet she has failed to get Trump to appoint offi­cials who share this view.

    Still, Mer­cer made her influ­ence felt. Her pick for nation­al-secu­ri­ty advis­er was Michael Fly­nn, and Trump chose him for the job. (Fly­nn last­ed only a month, after he lied about hav­ing spo­ken with the Russ­ian Ambas­sador before tak­ing office.) More impor­tant, sev­er­al peo­ple to whom Mer­cer is very close—including Ban­non and Conway—have become some of the most pow­er­ful fig­ures in the world.

    Rebekah’s father, mean­while, can no longer be con­sid­ered a polit­i­cal out­sider. David Mager­man, in his essay for the Inquir­er, notes that Mer­cer “has sur­round­ed our Pres­i­dent with his peo­ple, and his peo­ple have an out­sized influ­ence over the run­ning of our coun­try, sim­ply because Robert Mer­cer paid for their seats.” He writes, “Every­one has a right to express their views.” But, he adds, “when the gov­ern­ment becomes more like a cor­po­ra­tion, with the rich­est 0.001% buy­ing shares and demand­ing board seats, then we cease to be a rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­ra­cy.” Instead, he warns, “we become an oli­garchy.”

    “Mager­man told the Wall Street Jour­nal that Mercer’s polit­i­cal opin­ions “show con­tempt for the social safe­ty net that he doesn’t need, but many Amer­i­cans do.” He also said that Mer­cer wants the U.S. gov­ern­ment to be “shrunk down to the size of a pin­head.” Sev­er­al for­mer col­leagues of Mercer’s said that his views are akin to Objec­tivism, the phi­los­o­phy of Ayn Rand. Mager­man told me, “Bob believes that human beings have no inher­ent val­ue oth­er than how much mon­ey they make. A cat has val­ue, he’s said, because it pro­vides plea­sure to humans. But if some­one is on wel­fare they have neg­a­tive val­ue. If he earns a thou­sand times more than a school­teacher, then he’s a thou­sand times more valu­able.” Mager­man added, “He thinks soci­ety is upside down—that gov­ern­ment helps the weak peo­ple get strong, and makes the strong peo­ple weak by tak­ing their mon­ey away, through tax­es.” He said that this mind-set was typ­i­cal of “instant bil­lion­aires” in finance, who “have no stake in soci­ety,” unlike the indus­tri­al­ists of the past, who “built real things.””

    As we can see, the main bil­lion­aires behind Ban­non and Trump are basi­cal­ly sociopaths. Real­ly, real­ly rich sociopaths. And they’re bankrolling the media/psyop empire that man­aged to sell Don­ald Trump as a cham­pi­on of the lit­tle guy:

    ...
    Until Elec­tion Day in 2016, Mer­cer and Hanley—two of the rich­est men in America—paid Cad­dell to keep col­lect­ing polling data that enabled them to exploit the public’s resent­ment of élites such as them­selves. Caddell’s orig­i­nal goal was to per­suade his spon­sors to back an inde­pen­dent can­di­date, but they nev­er did. In 2014, Cad­dell and two part­ners went pub­lic with what they called the Can­di­date Smith project, which pro­mot­ed data sug­gest­ing that the pub­lic want­ed a “Mr. Smith Goes to Wash­ing­ton” figure—an outsider—as Pres­i­dent. Dur­ing the next year or so, Caddell’s poll num­bers tilt­ed more and more away from the estab­lish­ment. Caddell’s part­ner Bob Perkins, an adver­tis­ing exec­u­tive and a for­mer finance direc­tor of the Repub­li­can Par­ty, told me, “By then, it was clear there wouldn’t be a third-par­ty can­di­date. But we thought that a Repub­li­can who har­nessed the angst had a real chance.” At one point, Cad­dell test­ed all the declared Pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, includ­ing Trump, as a pos­si­ble Mr. Smith. “Peo­ple didn’t think Trump had the tem­pera­ment to be Pres­i­dent,” Cad­dell said. “He clear­ly wasn’t the best Smith, but he was the only Smith. He was the only one with the resources and the name recog­ni­tion.” As Bernie Sanders’s cam­paign showed, the pop­ulist rebel­lion wasn’t par­ti­san. Cad­dell wor­ried, though, that there were dark under­tones in the num­bers: Amer­i­cans were increas­ing­ly yearn­ing for a “strong man” to fix the coun­try.
    ...

    And after pulling off their “Mr. Trump/Smith goes to Wash­ing­ton” scam, the Mer­cer clan is one of the most pow­er­ful fam­i­lies on the plan­et and free to push their pro-“starve the weak”, pro-cli­mate change, pro-“you’re on your own” Objec­tivist phi­los­o­phy from inside the Oval Office. It’s all pret­ty cyn­i­cal. Cyn­i­cal­ly sui­ci­dal, col­lec­tive­ly speak­ing. Although since the Mer­cers are pay­ing Art Robin­son to devel­op longevi­ty-tech­nol­o­gy and they’ve invest­ed in the largest pri­vate machine gun cache in the US, they’re pre­sum­ably assum­ing they won’t be caught up the night­mare they’re try­ing to unleash. Which is, again, pret­ty cyn­i­cal.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 28, 2017, 7:16 pm
  5. Now that the #TrumpRus­sia inves­ti­ga­tion has start­ed to focus on the use of social media plat­forms like Face­book and Twit­ter as part of some sort of alleged Kremiln-direct­ed pro-Trump mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign we’re get­ting a flood of sto­ries breath­less­ly cov­er­ing what is pur­port­ed to a mas­sive, full-spec­trum Krem­lin oper­a­tion that involved every­thing from micro-tar­get­ing vot­ers with inflam­ma­to­ry ads in key swing-states to actu­al­ly try­ing to hire real life US activists and arrange for live events. And yet, as is the case with so much of the #TrumpRus­sia inves­ti­ga­tion, when you look past the head­lines and con­sen­sus nar­ra­tives and exam­ine the actu­al details that are report­ed a very dif­fer­ent pic­ture emerges.

    For exam­ple, there have been a num­ber of reports about the recent rev­e­la­tion that ~3000 Face­book ads pur­chased through the Inter­net Research Agency, the noto­ri­ous St. Peters­burg-based ‘troll farm for hire’ that’s been report­ed on for years. About $100,000 was report­ed­ly spent on these ads. If that seems like a lot of mon­ey, keep in mind that the Trump cam­paign alone report­ed­ly spent $90 mil­lion on dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing and over half of that went to Face­book. So by US pres­i­den­tial cam­paign stan­dards $100,000 is a minis­cule amount.

    That said, a big part of the inter­est in those ads has been the pos­si­bil­i­ty that they were micro-tar­get­ing indi­vid­u­als in a sophis­ti­cat­ed man­ner that effec­tive­ly gave the $100,000 ad cam­paign more bang for the buck. And by “ad”, in this case we are talk­ing about a spe­cif­ic pur­chase on Face­book to show a par­tic­u­lar ad to a select­ed audi­ence based on that audi­ence’s inter­ests. And as we saw with the recent reports about Face­book offer­ing adver­tis­ing cat­e­gories that include “Jew haters” and Nazi par­ties, it’s shock­ing­ly easy to micro-tar­get peo­ple on Face­book. For just about any cat­e­go­ry. So it’s not incon­ceiv­able that great deal of of these $100,000 in ad pur­chas­es were employ­ing some sort of micro-tar­get­ing because that’s basi­cal­ly what Face­book is: a social media plat­form that col­lects infor­ma­tion on its users for the pur­pose of micro-tar­get­ing.

    So how many peo­ple did these 3,000 Face­book ads pur­chased for $100,000 actu­al­ly reach? Accord­ing to Face­book, half the ads cost $3 each, with 99% cost­ing less than $1,000. And in total about 10,000,000 peo­ple in the US saw the ads. And yes, 10,000,000 peo­ple is quite a few peo­ple. But don’t for­get, if these 10,000,000 peo­ple saw one of more of these 3,000 ‘Krem­lin’ ads, they almost assured­ly saw A LOT more ads from the myr­i­ad of oth­er enti­ties that simul­ta­ne­ous­ly adver­tis­ing on Face­book.

    In oth­er words, giv­en how low-impact a $100,000 adver­tis­ing cam­paign would be in the con­text of a US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion it’s kind of hard to imag­ine that this $100,000 was actu­al­ly spent for the pur­pose of mak­ing a mean­ing­ful impact on the elec­tion unless those ads were all tar­get­ing rough­ly the same group of peo­ple dur­ing the entire ad cam­paign. $100,000 spent on Face­book ads exclu­sive­ly tar­get­ing poten­tial swing-vot­ers in Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin, for instance, would have been a poten­tial­ly impact­ful adver­tis­ing cam­paign. But based on the fol­low­ing arti­cle it does­n’t look like that was remote­ly how this ad cam­paign was done. Espe­cial­ly since over half of those ads “impres­sions” (instances when the ads were shown) took place after the 2016 elec­tion:

    24/7 Wall St.

    Half of Face­book Russ­ian Ads Cost Less Than $3 Each

    Dou­glas A. McIn­tyre
    Octo­ber 3, 2017

    Face­book Inc. (FB) has dis­closed more about Russ­ian ads that ran at its site and were like­ly meant to affect the last elec­tion. As it passed the infor­ma­tion to Con­gress, among the com­ments it made is that many of the ads were bought for less than $3.

    Accord­ing to a mes­sage from Face­book:

    An esti­mat­ed 10 mil­lion peo­ple in the US saw the ads. We were able to approx­i­mate the num­ber of unique peo­ple (“reach”) who saw at least one of these ads, with our best mod­el­ing 44% of total ad impres­sions (num­ber of times ads were dis­played) were before the US elec­tion on Novem­ber 8, 2016; 56% were after the elec­tion.

    Rough­ly 25% of the ads were nev­er shown to any­one. That’s because adver­tis­ing auc­tions are designed so that ads reach peo­ple based on rel­e­vance, and cer­tain ads may not reach any­one as a result.

    For 50% of the ads, less than $3 was spent; for 99% of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent.

    ...

    What the infor­ma­tion does show is how inex­pen­sive it can be for a per­son who is both clever and pre­sum­ably famil­iar with the Face­book ad sys­tem to tar­get groups in a man­ner meant to change their opin­ions or actions. An attempt to chang­ing votes is among a much longer list of fake news and fake claims that can be post­ed on Face­book at a cost well below what most peo­ple would expect. It opens Face­book up to abus­es that almost any­one can afford.

    For those who want to stop fake claims from reach­ing peo­ple on the inter­net, the hur­dle is very high. Face­book is only one of scores of places inac­cu­rate infor­ma­tion can be dis­trib­uted, although it is the largest. Among all large social media sites, the num­ber of peo­ple who can be tar­get­ed ris­es to the hun­dreds of mil­lions. Fake news, deliv­ered via the inter­net, is here to stay because in a sea of oth­er ads it is almost impos­si­ble to detect, and it can be very cheap as well.

    ———-

    “Half of Face­book Russ­ian Ads Cost Less Than $3 Each” by Dou­glas A. McIn­tyre; 24/7 Wall St.; 10/03/2017

    “For 50% of the ads, less than $3 was spent; for 99% of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent.”

    As we can see, tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing on Face­book is cheap enough that just about any­one can afford it:

    ...
    What the infor­ma­tion does show is how inex­pen­sive it can be for a per­son who is both clever and pre­sum­ably famil­iar with the Face­book ad sys­tem to tar­get groups in a man­ner meant to change their opin­ions or actions. An attempt to chang­ing votes is among a much longer list of fake news and fake claims that can be post­ed on Face­book at a cost well below what most peo­ple would expect. It opens Face­book up to abus­es that almost any­one can afford.
    ...

    And as we also saw, who­ev­er was pur­chas­ing these ads that Face­book is attribut­ing to the Inter­net Research Agency bought most of those ads after the elec­tion was over:

    ...
    An esti­mat­ed 10 mil­lion peo­ple in the US saw the ads. We were able to approx­i­mate the num­ber of unique peo­ple (“reach”) who saw at least one of these ads, with our best mod­el­ing 44% of total ad impres­sions (num­ber of times ads were dis­played) were before the US elec­tion on Novem­ber 8, 2016; 56% were after the elec­tion.

    Rough­ly 25% of the ads were nev­er shown to any­one. That’s because adver­tis­ing auc­tions are designed so that ads reach peo­ple based on rel­e­vance, and cer­tain ads may not reach any­one as a result.
    ...

    So what was the actu­al con­tent of these 3,000 Face­book ads? Well, as the fol­low­ing arti­cle notes, these ads large­ly focus­ing on con­tro­ver­sial and polar­iz­ing top­ics top­ics across the polit­i­cal spec­trum — anti-Mus­lim ads for some vot­ers, pro-Black Lives Mat­ter ads for oth­ers — and ran in key swing-states that flipped to Trump (Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin, and Pennsy­va­nia). The arti­cle frames this as clear evi­dence of some sort of Krem­lin attempt to divide and con­quer the Unit­ed States and notes how inves­ti­ga­tors are look­ing into whether or not the Trump team was pass­ing infor­ma­tion to the Krem­lin about which vot­ers to tar­get.

    But as the arti­cle also notes, a large num­ber of these ads were run in areas that weren’t heav­i­ly con­test­ed at all and only about a quar­ter of the ads were geo­graph­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed (i.e. try­ing to influ­ence vot­ers in a par­tic­u­lar state). And of that 25 per­cent that were geo­graph­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed, most ran in 2015.
    And when were the tar­get­ed ads for key states like Wis­con­sin and Michi­gan run rel­a­tive to the elec­tion in Novem­ber? Well, we don’t know at this point since Face­book has­n’t released that infor­ma­tion.

    At this point, all we know about those 3,000 Face­book ads is that most of the 25 per­cent of the ads that were geo­graph­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed ran in 2015, and most of the ads over­all ran after the elec­tion. So if the Krem­lin real­ly was run­ning a sophis­ti­cat­ed tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing cam­paign intend­ed to flip the elec­tion for Trump it must have been an extreme­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed cam­paign because it looks like a com­plete­ly ran­dom mess of a cam­paign to the naked eye and run­ning an ad cam­paign that looks like a ran­dom mess, but is actu­al­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed, is obvi­ous­ly very sophis­ti­cat­ed. Of course, it might also have just been a ran­dom mess:

    CNN

    Exclu­sive: Russ­ian-linked Face­book ads tar­get­ed Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin

    By Manu Raju, Dylan Byers and Dana Bash, CNN

    Updat­ed 6:57 AM ET, Wed Octo­ber 4, 2017

    (CNN)A num­ber of Russ­ian-linked Face­book ads specif­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin, two states cru­cial to Don­ald Trump’s vic­to­ry last Novem­ber, accord­ing to four sources with direct knowl­edge of the sit­u­a­tion.

    Some of the Russ­ian ads appeared high­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed in their tar­get­ing of key demo­graph­ic groups in areas of the states that turned out to be piv­otal, two of the sources said. The ads employed a series of divi­sive mes­sages aimed at break­ing through the clut­ter of cam­paign ads online, includ­ing pro­mot­ing anti-Mus­lim mes­sages, sources said.

    It has been unclear until now exact­ly which regions of the coun­try were tar­get­ed by the ads. And while one source said that a large num­ber of ads appeared in areas of the coun­try that were not heav­i­ly con­test­ed in the elec­tions, some clear­ly were geared at sway­ing pub­lic opin­ion in the most heav­i­ly con­test­ed bat­tle­grounds.

    Michi­gan saw the clos­est pres­i­den­tial con­test in the coun­try — Trump beat Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee Hillary Clin­ton by about 10,700 votes out of near­ly 4.8 mil­lion bal­lots cast. Wis­con­sin was also one of the tight­est states, and Trump won there by only about 22,700 votes. Both states, which Trump car­ried by less than 1%, were key to his vic­to­ry in the Elec­toral Col­lege.

    The sources did not spec­i­fy when in 2016 the ads ran in Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin.

    As part of their inves­ti­ga­tions, both spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller and con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tees are seek­ing to deter­mine whether the Rus­sians received any help from Trump asso­ciates in where to tar­get the ads.

    White House offi­cials could not be reached for com­ment on this sto­ry. The Pres­i­dent and senior White House offi­cials have long insist­ed there was nev­er any col­lu­sion with Rus­sia, with Trump con­tend­ing the mat­ter is a “hoax.”

    The focus on Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin also adds more evi­dence that the Russ­ian group tied to the effort was employ­ing a wide range of tac­tics poten­tial­ly aimed at inter­fer­ing in the elec­tion.

    Face­book pre­vi­ous­ly has acknowl­edged that about one quar­ter of the 3,000 Russ­ian-bought ads were tar­get­ed to spe­cif­ic geo­graph­ic loca­tions, with­out detail­ing the loca­tions. The com­pa­ny said of the ads that were geo­graph­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed “more ran in 2015 than 2016.” In all, Face­book esti­mates the entire Russ­ian effort was seen by 10 mil­lion peo­ple.

    Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Demo­c­rat on the House Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, told CNN the pan­el was still assess­ing the full geo­graph­i­cal break­down of the Russ­ian ads and whether there was any assis­tance from indi­vid­u­als asso­ci­at­ed with the Trump cam­paign.

    “Obvi­ous­ly, we’re look­ing at any of the tar­get­ing of the ads, as well as any tar­get­ing of efforts to push out the fake or false news or neg­a­tive accounts against Hillary Clin­ton, to see whether they demon­strate a sophis­ti­ca­tion that would be incom­pat­i­ble with not hav­ing access to data ana­lyt­ics from the cam­paign,” Schiff said Tues­day evening. “At this point, we still don’t know.”

    One per­son with direct knowl­edge of the mat­ter said that some of the ads were aimed at reach­ing vot­ers who may be sus­cep­ti­ble to anti-Mus­lim mes­sages, even sug­gest­ing that Mus­lims were a threat to the Amer­i­can way of life. Such mes­sag­ing could pre­sum­ably appeal to vot­ers attract­ed to Trump’s hard-line stance against immi­gra­tion and calls to ban Mus­lims from enter­ing the Unit­ed States.

    Schiff said that the com­mit­tee was plan­ning to inves­ti­gate ads that sug­gest­ed Mus­lims sup­port­ed Clin­ton, and how those were geared to peo­ple who had been search­ing online for the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood and oth­er items to sug­gest they were crit­i­cal of Islam.

    The ads were part of rough­ly 3,000 that Face­book turned over to con­gres­sion­al inves­ti­ga­tors this week as part of the mul­ti­ple Capi­tol Hill inquiries into Rus­sia med­dling in the 2016 elec­tions.

    CNN report­ed last that at least one of the Face­book ads bought by Rus­sians dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign ref­er­enced Black Lives Mat­ter and was specif­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed to reach audi­ences in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri and Bal­ti­more, accord­ing to sources with knowl­edge of the ads.

    Law­mak­ers have only start­ed to assess the scope of the data, and sources from both par­ties said the 3,000 ads touched on a range of polar­iz­ing top­ics, includ­ing the Sec­ond Amend­ment and civ­il rights issues. The ads were aimed at sup­press­ing the votes and sow­ing dis­con­tent among the elec­torate, the sources said.

    Mem­bers from both par­ties said that there was a clear sophis­ti­ca­tion in the Russ­ian ad cam­paign, and they said they were only just begin­ning to learn the full extent of the social media efforts.

    ...

    ———-

    “Exclu­sive: Russ­ian-linked Face­book ads tar­get­ed Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin” by Manu Raju, Dylan Byers and Dana Bash; CNN; 10/04/2017

    “Mem­bers from both par­ties said that there was a clear sophis­ti­ca­tion in the Russ­ian ad cam­paign, and they said they were only just begin­ning to learn the full extent of the social media efforts.”

    Mem­bers of both par­ties said “there was a clear sophis­ti­ca­tion in the Russ­ian ad cam­paign.” And that “sophis­ti­ca­tion” demon­strat­ed by the fact that ad cam­paign was using divi­sive issues “aimed at break­ing through the clut­ter of cam­paign ads online”, accord­ing to two of the sources for the arti­cle. It’s the kind of obser­va­tion that rais­es the ques­tion as to whether or not these sources have ever seen ads on the inter­net:

    ...
    Some of the Russ­ian ads appeared high­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed in their tar­get­ing of key demo­graph­ic groups in areas of the states that turned out to be piv­otal, two of the sources said. The ads employed a series of divi­sive mes­sages aimed at break­ing through the clut­ter of cam­paign ads online, includ­ing pro­mot­ing anti-Mus­lim mes­sages, sources said.

    It has been unclear until now exact­ly which regions of the coun­try were tar­get­ed by the ads. And while one source said that a large num­ber of ads appeared in areas of the coun­try that were not heav­i­ly con­test­ed in the elec­tions, some clear­ly were geared at sway­ing pub­lic opin­ion in the most heav­i­ly con­test­ed bat­tle­grounds.

    Michi­gan saw the clos­est pres­i­den­tial con­test in the coun­try — Trump beat Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee Hillary Clin­ton by about 10,700 votes out of near­ly 4.8 mil­lion bal­lots cast. Wis­con­sin was also one of the tight­est states, and Trump won there by only about 22,700 votes. Both states, which Trump car­ried by less than 1%, were key to his vic­to­ry in the Elec­toral Col­lege.
    ...

    And when it comes to key swing states like Wis­con­sin and Michi­gan we don’t get to know when those geo­graph­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed ads actu­al­ly ran. Was it in 2015? Ear­ly 2016? Right before the Novem­ber elec­tion? We don’t get to know. But we’re assured that this was all part of a super sophis­ti­cat­ed ad cam­paign that could have only been exe­cut­ed by peo­ple with advanced knowl­edge of the US elec­torate:

    ...
    The sources did not spec­i­fy when in 2016 the ads ran in Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin.

    ...

    The focus on Michi­gan and Wis­con­sin also adds more evi­dence that the Russ­ian group tied to the effort was employ­ing a wide range of tac­tics poten­tial­ly aimed at inter­fer­ing in the elec­tion.

    Face­book pre­vi­ous­ly has acknowl­edged that about one quar­ter of the 3,000 Russ­ian-bought ads were tar­get­ed to spe­cif­ic geo­graph­ic loca­tions, with­out detail­ing the loca­tions. The com­pa­ny said of the ads that were geo­graph­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed “more ran in 2015 than 2016.” In all, Face­book esti­mates the entire Russ­ian effort was seen by 10 mil­lion peo­ple.
    ...

    It’s going to be real­ly inter­est­ing to even­tu­al­ly learn all the var­i­ous loca­tions these geo­graph­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed ads. Because guess what: if you geo­graph­i­cal­ly tar­get lots of dif­fer­ent loca­tions, odds are you’re going to include some polit­i­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant loca­tions. That’s just basic prob­a­bil­i­ty.

    Now, the fact that so many of these ads only cost $3 does sug­gest that these cheap ads might have been micro-tar­get­ed ads. Or maybe not. Face­book’s ad sys­tem has dif­fer­ent options for get­ting billed. Options include get­ting charged only when some­one clicks on your ad (cost-per-click), or get­ting charged when Face­book shows your ad 1000 times (cost-per-mile). Oth­er options include cost-per-like (get­ting charged when peo­ple “like” your page) or cost-per-action (where some­one clicks on the ad, goes to your page, and does some­thing). But the price you pay for each of these options still varies quite a bit based on oth­er fac­tors because Face­book’s prices work on a bid­ding sys­tem and the tar­get audi­ence you select will deter­mine who you’re com­pet­ing with in that bid­ding. The more com­pe­ti­tion there is to adver­tise for your select­ed audi­ence the more its going to cost. And if you choose to tar­get par­tic­u­lar loca­tions (like a city), that’s poten­tial­ly going to costs rel­a­tive­ly more too vs no loca­tion tar­get­ing if a lot or oth­er adver­tis­ers are tar­get­ing that loca­tion too.

    So we real­ly need to know a lot about more about the par­tic­u­lars of these Russ­ian troll farm ads (what audi­ences were tar­get­ed, where, and when) to get a sense of whether or not those these ad buys rep­re­sent­ed a sophis­ti­cat­ed attempt to sub­tly tip the elec­tion by tar­get­ing key demo­graph­ic in key states or if these ad buys were sim­ply small-scale test run exper­i­ments done in order to see what res­onat­ed with audi­ences. Lot’s a small ad buys might rep­re­sent sophis­ti­cat­ed micro-tar­get­ing but it might just be stan­dard Face­book ad cam­paign method­ol­o­gy of try­ing out lots of lit­tle ads in order to refine an ad cam­paign. It’s a big rea­son why it’s absurd to pre­sume micro-tar­get­ing on Face­book is a sign of sophis­ti­ca­tion with­out more infor­ma­tion. Face­book is designed to facil­i­tate cheap, micro-tar­get­ed ads that any doo­fus to set up, enabling lots of small tests of dif­fer­ent ads to see what works.

    And if we do ever get to see the details on these ad pur­chas­es and it turns out that there’s no par­tic­u­lar strate­gic method­ol­o­gy appar­ent in the data that would point to the oth­er obvi­ous sce­nario we haven’t con­sid­ered yet: that this entire oper­a­tion run out of the Inter­net Research Agency was pri­mar­i­ly a for-prof­it click­bait oper­a­tion run on behalf of some­one who want­ed to make a bunch of adver­tis­ing mon­ey by get­ting traf­fic to their Face­book pages by using polar­iz­ing ads. A dia­bol­i­cal scheme oth­er­wise known as the basic inter­net busi­ness mod­el.

    It’s also pos­si­ble that some of the ads real­ly were part of a rel­a­tive­ly small and inef­fec­tive Krem­lin influ­ence cam­paign, and some were just for-prof­it click­bait. At this point we have no where near enough infor­ma­tion to make that call.

    But what we do know is that the Inter­net Research Agency has cor­po­rate clients. It’s not sim­ply a troll-farm run by a Putin-con­nect­ed oli­garch. It’s also a for-prof­it troll-for-hire oper­a­tion. How do we know this? Well, while the bulk of the report­ing on the Inter­net Research over the years has focused on their osten­si­ble work for the Krem­lin, Adrien Chen, a reporter to who wrote about the Inter­net Research Agency back in 2015, recent­ly tweet­ed this about the busi­ness:

    The inter­net research agency, from what I could tell, had com­mer­cial clients as well as gov­ern­ment ones. So do most big PR firms in Rus­sia.— Adri­an Chen (@AdrianChen) Sep­tem­ber 6, 2017

    Yep, the Inter­net Research Agency has com­mer­cial clients. Pri­vate clients who want to hire its ser­vices for what­ev­er rea­son. Per­haps to influ­ence peo­ple or per­haps to just dri­ve traf­fic to their sites to make mon­ey which, again, is the basic inter­net busi­ness mod­el. At this point we don’t have enough infor­ma­tion to deter­mine who actu­al­ly hired the Inter­net Research Agency to run these ads and whether or not it was sim­ply a for-prof­it oper­a­tion or some­thing else.

    So when we hear about how this Russ­ian troll farm was push­ing these con­tro­ver­sial and polar­iz­ing top­ics using edgy ads that ‘break through the clut­ter’ and grab peo­ple’s atten­tion, don’t for­get that using ads on con­tro­ver­sial and polar­iz­ing top­ics is a great way to make mon­ey on the inter­net and this isn’t a secret:

    Moon of Alaba­ma

    The “Russ­ian Ads” On Face­book Are Just Anoth­er Click-Bait Scheme

    Post­ed by b on Octo­ber 3, 2017 at 02:09 PM

    The “Russ­ian Ads” On Face­book Are Just Anoth­er Click-Bait Scheme

    Con­gress is inves­ti­gat­ing 3,000 “sus­pi­cious” ads which were run on Face­book. They were claimed to have been bought by “Rus­sia” to influ­ence the U.S.presidential elec­tion in favor of Trump.

    With more details now known we can con­clude that these Face­book ads had noth­ing to do with the elec­tion. The mini-ads were bought to pro­mote click-bait pages and sites. These pages and sites were cre­at­ed and pro­mot­ed to sell fur­ther adver­tise­ment. The media though, has still not under­stood the issue.

    On Sep­tem­ber 6 the NYT assert­ed:

    Pro­vid­ing new evi­dence of Russ­ian inter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion, Face­book dis­closed on Wednes­day that it had iden­ti­fied more than $100,000 worth of divi­sive ads on hot-but­ton issues pur­chased by a shad­owy Russ­ian com­pa­ny linked to the Krem­lin.
    ...
    The dis­clo­sure adds to the evi­dence of the broad scope of the Russ­ian influ­ence cam­paign, which Amer­i­can intel­li­gence agen­cies con­clud­ed was designed to dam­age Hillary Clin­ton and boost Don­ald J. Trump dur­ing the elec­tion.

    Like any Con­gress inves­ti­ga­tion the cur­rent one con­cerned with Face­book ads is leak­ing like a sieve. What oozes out makes lit­tle sense. If “Rus­sia” aimed to make Con­gress and U.S. media a laugh­ing stock it has sure­ly achieved that.

    Today the NYT says that the ads were bought by “the Rus­sians” “in dis­guise” to pro­mote var­i­ous­ly themed Face­book pages:

    There was “Defend the 2nd,” a Face­book page for gun-rights sup­port­ers, fes­tooned with firearms and tough rhetoric. There was a rain­bow-hued page for gay rights activists, “LGBT Unit­ed.” There was even a Face­book group for ani­mal lovers with memes of adorable pup­pies that spread across the site with the help of paid ads.

    No one has explained how these pages are con­nect­ed to a Russ­ian “influ­ence” cam­paign. It is unex­plained how these are con­nect­ed to the 2016 elec­tion. Both is sim­ply assert­ed because Face­book said, for unknown rea­sons, that these ads may have come from some Russ­ian agency. How Face­book has deter­mined that is not known.

    With each new detail from the “Russ­ian ads” inves­ti­ga­tion the frame­work of “elec­tion manip­u­la­tion” falls fur­ther apart:

    Late Mon­day, Face­book said in a post that about 10 mil­lion peo­ple had seen the ads in ques­tion. About 44 per­cent of the ads were seen before the 2016 elec­tion and the rest after, the com­pa­ny said.

    The orig­i­nal claim was that “Rus­sia” intend­ed to influ­ence the elec­tion in favor of Trump. But why then was the major­i­ty of the ads in ques­tions run after Novem­ber 9? And how would an ani­mal-lovers page with adorable pup­pies help to achieve Trump’s elec­tion vic­to­ry?

    More details via the Wall Street Jour­nal:

    Rough­ly 25% of the ads were nev­er shown to any­one. That’s because adver­tis­ing auc­tions are designed so that ads reach peo­ple based on rel­e­vance, and cer­tain ads may not reach any­one as a result.
    ...
    For 50% of the ads, less than $3 was spent; for 99% of the ads, less than $1,000 was spent.

    Of the 3,000 ads Face­book orig­i­nal­ly claimed were “Russ­ian” only 2,200 were ever viewed. Most of the adver­tise­ments were mini-ads which, for the price of a cof­fee, pro­mot­ed pri­vate pages relat­ed to hob­bies and a wide spec­trum of con­tro­ver­sial issues. The major­i­ty of the ads ran after the elec­tion.

    All that “adds to the evi­dence of the broad scope of the Russ­ian influ­ence cam­paign”? “...designed to dam­age Hillary Clin­ton and boost Don­ald J. Trump dur­ing the elec­tion”?

    No.

    But the NYT still finds “experts” who believe in the “Russ­ian influ­ence” non­sense and find the most stu­pid expla­na­tions for their claims:

    Clin­ton Watts, a for­mer F.B.I. agent now at the For­eign Pol­i­cy Research Insti­tute in Philadel­phia, said Rus­sia had been entre­pre­neur­ial in try­ing to devel­op diverse chan­nels of influ­ence. Some, like the dogs page, may have been cre­at­ed with­out a spe­cif­ic goal and held in reserve for future use.

    Pup­py pic­tures for “future use”?

    Non­sense.

    Luna­cy!

    The pages described and the ads lead­ing to them are typ­i­cal click-bait, not part of a polit­i­cal influ­ence op.

    The for-prof­it scheme runs as fol­lows:

    One builds pages with “hot” stuff that hope­ful­ly attracts lots of view­ers. One cre­ates ad-space on these pages and fills it with Google ads. One attracts view­ers and pro­motes the spiked pages by buy­ing $3 Face­book mini-ads for them. The mini-ads are tar­get­ed at the most sus­cep­ti­ble groups.

    A few thou­sand users will come and look at such pages. Some will ‘like’ the pup­py pic­tures or the rant for or against LGBT and fur­ther spread them. Some will click the Google ads. Mon­ey then flows into the pock­ets of the page cre­ator. One can rinse and repeat this scheme for­ev­er. Each such page is a small effort for a small rev­enue. But the scheme is high­ly scaleable and parts of it can be autom­a­tized.

    This is, in essence, the same busi­ness mod­el tra­di­tion­al media pub­lish­ers use. They cre­ate “news” and con­tro­ver­sies to attract read­ers. The atten­tion of the read­ers is then sold to adver­tis­ers. The busi­ness is no longer lim­it­ed to a few rich oli­garchs. One no longer needs reporters or a print­ing press to join it. Any­one can now run a sim­i­lar busi­ness.

    We learned after the elec­tion that some youths in Mace­do­nia cre­at­ed whole “news”-websites filled with high­ly attrac­tive but fake par­ti­san sto­ries. They were not inter­est­ed in the verac­i­ty or polit­i­cal direc­tion of their con­tent. Their only inter­est was to attract view­ers. They made thou­sands of dol­lars by sell­ing adver­tise­ments on their sites:

    The teen said his month­ly rev­enue was in the four fig­ures, a con­sid­er­able sum in a coun­try where the aver­age month­ly pay is 360 euros ($383). As he nav­i­gat­ed his site’s sta­tis­tics, he dropped nuggets of jour­nal­ism advice.

    “You have to write what peo­ple want to see, not what you want to show,” he said, scrolling through The Polit­i­cal Insider’s sto­ries as a large ban­ner read “ARREST HILLARY NOW.”

    The 3,000 Face­book ads Con­gress is inves­ti­gat­ing are part of a sim­i­lar scheme. The mini-ads pro­mot­ed pages with hot but­ton issues and click-bait pup­py pic­tures. These pages were them­selves cre­at­ed to gen­er­ate ad-clicks and rev­enue. Face­book claims that “Rus­sia” is behind them. We will like­ly find some Russ­ian teens who sim­ply repeat­ed the scheme their Mace­don­ian friends were run­ning on.

    ...

    The mys­tery of “Russ­ian” $3 ads for “adorable pup­pies” pages on Face­book has been solved, Con­gress and the New York Times will have to move on. There next sub­ject is prob­a­bly the “Russ­ian influ­ence cam­paign” on Youtube.

    ...

    ———-

    “The “Russ­ian Ads” On Face­book Are Just Anoth­er Click-Bait Scheme” by b; Moon of Alaba­ma; 10/03/2017

    “The pages described and the ads lead­ing to them are typ­i­cal click-bait, not part of a polit­i­cal influ­ence op.”

    Yeah, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this entire Russ­ian Face­book oper­a­tion sure looks a lot like a click­bait cam­paign. Although we’d have to know more about whether or not there was a for-prof­it angle to the ads and fake Face­book pages set up by this troll farm. Were they direct­ing peo­ple to sites filled with ads? It’s a pret­ty impor­tant ques­tion at this point and we don’t have an answer for it yet but the fact that a major­i­ty of these ads were pur­chased after the elec­tion cer­tain­ly rais­es ques­tions about the whole ‘Krem­lin influ­ence cam­paign’ nar­ra­tive:

    ...
    The pages described and the ads lead­ing to them are typ­i­cal click-bait, not part of a polit­i­cal influ­ence op.

    The for-prof­it scheme runs as fol­lows:

    One builds pages with “hot” stuff that hope­ful­ly attracts lots of view­ers. One cre­ates ad-space on these pages and fills it with Google ads. One attracts view­ers and pro­motes the spiked pages by buy­ing $3 Face­book mini-ads for them. The mini-ads are tar­get­ed at the most sus­cep­ti­ble groups.

    A few thou­sand users will come and look at such pages. Some will ‘like’ the pup­py pic­tures or the rant for or against LGBT and fur­ther spread them. Some will click the Google ads. Mon­ey then flows into the pock­ets of the page cre­ator. One can rinse and repeat this scheme for­ev­er. Each such page is a small effort for a small rev­enue. But the scheme is high­ly scaleable and parts of it can be autom­a­tized.

    This is, in essence, the same busi­ness mod­el tra­di­tion­al media pub­lish­ers use. They cre­ate “news” and con­tro­ver­sies to attract read­ers. The atten­tion of the read­ers is then sold to adver­tis­ers. The busi­ness is no longer lim­it­ed to a few rich oli­garchs. One no longer needs reporters or a print­ing press to join it. Any­one can now run a sim­i­lar busi­ness.
    ...

    So can well just dis­miss all of these polar­iz­ing ads as a click­bait cam­paign that includ­ed pup­pies and rain­bows too and was just inter­est­ed in prof­its and noth­ing else? Well, we still clear­ly need more infor­ma­tion.

    And we got more infor­ma­tion, at least regard­ing the Inter­net Research Agen­cy’s oper­a­tion tar­get­ing African Amer­i­cans on hot-but­ton issues. Because it turns out that there were a num­ber of real-life out­reach efforts to black activists in the US that appear to involve the peo­ple from the Inter­net Research Agency cre­at­ing fake black activist groups and reach out to, and financ­ing, Amer­i­cans black activist. This was dis­cov­ered as part of a recent inves­tiga­tive report from RBC, a Russ­ian news out­let, that includ­ed inter­views with the actu­al employ­ees of the Inter­net Research Agency car­ry­ing out these cam­paigns in the US.

    Accord­ing to the RBC report, start­ing in 2015 the Inter­net Research Agency basi­cal­ly start­ed an exper­i­men­tal cam­paign to see if they could use social media test a hypoth­e­sis: can you remote­ly orga­nize mea­sures in Amer­i­can cities. “Sim­ply a test of pos­si­bil­i­ties, an exper­i­ment,” as one employ­ee put it. And it worked. They actu­al­ly arranged for meet up events in places in the US where there were pub­licly avail­able cam­eras that you could watch on the inter­net so they could see if peo­ple actu­al­ly showed up. And they did.

    So how much was spent on these real-world influ­ence cam­paign? $5,000 per month dur­ing the peri­od RBC cov­ered and $80,000 in total, which includ­ed in some cas­es pay­ing these local orga­niz­ers — who did­n’t real­ize they were in con­tact with an Inter­net Research Agency front — for flights, print­ing costs, and tech­ni­cal equip­ment.

    This report is wide­ly being inter­pret­ed as a val­i­da­tion that the Krem­lin intent on foment­ing civic unrest in the US via Face­book. And who knows, per­haps it real­ly was just that. It would be rather shock­ing if gov­ern­ments around the world aren’t doing exper­i­ments like that. But, of course, there’s the oth­er obvi­ous pos­si­bil­i­ty that’s rarely con­sid­ered: if you’re a troll farm, and you’re busi­ness is inter­net influ­ence cam­paign, you’re going to want to even­tu­al­ly run an exper­i­ment on doing exact­ly what they did. Because why not? From a pure­ly busi­ness per­spec­tive it’s an amaz­ing­ly use­ful ser­vice for a troll farm to offer.

    And as was the case with the Face­book ads, we still have no idea a whether or not these real-world-influ­ence ser­vices are done at the behest of the Krem­lin or some oth­er com­mer­cial client. For instance, could the GOP qui­et­ly hire the Inter­net Research Agency to foment protests in the African Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty? These are pret­ty crit­i­cal ques­tions to get answers to and at this point we don’t have remote­ly enough infor­ma­tion to know:

    Talk­ing Points Memo
    Muck­rak­er

    Russ­ian Trolls Used ‘Up To 100’ Activists To Orga­nize Events In US, Report Finds

    By Sam Thiel­man
    Pub­lished Octo­ber 17, 2017 4:01 pm

    Alan Yuhas con­tributed Eng­lish-lan­guage trans­la­tion

    As many as 100 unwit­ting activists were recruit­ed to help orga­nize events in the Unit­ed States both before and after the elec­tion by the same St. Peters­burg-based Russ­ian troll farm behind scores of fake social media accounts that pur­chased ads to sow dis­cord dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign.

    The rev­e­la­tion comes from a report in the Russ­ian busi­ness mag­a­zine RBC pub­lished on Tues­day morn­ing.

    The events includ­ed an Octo­ber 2016 ral­ly in Char­lotte, North Car­oli­na to protest police vio­lence mere weeks after a pro­test­er was fatal­ly shot at a Black Lives Mat­ter protest there. The orga­niz­ers of the Octo­ber protest were not with BLM, though, accord­ing to RBC’s report. They were with Black­Mat­ter­sUS, the orga­ni­za­tion out­ed as a Russ­ian front last week by Casey Michel at ThinkProgress.

    The Char­lotte ral­ly was one of ten Black­Mat­ter­sUS events cat­a­logued by RBC jour­nal­ists Poli­na Rusyae­va and Andrey Zakharov. The two reporters inter­viewed numer­ous for­mer employ­ees at the Fed­er­al News Agency (FAN), the troll farm for­mer­ly known as the Inter­net Research Agency, and reviewed chats on encrypt­ed mes­sag­ing app Telegram from senior per­son­nel.

    The report also found that from Jan­u­ary-May 2017, the troll farm con­tact­ed mar­tial arts instruc­tors through a pup­pet group called Black­Fist. In places as dis­parate as New York City, Los Ange­les, Lans­ing, Michi­gan and Tam­pa, Flori­da, Black­Fist offered to pay the instruc­tors to pro­vide free self-defense course for “any­one who want­ed them.” Those instruc­tors told RBC that they had indeed received spon­sor­ship for free class­es, although it was abrupt­ly with­drawn.

    ...

    A source famil­iar with the troll farm’s activ­i­ties told RBC that it spent about $80,000 total—just $20,000 less than Face­book said was spent pro­mot­ing divi­sive ads on its platform—on “pay­ing for these local orga­niz­ers’ work (flights, print­ing costs, tech­ni­cal equip­ment),” accord­ing to a trans­la­tion of the report com­mis­sioned by TPM.

    RBC found that the troll farm was car­ry­ing out dry runs for polit­i­cal protests in the U.S. as ear­ly as 2015. That spring, the orga­ni­za­tion used pub­licly acces­si­ble web­cams in Times Square to see if peo­ple would fol­low instruc­tions on Face­book to show up at a des­ig­nat­ed place and time for a free hot dog. They did, and didn’t even get a promised hot dog for their trou­ble.

    FAN con­sid­ered that show of hun­gry Face­book users a huge suc­cess, accord­ing to the trans­la­tion of RBC’s report:

    The action was meant to test the effec­tive­ness of a hypoth­e­sis: can you remote­ly orga­nize mea­sures in Amer­i­can cities. “Sim­ply a test of pos­si­bil­i­ties, an exper­i­ment. And it suc­ceed­ed,” remem­bered one of the “fac­to­ry” work­ers, not con­ceal­ing their plea­sure. From this day for­ward, almost a year and a half before the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, began the full work of the “trolls” in Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties.

    In March 2015, on the web por­tal Super­Job, there appeared vacan­cies for “inter­net oper­a­tors (night),” with a salary of 40–50 thou­sand rou­bles and a work sched­ule of 21pm to 9am, in the office on Pri­morsky dis­trict; job duties includ­ed writ­ing mate­ri­als “on des­ig­nat­ed themes” and “news infor­ma­tion and analy­sis.” On the list of require­ments for the posi­tion, “nat­ur­al Eng­lish,” “con­fi­dent own­er­ship” of writ­ten lan­guage, and cre­ativ­i­ty.

    Russ­ian reporter Alex­ey Kovalev told TPM last month that a troll he took to task for prais­ing Putin in the com­ments of one of his arti­cles made him a sim­i­lar offer for work.

    The RBC report also iden­ti­fied the head of FAN’s Amer­i­can divi­sion, Jay­hoon (also spelled Dzheikhun) Aslanov, 27, who stud­ied abroad in the U.S. in 2009 and grad­u­at­ed with a degree in eco­nom­ics from Russ­ian State Hydrom­e­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Uni­ver­si­ty in 2012. Three sources con­firmed Aslanov’s role at the troll farm to RBC, includ­ing one who showed the reporters mes­sages from Aslanov on Telegram; Aslanov him­self denied it to the news out­let.

    FAN’s Amer­i­can unit spent $2.3 mil­lion between June 2015 and August 2017 and employed 90 peo­ple at its peak, accord­ing to the report; it is still active and today employs 50 peo­ple. Dur­ing the peri­od RBC stud­ied, the troll farm’s bud­get for pro­mo­tion on social media was $5,000 a month, ful­ly half of which was devot­ed to “posts touch­ing on race issues.”

    But Trump him­self fac­tored into that mate­r­i­al far less than his oppo­nent, Hillary Clin­ton, RBC found. From the trans­lat­ed report:

    A RBC analy­sis of hun­dreds of posts showed that Clin­ton fig­ured in troll posts far more fre­quent­ly than Trump.
    “Share if you believe that Mus­lims did not do 9/11,” (Unit­ed Mus­lims of Amer­i­ca, 11 Sep­tem­ber 2016), “Clin­ton insists ‘We have not lost a sin­gle Amer­i­can in Libya’ Four coffins, cov­ered in flags, were not emp­ty, Hillary.” (Being Patri­ot­ic, in a post about Clinton’s rela­tion to the tragedy, from 8 Sep­tem­ber 2016). In a state­ment, Face­book said that for the most part the blocked ads “range across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum,” touch­ing on issues like LGBT rights, race, immi­grants and firearms.

    RBC’s inves­ti­ga­tion uncov­ered more than 100 com­mu­ni­ty pages and asso­ci­at­ed accounts on Face­book, Insta­gram, Twit­ter, and oth­er plat­forms active through August 2017 that it believes were run by the troll farm. It con­firmed those accounts’ authen­tic­i­ty using screen­shots of posts and by con­sult­ing “a source close to the factory’s lead­er­ship.” The report esti­mates about 70 mil­lion peo­ple a week saw some­thing post­ed by those accounts.

    Zakharov told TPM that he believes there are accounts run by FAN with a total fol­low­ing around 1 mil­lion that remain active to this day.

    ———-

    “Russ­ian Trolls Used ‘Up To 100’ Activists To Orga­nize Events In US, Report Finds” by Sam Thiel­man; Talk­ing Points Memo; 10/17/2017

    RBC found that the troll farm was car­ry­ing out dry runs for polit­i­cal protests in the U.S. as ear­ly as 2015. That spring, the orga­ni­za­tion used pub­licly acces­si­ble web­cams in Times Square to see if peo­ple would fol­low instruc­tions on Face­book to show up at a des­ig­nat­ed place and time for a free hot dog. They did, and didn’t even get a promised hot dog for their trou­ble.”

    A dry run exper­i­ment for remote­ly trig­ger­ing polit­i­cal protests in the US. That, accord­ing to this RBC report, is what this par­tic­u­lar cam­paign was all about. And African Amer­i­cans were clear­ly a pri­ma­ry tar­get in this exper­i­ment.

    And like the 3,000 Face­book ads, this exper­i­ment con­tin­ued after the elec­tion:

    ...
    The events includ­ed an Octo­ber 2016 ral­ly in Char­lotte, North Car­oli­na to protest police vio­lence mere weeks after a pro­test­er was fatal­ly shot at a Black Lives Mat­ter protest there. The orga­niz­ers of the Octo­ber protest were not with BLM, though, accord­ing to RBC’s report. They were with Black­Mat­ter­sUS, the orga­ni­za­tion out­ed as a Russ­ian front last week by Casey Michel at ThinkProgress.

    The Char­lotte ral­ly was one of ten Black­Mat­ter­sUS events cat­a­logued by RBC jour­nal­ists Poli­na Rusyae­va and Andrey Zakharov. The two reporters inter­viewed numer­ous for­mer employ­ees at the Fed­er­al News Agency (FAN), the troll farm for­mer­ly known as the Inter­net Research Agency, and reviewed chats on encrypt­ed mes­sag­ing app Telegram from senior per­son­nel.

    The report also found that from Jan­u­ary-May 2017, the troll farm con­tact­ed mar­tial arts instruc­tors through a pup­pet group called Black­Fist. In places as dis­parate as New York City, Los Ange­les, Lans­ing, Michi­gan and Tam­pa, Flori­da, Black­Fist offered to pay the instruc­tors to pro­vide free self-defense course for “any­one who want­ed them.” Those instruc­tors told RBC that they had indeed received spon­sor­ship for free class­es, although it was abrupt­ly with­drawn.
    ...

    “The report also found that from Jan­u­ary-May 2017, the troll farm con­tact­ed mar­tial arts instruc­tors through a pup­pet group called Black­Fist. In places as dis­parate as New York City, Los Ange­les, Lans­ing, Michi­gan and Tam­pa, Flori­da, Black­Fist offered to pay the instruc­tors to pro­vide free self-defense course for “any­one who want­ed them.” Those instruc­tors told RBC that they had indeed received spon­sor­ship for free class­es, although it was abrupt­ly with­drawn.”

    So in the first months of the Trump pres­i­den­cy the Inter­net Research Agency (now named the Fed­er­al News Agency) used a front group called “Black­Fist” to pay mar­tial arts instruc­tors to offer free self-defense cours­es. And this the same troll farm that was tar­get­ing African Amer­i­cans with all sorts polar­iz­ing (and often anti-Hillary) ads start­ing in 2015. Ok, yeah, it cer­tain­ly appears that the Inter­net Research Agency real­ly was con­duct­ing an big exper­i­ment on see­ing how it can use social media to influ­ence Amer­i­cans.

    But, again, this is what troll farms do and this is also what gov­ern­ments do! Does that mean it’s OK if the Krem­lin real­ly was con­duct­ing influ­ence oper­a­tions over Face­book and front groups? As with many things gov­ern­ments rou­tine­ly do, no, it’s not OK. It’s creepy. And per­haps it even sig­nals an intent to do this on a far greater scale in the future. It would almost be sur­pris­ing of that was­n’t the case, just as it would be sur­pris­ing if gov­ern­ments around the world aren’t doing exact­ly the same thing. Face­book and the oth­er major social media plat­forms are designed to allow any­one to anony­mous­ly influ­ence its bil­lions of users. Of course a Russ­ian troll farm is going to be doing this stuff. How many oth­er gov­ern­ments have front groups inter­fac­ing with US activist groups? We don’t know because we don’t look. Don’t for­get, if the cur­rent #TrumpRus­sia fix­a­tion nev­er hap­pened we almost cer­tain­ly would have nev­er heard about this.

    So it’s going to be inter­est­ing to see what more we can learn about these Russ­ian troll farm oper­a­tions, espe­cial­ly since they appear to be ongo­ing and pre­sum­ably get­ting bet­ter at it. But as opposed to being some sort of dia­bol­i­cal new Krem­lin plot to destroy Amer­i­ca, it looks like we’re look­ing at the same old dia­bol­i­cal plot to get bet­ter at influ­enc­ing the pub­lic that for­eign and domes­tic groups and gov­ern­ments have been prac­tic­ing for­ev­er. Should we be aware of this grow­ing Russ­ian troll farm capa­bil­i­ty? Absolute­ly. But it would have been fool­ish in the extreme to assume they weren’t already tak­ing place, just as it would be fool­ish in the extreme to assume that there aren’t all sorts of oth­er gov­ern­ments and pri­vate enti­ties around the globe doing exact­ly the same thing.

    And that’s per­haps the biggest rev­e­la­tion of this entire affair: the Inter­net Research Agency appar­ent­ly wait­ed until 2015 to exper­i­ment with using Face­book to fool Amer­i­cans into doing their bid­ding. 2015! The scan­dal here is how long they wait­ed to do this and it’s more of a cor­po­rate neg­li­gence scan­dal than any­thing else.

    And when you con­sid­er how much of the inter­net at this point is essen­tial­ly trolling, how much of that trolling is non-Russ­ian in ori­gin (yes, Amer­i­can troll farms exist too), and how much cheap­er Russ­ian trolls must be than Amer­i­can trolls (cost of labor is going to be one of the pri­ma­ry costs), it’s going to be par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing to see whether or not we end up see­ing troll farm out­sourc­ing tak­ing place in com­ing years. Remem­ber those reports about Fox News effec­tive­ly run­ning its own troll farm? And how about the stud­ies show­ing the Tea Par­ty emerged from a decade of astro-turf­ing work­ing by Big Tobac­co and the Koch broth­ers? Well, how many of those oper­a­tions could be effec­tive­ly, and cheap­ly, out­sourced to places like Rus­sia? We’ll find out! Via lots and lots of future trolling.

    Who knows, per­haps that could be part of Trump’s 2020 bid: stop­ping the out­flow of Amer­i­can trolling jobs. Make Amer­i­can Trolling Great Again.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 21, 2017, 3:33 pm
  6. Imag­ine that: Face­book’s year-old fact-check­ing oper­a­tion — where Face­book users ‘alert’ Face­book to pos­si­bly fake news and then ABC News, AP, FactCheck.org, Poli­ti­fact and Snopes help Face­book deter­mine if it’s real­ly fake news — just added its first open­ly par­ti­san news orga­ni­za­tion to the fact-check­ing oper­a­tion. It’s unfor­tu­nate­ly more of a ‘news’ orga­ni­za­tion. The Week­ly Stan­dard is join­ing the Face­book fact-check­ing team:

    The Guardian

    Con­ser­v­a­tive Week­ly Stan­dard to aid in Face­book fact-checks, prompt­ing out­cry

    Mag­a­zine dubbed ‘ser­i­al mis­in­former’ becomes first explic­it­ly par­ti­san orga­ni­za­tion to aid in task, fuel­ing con­cerns over rightwing influ­ence at site

    Sam Levin in San Fran­cis­co
    Wednes­day 6 Decem­ber 2017 16.07 EST
    Last mod­i­fied on Wednes­day 6 Decem­ber 2017 16.39 EST

    A con­ser­v­a­tive news orga­ni­za­tion has been approved to part­ner with Face­book to fact-check false news, draw­ing crit­i­cisms that the social media com­pa­ny is cav­ing to rightwing pres­sures and col­lab­o­rat­ing with a pub­li­ca­tion that has pre­vi­ous­ly spread pro­pa­gan­da.

    The Week­ly Stan­dard, a con­ser­v­a­tive opin­ion mag­a­zine, said it is join­ing a fact-check­ing ini­tia­tive that Face­book launched last year aimed at debunk­ing fake news on the site with the help of out­side jour­nal­ists. The Week­ly Stan­dard will be the first right-lean­ing news orga­ni­za­tion and explic­it­ly par­ti­san group to do fact-checks for Face­book, prompt­ing back­lash from pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions, who have argued that the mag­a­zine has a his­to­ry of pub­lish­ing ques­tion­able con­tent.

    ...

    Some of the third-par­ty media part­ners – which include reporters from the Asso­ci­at­ed Press and ABC News, and jour­nal­ists from the fact-check­ing orga­ni­za­tions Snopes, Poli­ti­Fact and FactCheck.org – have alleged that the project is large­ly fail­ing to have an impact. Face­book has repeat­ed­ly refused to release mean­ing­ful data on the suc­cess of the jour­nal­ists’ debunk­ing efforts and has insist­ed that it is a plat­form and not a media pub­lish­er or “arbiter of truth”.

    Alex­ios Mantzarlis, direc­tor of the Inter­na­tion­al Fact-Check­ing Net­work (IFCN) at Poyn­ter, which ver­i­fies Facebook’s third-par­ty fact-check­ers, said it approved the Week­ly Stan­dard because the pub­li­ca­tion agreed to the IFCN code of prin­ci­ples. The mag­a­zine also has a fact-check­ing oper­a­tion that is not asso­ci­at­ed with polit­i­cal par­ties or advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tions and has com­mit­ted not to write opin­ion pieces, he said.
    Adver­tise­ment

    The con­ser­v­a­tive pun­dits Bill Kris­tol, Fred Barnes and John Pod­horetz launched the Week­ly Stan­dard in 1995, with sup­port from the media mogul Rupert Mur­doch, aimed at coun­ter­ing suc­cess­ful lib­er­al pub­li­ca­tions, such as the Nation. Dur­ing last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the mag­a­zine was aligned with the #Nev­erTrump move­ment and has recent­ly sought to expand its fact-check­ing efforts.

    Though the Week­ly Stan­dard is dis­tinct from far-right pub­li­ca­tions like Bre­it­bart that are known for pub­lish­ing pro­pa­gan­da and mis­in­for­ma­tion, some have ques­tioned whether it was an appro­pri­ate part­ner for Face­book giv­en its ide­o­log­i­cal bent.

    “I’m real­ly dis­heart­ened and dis­turbed by this,” said Ange­lo Caru­sone, pres­i­dent of Media Mat­ters for Amer­i­ca, a pro­gres­sive watch­dog group that pub­lished numer­ous crit­i­cisms of the Week­ly Stan­dard after the part­ner­ship was first rumored in Octo­ber. “They have described them­selves as an opin­ion mag­a­zine. They are sup­posed to be thought lead­ers.”

    Call­ing the mag­a­zine a “ser­i­al mis­in­former”, Media Mat­ters cit­ed the Week­ly Standard’s role in push­ing false and mis­lead­ing claims about Oba­macare, Hillary Clin­ton and oth­er polit­i­cal sto­ries.

    In recent years, the mag­a­zine also faced back­lash for giv­ing a plat­form to a con­trar­i­an cli­mate sci­en­tist and for send­ing an anti-gay mar­ket­ing email warn­ing of the “homo­sex­u­al lob­by” and its “per­vert­ed vision for a homo­sex­u­al Amer­i­ca”.

    Recent­ly, the Week­ly Stan­dard has also repeat­ed­ly attacked the fact-check­ers who are already work­ing with Face­book.

    Stephen Hayes, the Week­ly Standard’s edi­tor-in-chief, told the Guardian in an email that the pub­li­ca­tion had been “for­mal­ly” doing fact-check­ing for six months and had hired “an incred­i­bly sharp” fact-check­er, Holmes Lybrand. He added: “The work real­ly does speak for itself.”

    Hayes praised Face­book for work­ing with rightwing jour­nal­ists: “I think it’s a good move for [Face­book] to part­ner with con­ser­v­a­tive out­lets that do real report­ing and empha­size facts. Our fact-check­ing isn’t going to seek con­ser­v­a­tive facts because we don’t believe there are ‘con­ser­v­a­tive facts’. Facts are facts.”

    A Face­book spokesper­son declined to com­ment on the Week­ly Stan­dard, but told the Guardian: “We con­tin­ue to believe that objec­tive facts are objec­tive facts. The polit­i­cal prove­nance of a giv­en source is irrel­e­vant if their report­ing is fac­tu­al … At Face­book, pro­vid­ing access to authen­ti­cal­ly fact-checked con­tent is one of our top pri­or­i­ties and is just one of the tools we use to fight fake news.”

    Brooke Binkows­ki, man­ag­ing edi­tor of the Face­book fact-check­ing part­ner Snopes.com, said she didn’t have spe­cif­ic con­cerns about the Week­ly Stan­dard, but was wor­ried about the broad­er impli­ca­tions of Face­book choos­ing to rely on a par­ti­san con­ser­v­a­tive out­let.

    “If you’re going to be politi­ciz­ing facts, no good can come of that,” she said. “What they are say­ing is we con­sid­er you to be lib­er­al. It doesn’t give us a lot of cred­it for being trained, being trans­par­ent.”

    Last year, Face­book fired its team respon­si­ble for “trend­ing” top­ics after it was accused of being biased against con­ser­v­a­tives. With­out human mod­er­a­tors, the algo­rithms pro­mot­ed false sto­ries and offen­sive con­tent. The company’s CEO, Mark Zucker­berg, sub­se­quent­ly met with promi­nent rightwing lead­ers to address the back­lash.

    ———-

    “Con­ser­v­a­tive Week­ly Stan­dard to aid in Face­book fact-checks, prompt­ing out­cry” by Sam Levin; The Guardian; 12/06/2017

    “The Week­ly Stan­dard, a con­ser­v­a­tive opin­ion mag­a­zine, said it is join­ing a fact-check­ing ini­tia­tive that Face­book launched last year aimed at debunk­ing fake news on the site with the help of out­side jour­nal­ists. The Week­ly Stan­dard will be the first right-lean­ing news orga­ni­za­tion and explic­it­ly par­ti­san group to do fact-checks for Face­book, prompt­ing back­lash from pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions, who have argued that the mag­a­zine has a his­to­ry of pub­lish­ing ques­tion­able con­tent.”

    So Face­book decides to add its first explic­it­ly par­ti­san group to it’s new fact-check team and it’s is a right-wing opin­ion out­let set up by Rupert Mur­doch and Bill Kris­tol in 1995:

    ...
    The con­ser­v­a­tive pun­dits Bill Kris­tol, Fred Barnes and John Pod­horetz launched the Week­ly Stan­dard in 1995, with sup­port from the media mogul Rupert Mur­doch, aimed at coun­ter­ing suc­cess­ful lib­er­al pub­li­ca­tions, such as the Nation. Dur­ing last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, the mag­a­zine was aligned with the #Nev­erTrump move­ment and has recent­ly sought to expand its fact-check­ing efforts.
    ...

    And note that while the Week­ly Stan­dard isn’t quite Bri­et­bart and is large­ly in the #Nev­erTrump col­umn of the GOP, it’s still #Clas­sic­GOP, which is why the Week­ly Stan­dard­’s addi­tion to the Face­book fact-check­ing team is #Class­GOP­Bad­News:

    ...
    Though the Week­ly Stan­dard is dis­tinct from far-right pub­li­ca­tions like Bre­it­bart that are known for pub­lish­ing pro­pa­gan­da and mis­in­for­ma­tion, some have ques­tioned whether it was an appro­pri­ate part­ner for Face­book giv­en its ide­o­log­i­cal bent.

    “I’m real­ly dis­heart­ened and dis­turbed by this,” said Ange­lo Caru­sone, pres­i­dent of Media Mat­ters for Amer­i­ca, a pro­gres­sive watch­dog group that pub­lished numer­ous crit­i­cisms of the Week­ly Stan­dard after the part­ner­ship was first rumored in Octo­ber. “They have described them­selves as an opin­ion mag­a­zine. They are sup­posed to be thought lead­ers.”

    Call­ing the mag­a­zine a “ser­i­al mis­in­former”, Media Mat­ters cit­ed the Week­ly Standard’s role in push­ing false and mis­lead­ing claims about Oba­macare, Hillary Clin­ton and oth­er polit­i­cal sto­ries.

    In recent years, the mag­a­zine also faced back­lash for giv­ing a plat­form to a con­trar­i­an cli­mate sci­en­tist and for send­ing an anti-gay mar­ket­ing email warn­ing of the “homo­sex­u­al lob­by” and its “per­vert­ed vision for a homo­sex­u­al Amer­i­ca”.<

    Recent­ly, the Week­ly Stan­dard has also repeat­ed­ly attacked the fact-check­ers who are already work­ing with Face­book.
    ...

    “Recent­ly, the Week­ly Stan­dard has also repeat­ed­ly attacked the fact-check­ers who are already work­ing with Face­book.”

    Giv­en that the Week­ly Stan­dard was recent­ly tak­ing issue with the fact-check­er team it’s join­ing, it rais­es the ques­tion: is Face­book plan­ning on hav­ing dif­fer­ent fact-check­ing for self-iden­ti­fied con­ser­v­a­tives?

    It’s hard to answer because it’s not at all clear how the fact-check­ing pow­er is shared? Do they all review the same con­tent or divide the labor? Per­haps the Week­ly Stan­dard be tasked with specif­i­cal­ly fact-check­ing con­ser­v­a­tive con­tent? Or maybe specif­i­cal­ly left-wing con­tent? We’ll see! Or, rather, not see. What can be plain­ly seen is that alt-fact-check­ing is com­ing to Face­book in one form or anoth­er.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 6, 2017, 11:51 pm
  7. Chamath Pal­i­hapi­tiya, Face­book’s for­mer vice pres­i­dent for user growth before leav­ing the com­pa­ny, recent­ly shared some thought about Face­book. They were most­ly neg­a­tive thoughts. Very neg­a­tive thoughts:

    The Verge

    For­mer Face­book exec says social media is rip­ping apart soci­ety
    ‘No civ­il dis­course, no coop­er­a­tion; mis­in­for­ma­tion, mis­truth.’

    By James Vin­cent
    Dec 11, 2017, 6:07am EST

    Anoth­er for­mer Face­book exec­u­tive has spo­ken out about the harm the social net­work is doing to civ­il soci­ety around the world. Chamath Pal­i­hapi­tiya, who joined Face­book in 2007 and became its vice pres­i­dent for user growth, said he feels “tremen­dous guilt” about the com­pa­ny he helped make. “I think we have cre­at­ed tools that are rip­ping apart the social fab­ric of how soci­ety works,” he told an audi­ence at Stan­ford Grad­u­ate School of Busi­ness, before rec­om­mend­ing peo­ple take a “hard break” from social media.

    Palihapitiya’s crit­i­cisms were aimed not only at Face­book, but the wider online ecosys­tem. “The short-term, dopamine-dri­ven feed­back loops we’ve cre­at­ed are destroy­ing how soci­ety works,” he said, refer­ring to online inter­ac­tions dri­ven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civ­il dis­course, no coop­er­a­tion; mis­in­for­ma­tion, mis­truth. And it’s not an Amer­i­can prob­lem — this is not about Rus­sians ads. This is a glob­al prob­lem.”

    He went on to describe an inci­dent in India where hoax mes­sages about kid­nap­pings shared on What­sApp led to the lynch­ing of sev­en inno­cent peo­ple. “That’s what we’re deal­ing with,” said Pal­i­hapi­tiya. “And imag­ine tak­ing that to the extreme, where bad actors can now manip­u­late large swathes of peo­ple to do any­thing you want. It’s just a real­ly, real­ly bad state of affairs.” He says he tries to use Face­book as lit­tle as pos­si­ble, and that his chil­dren “aren’t allowed to use that sh it.” He lat­er adds, though, that he believes the com­pa­ny “over­whelm­ing­ly does good in the world.”

    Palihapitiya’s remarks fol­low sim­i­lar state­ments of con­tri­tion from oth­ers who helped build Face­book into the pow­er­ful cor­po­ra­tion it is today. In Novem­ber, ear­ly investor Sean Park­er said he has become a “con­sci­en­tious objec­tor” to social media, and that Face­book and oth­ers had suc­ceed­ed by “exploit­ing a vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty in human psy­chol­o­gy.” A for­mer prod­uct man­ag­er at the com­pa­ny, Anto­nio Gar­cia-Mar­tinez, has said Face­book lies about its abil­i­ty to influ­ence indi­vid­u­als based on the data it col­lects on them, and wrote a book, Chaos Mon­keys, about his work at the firm.

    These for­mer employ­ees have all spo­ken out at a time when wor­ry about Facebook’s pow­er is reach­ing fever pitch. In the past year, con­cerns about the company’s role in the US elec­tion and its capac­i­ty to ampli­fy fake news have grown, while oth­er reports have focused on how the social media site has been impli­cat­ed in atroc­i­ties like the “eth­nic cleans­ing” of Myanmar’s Rohingya eth­nic group.

    ...

    Pal­i­hapi­tiya also notes that although tech investors seem almighty, they’ve achieved their pow­er more through luck than skill. “Everybody’s bullsh itting,” he said. “If you’re in a seat, and you have good deal flow, and you have pre­cious cap­i­tal, and there’s a mas­sive tail­wind of tech­no­log­i­cal change ... Over time you get one of the 20 [com­pa­nies that become suc­cess­ful] and you look like a genius. And nobody wants to admit that but that’s the fuc king truth.”

    ———-

    “For­mer Face­book exec says social media is rip­ping apart soci­ety” by James Vin­cent; The Verge; 12/11/2017

    “Palihapitiya’s crit­i­cisms were aimed not only at Face­book, but the wider online ecosys­tem. “The short-term, dopamine-dri­ven feed­back loops we’ve cre­at­ed are destroy­ing how soci­ety works,” he said, refer­ring to online inter­ac­tions dri­ven by “hearts, likes, thumbs-up.” “No civ­il dis­course, no coop­er­a­tion; mis­in­for­ma­tion, mis­truth. And it’s not an Amer­i­can prob­lem — this is not about Rus­sians ads. This is a glob­al prob­lem.””

    As this for­mer Face­book exec­u­tive sees it, Face­book is a glob­al prob­lem. A glob­al prob­lem in the form of a social net­work­ing plat­form used glob­al­ly and used to dis­rupt civ­il dis­course and spread mis­in­for­ma­tion in a whole new way. And the pow­er to do this is poten­tial­ly acces­si­ble to any­one. And the more resources an indi­vid­ual or group has, the greater their abil­i­ty to weaponize some­thing like Face­book pre­sum­ably:

    ...
    He went on to describe an inci­dent in India where hoax mes­sages about kid­nap­pings shared on What­sApp led to the lynch­ing of sev­en inno­cent peo­ple. “That’s what we’re deal­ing with,” said Pal­i­hapi­tiya. “And imag­ine tak­ing that to the extreme, where bad actors can now manip­u­late large swathes of peo­ple to do any­thing you want. It’s just a real­ly, real­ly bad state of affairs.” He says he tries to use Face­book as lit­tle as pos­si­ble, and that his chil­dren “aren’t allowed to use that sh it.” He lat­er adds, though, that he believes the com­pa­ny “over­whelm­ing­ly does good in the world.”
    ...

    And this for­mer Face­book exec­u­tive is just the lat­est for­mer Face­book exec­u­tive to issue this kind of warn­ing:

    ...
    Palihapitiya’s remarks fol­low sim­i­lar state­ments of con­tri­tion from oth­ers who helped build Face­book into the pow­er­ful cor­po­ra­tion it is today. In Novem­ber, ear­ly investor Sean Park­er said he has become a “con­sci­en­tious objec­tor” to social media, and that Face­book and oth­ers had suc­ceed­ed by “exploit­ing a vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty in human psy­chol­o­gy.” A for­mer prod­uct man­ag­er at the com­pa­ny, Anto­nio Gar­cia-Mar­tinez, has said Face­book lies about its abil­i­ty to influ­ence indi­vid­u­als based on the data it col­lects on them, and wrote a book, Chaos Mon­keys, about his work at the firm.
    ...

    “A for­mer prod­uct man­ag­er at the com­pa­ny, Anto­nio Gar­cia-Mar­tinez, has said Face­book lies about its abil­i­ty to influ­ence indi­vid­u­als based on the data it col­lects on them, and wrote a book, Chaos Mon­keys, about his work at the firm.”

    Yep, accord­ing to anoth­er for­mer Face­book exec­u­tive, Face­book has been lying to the world about its own abil­i­ty to influ­ence indi­vid­u­als based on the data it col­lects on them. It’s a reminder that, as scary as it is to think about pow­er­ful, nefar­i­ous forces weaponiz­ing Face­book for their own ends, the scari­est poten­tial that exists is like­ly Face­book itself weaponiz­ing Face­book for nefar­i­ous ends sim­ply because Face­book is going to have much, much more infor­ma­tion on Face­book users avail­able to itself than a third-par­ty user.

    Giv­en that enor­mous poten­tial for abus­ing the pow­er of Face­book and the even more enor­mous poten­tial for Face­book itself to car­ry out abu­sive, manip­u­la­tive prac­tices, it rais­es an intrigu­ing ques­tion about the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial cam­paign that’s nev­er real­ly been asked or answered relat­ed to Face­book, micro-tar­get­ing, and the Trump cam­paign:

    We’ve had a num­ber of reports about Face­book work­ing close­ly with the Trump cam­paign through­out the elec­tion and capac­i­ty of the Trump cam­paign to “micro-tar­get” indi­vid­u­als with cus­tomized mes­sages (recall the “psy­cho­me­t­ric pro­files” Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca report­ed­ly built on hun­dreds of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans). But also recall the recent sto­ries about how Face­book allowed peo­ple to tar­get ads to cat­e­gories of Face­book users that include “Jew haters” and Nazi par­ty mem­bers and how the jour­nal­ists report­ing on this had to keep adding to cat­e­gories of extrem­ists because Face­book required a min­i­mum num­ber of tar­get users for an ad to be pur­chased. In oth­er words, it does­n’t appear that Face­book’s ad sys­tem actu­al­ly allows real micro-tar­get­ing (down to tar­get­ing an indi­vid­ual user).

    This rais­es the ques­tion: did Face­book actu­al­ly allow the Trump cam­paign to micro-tar­get Face­book users? It’s a pret­ty open ques­tion that does­n’t appear to have been asked or answered. And yet when you read the fol­low­ing inter­view of Brad Parscale, the dig­i­tal direc­tor for Trump’s cam­paign, we learn that Face­book embed­ded its own employ­ees into the Trump cam­paign in order to help the cam­paign ful­ly har­ness what Face­book. We also hear Parscale brag­ging about how the cam­paign would learn about what types of ads “you” are most to click on. And that sure sounds like the micro-tar­get­ing at the indi­vid­ual lev­el:

    CBS News

    Face­book “embeds,” Rus­sia and the Trump cam­paign’s secret weapon

    Brad Parscale, dig­i­tal direc­tor for Trump’s cam­paign, was a crit­i­cal fac­tor in the pres­i­den­t’s elec­tion. Now ques­tions sur­round how he did it

    Cor­re­spon­dent Les­ley Stahl
    2017 Oct 08

    Tonight, you’re going to hear from a 41-year-old man who has remained large­ly unno­ticed even though he was one of the top deci­sion-mak­ers of the Trump cam­paign.

    His name is Brad Parscale. While Steve Ban­non, Paul Man­afort, and Kellyanne Con­way are mar­quee names you’re famil­iar with, Parscale was in the back room — oper­at­ing as the cam­paign’s secret weapon.

    He was hired to run the dig­i­tal team, but over time came to over­see adver­tis­ing, data col­lec­tion and much of the fund-rais­ing. As dig­i­tal direc­tor, he’s being drawn into the inves­ti­ga­tion of whether the cam­paign col­lud­ed with the Rus­sians in the elec­tion. It’s a charge he denies. He says he was focused on com­pet­ing with the Clin­ton cam­paign’s huge advan­tage in mon­ey and TV ads. What he decid­ed to do was turn to social media, most impor­tant­ly to Face­book.

    Brad Parscale: I under­stood ear­ly that Face­book was how Don­ald Trump was going to win. Twit­ter is how he talked to the peo­ple. Face­book was going to be how he won.

    Les­ley Stahl: And Face­book IS how he won.

    Brad Parscale: I think so. I think Don­ald Trump won, but I think Face­book was the method – it was the high­way in which his car drove on.

    And Brad Parscale was in the dri­ver’s seat. In the begin­ning of the cam­paign he worked alone at home in San Anto­nio, but by the end he had 100 peo­ple report­ing to him. One of his main jobs was to send out care­ful­ly-tai­lored, low-cost dig­i­tals ads to mil­lions of peo­ple.

    Les­ley Stahl: And these were ads on Face­book?

    Brad Parscale: Face­book, we did ’em on Twit­ter, Google search, oth­er plat­forms. Face­book was the 500-pound goril­la, 80 per­cent of the bud­get kind of thing.

    Face­book’s adver­tis­ing tech­nol­o­gy helped Pres­i­dent Oba­ma in 2012, but today Face­book offers some­thing far more pre­cise and sophis­ti­cat­ed. While the pres­i­dent recent­ly tweet­ed that “Face­book was always anti-Trump,” Parscale relied heav­i­ly on the com­pa­ny, par­tic­u­lar­ly on its cut­ting-edge tar­get­ing tools.

    Les­ley Stahl: One of the best things Face­book did for you, I heard, was pen­e­trate the rur­al vote. Is that cor­rect?

    Brad Parscale: Yeah. So Face­book now lets you get to places and places pos­si­bly that you would nev­er go with TV ads. Now, I can find, you know, 15 peo­ple in the Flori­da Pan­han­dle that I would nev­er buy a TV com­mer­cial for. And, we took oppor­tu­ni­ties that I think the oth­er side did­n’t.

    Les­ley Stahl: Like what?

    Brad Parscale: Well, we had our– their staff embed­ded inside our offices.

    Les­ley Stahl: What?

    Brad Parscale: Yeah, Face­book employ­ees would show up for work every day in our offices.

    Les­ley Stahl: Whoa, wait a minute. Face­book employ­ees showed up at the Trump head­quar­ters—

    Brad Parscale: Google employ­ees, and Twit­ter employ­ees.

    Les­ley Stahl: They were embed­ded in your cam­paign?

    Brad Parscale: I mean, like, they were there mul­ti­ple days a week, three, four days a week, two days week, five days a week—

    Les­ley Stahl: What were they doing inside? I mean—

    Brad Parscale: Help­ing teach us how to use their plat­form. I wan­na get—

    Les­ley Stahl: Help­ing him get elect­ed?

    Brad Parscale: I asked each one of them by email, I wan­na know every, sin­gle secret but­ton, click, tech­nol­o­gy you have. “I wan­na know every­thing you would tell Hillary’s cam­paign plus some. And I want your peo­ple here to teach me how to use it.”

    Les­ley Stahl: Inside?

    Brad Parscale: Yeah, I want ’em sit­tin’ right next to us—

    Les­ley Stahl: How do you know they weren’t Tro­jan Hors­es?

    Brad Parscale: ‘Cause I’d ask ’em to be Repub­li­cans, and I’d– we’d talk to ’em.

    Les­ley Stahl: Oh, you only want­ed Repub­li­cans?

    Brad Parscale: I want­ed peo­ple who sup­port Don­ald Trump from their com­pa­nies.

    Les­ley Stahl: And that’s what you got?

    Brad Parscale: Yeah. They already have divi­sions set up that way.

    Les­ley Stahl: What do you mean?
    glob­al
    Brad Parscale: They already have groups of peo­ple in their polit­i­cal divi­sions that are Repub­li­can and Demo­c­rat.

    Les­ley Stahl: You’re kid­ding?

    Brad Parscale: Yeah, they’re busi­ness­es, they are pub­licly trad­ed com­pa­nies with stock price.

    Les­ley Stahl: Did Hillary’s cam­paign have some­one embed­ded—

    Brad Parscale: I had heard that they did­n’t accept any of their offers.

    Les­ley Stahl: So you’re say­ing Face­book and the oth­ers offered an embed, and they said no.

    Brad Parscale: That’s what I’ve heard.

    Peo­ple in the Clin­ton cam­paign con­firmed that the offer was made and turned down. Face­book told us in a state­ment:
    [see Face­book state­ment]

    “...for can­di­dates across the polit­i­cal spec­trum, Face­book offers the same lev­el of sup­port in key moments to help cam­paigns under­stand how best to use the plat­form.”

    And indeed, both cam­paigns used Face­book’s tech­nol­o­gy exten­sive­ly to reach out to poten­tial vot­ers. Parscale said the Trump cam­paign used the tech­nol­o­gy to micro­tar­get on a scale nev­er seen before – and to cus­tomize their ads for indi­vid­ual vot­ers.

    Brad Parscale: We were mak­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of ’em.

    Les­ley Stahl: You make 100,000 ads.

    Brad Parscale: Pro­gram­mat­i­cal­ly. In one day. In one day.

    Les­ley Stahl: So 100,000 dif­fer­ent ads every day?

    Brad Parscale: Aver­age day 50–60 thou­sands ads.

    This was all auto­mat­ed.

    Brad Parscale: Chang­ing lan­guage, words, col­ors, chang­ing things because cer­tain peo­ple like a green but­ton bet­ter than a blue but­ton. Some peo­ple like the word “donate” or “con­tribute.”

    Les­ley Stahl: So how would you know… let’s say I like a green but­ton. How do you know I’d only like a green but­ton?

    Brad Parscale: Because I’d give you the red, blue but­tons, you nev­er click on ’em.

    Parscale showed us how they test­ed: by send­ing out mul­ti­ple ver­sions of the same ad with only sub­tle dif­fer­ences.

    Brad Parscale: Here we have an Amer­i­can flag, here we have a face of Hillary. Dif­fer­ent col­ors, the blues, dif­fer­ent mes­sages above.

    Les­ley Stahl: So you’d send two iden­ti­cal ads with dif­fer­ent col­ors?

    Brad Parscale: Maybe thou­sands.

    Les­ley Stahl: You’d send THOUSAND of ads with dif­fer­ent col­ors?

    Brad Parscale: Dif­fer­ent col­ors. What it is is: what can make peo­ple react? What catch­es their atten­tion? Remem­ber, there’s so much noise on your phone. You know, or on your desk­top. What is it that makes it go: Poof! “I’m gonna stop and look.”

    To get peo­ple to stop and look, he craft­ed dif­fer­ent mes­sages for dif­fer­ent peo­ple — so that you only got ads about the issues you cared about most. He showed us three ads that looked alike.

    Brad Parscale: It’s pret­ty much the iden­ti­cal design. Pos­i­tive col­or­ing. Dif­fer­ent mes­sage.

    Les­ley Stahl: This is one is tax, this one is child­care, this one is ener­gy.

    Brad Parscale: They were all tar­get­ed to dif­fer­ent users of what­ev­er plat­form, in this case it was Face­book.

    Sent out to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. And it could be each oth­er’s next-door neighbors…all in Ohio.

    Les­ley Stahl: This one per­son at 11 Elm Street gets this one and 13 Elm Street gets that one.

    Brad Parscale: Yup, yup.

    Parscale took some heat for tak­ing micro­tar­get­ing too far because he hired Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca. It’s a com­pa­ny that uses so-called psy­cho­graph­ics that micro­tar­get ads based on per­son­al­i­ty. For instance, an extro­vert would get one kind of mes­sage, a neu­rot­ic per­son anoth­er. It’s con­tro­ver­sial because of its Orwellian over­tones.

    After Trump won, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca said it was key to the vic­to­ry. But Parscale insists he nev­er used psy­cho­graph­ics. He said it does­n’t work.

    Les­ley Stahl: So you did­n’t use it because you did­n’t think it real­ly worked, as opposed to you did­n’t use it because you thought it was wrong that it was manip­u­la­tive or sin­is­ter, or some­thing like that.
    n
    Brad Parscale: No, I don’t believe it’s sin­is­ter.

    Les­ley Stahl: No. OK, you just don’t think it works.

    Brad Parscale: No, I just don’t think it works.

    Parscale’s title was dig­i­tal direc­tor, but by the end of the cam­paign his port­fo­lio grew. He over­saw data col­lec­tion, polling, adver­tis­ing both online and on TV, and sig­nif­i­cant­ly dig­i­tal fund rais­ing. By adding dona­tion but­tons for peo­ple to click on in the online ads, he was able to bring in a record $240 mil­lion in small dona­tions.

    ...

    While he tried to per­suade Democ­rats to vote for Mr. Trump – the cam­paign was accused, in a Busi­ness­week arti­cle, of try­ing to sup­press the vote of “ide­al­is­tic white lib­er­als, young women and African Amer­i­cans,” a charge he denies.

    Les­ley Stahl: Did you micro tar­get by race?

    Brad Parscale: No we did not. Not at all.

    Les­ley Stahl: Nev­er?

    Brad Parscale: Nope.

    Les­ley Stahl: Did you post hate­ful images?

    Brad Parscale: I don’t believe so.

    ...

    Many of the mes­sages he sent out were what’s known as dark ads. They’re called dark because they’re micro­tar­get­ed to indi­vid­ual users who are the only ones who see them. Unless they choose to share them – they dis­ap­pear.

    ...

    Last month, Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg announced plans to make polit­i­cal ads on the site more trans­par­ent. As for Brad Parscale, he’s already work­ing on Pres­i­dent Trump’s 2020 reelec­tion cam­paign.

    ———-

    “Face­book “embeds,” Rus­sia and the Trump cam­paign’s secret weapon” by Les­ley Stahl; CBS News; 10/08/2017

    “Face­book’s adver­tis­ing tech­nol­o­gy helped Pres­i­dent Oba­ma in 2012, but today Face­book offers some­thing far more pre­cise and sophis­ti­cat­ed. While the pres­i­dent recent­ly tweet­ed that “Face­book was always anti-Trump,” Parscale relied heav­i­ly on the com­pa­ny, par­tic­u­lar­ly on its cut­ting-edge tar­get­ing tools.

    As we just saw, Face­book’s “cut­ting-edge tar­get­ing tools” played a key role in the Trump cam­paign’s suc­cess. So on some lev­el it’s no sur­prise to learn that Face­book employ­ees were actu­al­ly embed­ded in the Trump cam­paign to teach the cam­paign how to ful­ly exploit what Face­book had to offer. On the oth­er hand, that’s still kind of shock­ing:

    ...
    Brad Parscale: Yeah. So Face­book now lets you get to places and places pos­si­bly that you would nev­er go with TV ads. Now, I can find, you know, 15 peo­ple in the Flori­da Pan­han­dle that I would nev­er buy a TV com­mer­cial for. And, we took oppor­tu­ni­ties that I think the oth­er side did­n’t.

    Les­ley Stahl: Like what?

    Brad Parscale: Well, we had our– their staff embed­ded inside our offices.

    Les­ley Stahl: What?

    Brad Parscale: Yeah, Face­book employ­ees would show up for work every day in our offices.

    Les­ley Stahl: Whoa, wait a minute. Face­book employ­ees showed up at the Trump head­quar­ters—

    Brad Parscale: Google employ­ees, and Twit­ter employ­ees.

    Les­ley Stahl: They were embed­ded in your cam­paign?

    Brad Parscale: I mean, like, they were there mul­ti­ple days a week, three, four days a week, two days week, five days a week—

    ...

    Brad Parscale: They already have groups of peo­ple in their polit­i­cal divi­sions that are Repub­li­can and Demo­c­rat.
    ...

    “Brad Parscale: Google employ­ees, and Twit­ter employ­ees.”

    So appar­ent­ly employ­ee embeds is ser­vice Face­book offers. Pre­sum­ably to all sorts of cam­paigns. And Google and Twit­ter offered the same ser­vice.

    And that again rais­es the ques­tion of just what kind of oth­er spe­cial ser­vices was Face­book, Google, and Twit­ter offer­ing to groups that are spend­ing so much mon­ey they get their own embed employ­ees. Specif­i­cal­ly, were there any types of spe­cial micro-tar­get­ing ser­vices? Because it sure sounds a lot like the Trump cam­paign was tar­get­ing indi­vid­ual vot­ers with cus­tomized mes­sages:

    ...
    And indeed, both cam­paigns used Face­book’s tech­nol­o­gy exten­sive­ly to reach out to poten­tial vot­ers. Parscale said the Trump cam­paign used the tech­nol­o­gy to micro­tar­get on a scale nev­er seen before – and to cus­tomize their ads for indi­vid­ual vot­ers.

    Brad Parscale: We were mak­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of ’em.

    Les­ley Stahl: You make 100,000 ads.

    Brad Parscale: Pro­gram­mat­i­cal­ly. In one day. In one day.

    Les­ley Stahl: So 100,000 dif­fer­ent ads every day?

    Brad Parscale: Aver­age day 50–60 thou­sands ads.

    This was all auto­mat­ed.

    Brad Parscale: Chang­ing lan­guage, words, col­ors, chang­ing things because cer­tain peo­ple like a green but­ton bet­ter than a blue but­ton. Some peo­ple like the word “donate” or “con­tribute.”

    Les­ley Stahl: So how would you know… let’s say I like a green but­ton. How do you know I’d only like a green but­ton?

    Brad Parscale: Because I’d give you the red, blue but­tons, you nev­er click on ’em.

    ...

    Brad Parscale: Dif­fer­ent col­ors. What it is is: what can make peo­ple react? What catch­es their atten­tion? Remem­ber, there’s so much noise on your phone. You know, or on your desk­top. What is it that makes it go: Poof! “I’m gonna stop and look.”

    To get peo­ple to stop and look, he craft­ed dif­fer­ent mes­sages for dif­fer­ent peo­ple — so that you only got ads about the issues you cared about most. He showed us three ads that looked alike.

    Brad Parscale: It’s pret­ty much the iden­ti­cal design. Pos­i­tive col­or­ing. Dif­fer­ent mes­sage.

    Les­ley Stahl: This is one is tax, this one is child­care, this one is ener­gy.

    Brad Parscale: They were all tar­get­ed to dif­fer­ent users of what­ev­er plat­form, in this case it was Face­book.

    Sent out to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. And it could be each oth­er’s next-door neighbors…all in Ohio.

    Les­ley Stahl: This one per­son at 11 Elm Street gets this one and 13 Elm Street gets that one.

    Brad Parscale: Yup, yup.
    ...

    So is that process described above an exam­ple of indi­vid­ual-lev­el micro-tar­get­ing, or is it describ­ing a process where each indi­vid­ual is effec­tive­ly thrown into a group of peo­ple who share a very sim­i­lar pro­file? It’s not clear from the inter­view.

    But note how Parscale dis­miss­es the val­ue of the psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files devel­oped by Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca. Pro­files were col­lect­ed on indi­vid­ual Face­book users. And yet Parscale strong­ly dis­miss­es them as use­less in the mid­dle of an inter­view focused on micro-tar­get­ing. It’s rather con­spic­u­ous:

    ...
    Parscale took some heat for tak­ing micro­tar­get­ing too far because he hired Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca. It’s a com­pa­ny that uses so-called psy­cho­graph­ics that micro­tar­get ads based on per­son­al­i­ty. For instance, an extro­vert would get one kind of mes­sage, a neu­rot­ic per­son anoth­er. It’s con­tro­ver­sial because of its Orwellian over­tones.

    After Trump won, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca said it was key to the vic­to­ry. But Parscale insists he nev­er used psy­cho­graph­ics. He said it does­n’t work.

    Les­ley Stahl: So you did­n’t use it because you did­n’t think it real­ly worked, as opposed to you did­n’t use it because you thought it was wrong that it was manip­u­la­tive or sin­is­ter, or some­thing like that.
    n
    Brad Parscale: No, I don’t believe it’s sin­is­ter.

    Les­ley Stahl: No. OK, you just don’t think it works.

    Brad Parscale: No, I just don’t think it works.
    ...

    “But Parscale insists he nev­er used psy­cho­graph­ics. He said it does­n’t work.”

    The Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files gen­er­at­ed by Face­book users were were nev­er used by the Trump cam­paign’s unprece­dent­ed micro-tar­get­ing on Face­book. That seems rather ques­tion­able.

    So was Parscale just out­right and bla­tant­ly lying when he made that claim? Well, it’s worth not­ing that he did make one pret­ty mas­sive bla­tant ver­i­fi­able lie dur­ing that inter­view: When asked if the cam­paign ever micro-tar­get­ed by race, Parscale com­plete­ly denied it:

    ...
    While he tried to per­suade Democ­rats to vote for Mr. Trump – the cam­paign was accused, in a Busi­ness­week arti­cle, of try­ing to sup­press the vote of “ide­al­is­tic white lib­er­als, young women and African Amer­i­cans,” a charge he denies.

    Les­ley Stahl: Did you micro tar­get by race?

    Brad Parscale: No we did not. Not at all.

    Les­ley Stahl: Nev­er?

    Brad Parscale: Nope.

    Les­ley Stahl: Did you post hate­ful images?

    Brad Parscale: I don’t believe so.
    ...

    “While he tried to per­suade Democ­rats to vote for Mr. Trump – the cam­paign was accused, in a Busi­ness­week arti­cle, of try­ing to sup­press the vote of “ide­al­is­tic white lib­er­als, young women and African Amer­i­cans,” a charge he denies.”

    Bwah!! Yeah, they did not tar­get by race at all. Also, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s mas­sive data­base was­n’t real­ly used because Parscale did­n’t find it use­ful. Those were his answers and they weren’t said sar­cas­ti­cal­ly. So it’s prob­a­bly worth point­ing out the Busi­ness­week arti­cle where Parscale was “accused” of try­ing to sup­press the vote of “ide­al­is­tic white lib­er­als, young women and African Amer­i­cans,” did­n’t actu­al­ly include any accu­sa­tions. Parscale was brag­ging about how they were tar­get­ing these groups with neg­a­tive ads, includ­ing Face­book ads. The arti­cle also talks about they used Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca to cat­e­go­rize vot­ers:

    Bloomberg Busi­ness­week

    Inside the Trump Bunker, With Days to Go
    Win or lose, the Repub­li­can can­di­date and his inner cir­cle have built a direct mar­ket­ing oper­a­tion that could pow­er a TV network—or fin­ish off the GOP.

    By Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg
    Octo­ber 27, 2016, 5:00 AM CDT

    On Oct. 19, as the third and final pres­i­den­tial debate gets going in Las Vegas, Don­ald Trump’s Face­book and Twit­ter feeds are being manned by Brad Parscale, a San Anto­nio mar­ket­ing entre­pre­neur, whose buzz cut and long nar­row beard make him look like a mixed mar­tial arts fight­er. His Trump tie has been paired with a dark Zeg­na suit. A lapel pin issued by the Secret Ser­vice sig­nals his sta­tus. He’s equipped with a dash­board of 400 prewrit­ten Trump tweets. “Com­mand cen­ter,” he says, nod­ding at his lap­top.

    ...

    Still, Trump’s real­i­ty is plain: He needs a mir­a­cle. Back in May, new­ly anoint­ed, he told Bloomberg Busi­ness­week he would har­ness “the move­ment” to chal­lenge Clin­ton in states Repub­li­cans haven’t car­ried in years: New York, New Jer­sey, Ore­gon, Con­necti­cut, Cal­i­for­nia. “I’m going to do phe­nom­e­nal­ly,” he pre­dict­ed. Yet nei­ther Trump’s cam­paign nor the RNC has pri­or­i­tized reg­is­ter­ing and mobi­liz­ing the 47 mil­lion eli­gi­ble white vot­ers with­out col­lege degrees who are Trump’s most obvi­ous source of new votes, as FiveThir­tyEight ana­lyst David Wasser­man not­ed.

    To com­pen­sate for this, Trump’s cam­paign has devised anoth­er strat­e­gy, which, not sur­pris­ing­ly, is neg­a­tive. Instead of expand­ing the elec­torate, Ban­non and his team are try­ing to shrink it. “We have three major vot­er sup­pres­sion oper­a­tions under way,” says a senior offi­cial. They’re aimed at three groups Clin­ton needs to win over­whelm­ing­ly: ide­al­is­tic white lib­er­als, young women, and African Amer­i­cans. Trump’s invo­ca­tion at the debate of Clinton’s Wik­iLeaks e‑mails and sup­port for the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship was designed to turn off Sanders sup­port­ers. The parade of women who say they were sex­u­al­ly assault­ed by Bill Clin­ton and harassed or threat­ened by Hillary is meant to under­mine her appeal to young women. And her 1996 sug­ges­tion that some African Amer­i­can males are “super preda­tors” is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to dis­cour­age infre­quent black vot­ers from show­ing up at the polls—particularly in Flori­da.

    On Oct. 24, Trump’s team began plac­ing spots on select African Amer­i­can radio sta­tions. In San Anto­nio, a young staffer showed off a South Park-style ani­ma­tion he’d cre­at­ed of Clin­ton deliv­er­ing the “super preda­tor” line (using audio from her orig­i­nal 1996 sound bite), as car­toon text popped up around her: “Hillary Thinks African Amer­i­cans are Super Preda­tors.” The ani­ma­tion will be deliv­ered to cer­tain African Amer­i­can vot­ers through Face­book “dark posts”—nonpublic posts whose view­er­ship the cam­paign con­trols so that, as Parscale puts it, “only the peo­ple we want to see it, see it.” The aim is to depress Clinton’s vote total. “We know because we’ve mod­eled this,” says the offi­cial. “It will dra­mat­i­cal­ly affect her abil­i­ty to turn these peo­ple out.”

    ...

    After Trump won the Indi­ana pri­ma­ry, van­quish­ing his remain­ing rivals, Parscale had to inte­grate his do-it-your­self oper­a­tion with two estab­lished play­ers who would jos­tle for pri­ma­cy as sup­pli­er of Trump’s data. The first was Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, on whose board Ban­non sits. Among its investors is the hedge fund titan Robert Mer­cer and his daugh­ter, Rebekah, who were about to become some of the largest donors to the Trump cause. Loca­tions for the candidate’s ral­lies, long the cen­ter­piece of his media-cen­tric can­di­da­cy, are guid­ed by a Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca rank­ing of the places in a state with the largest clus­ters of per­suad­able vot­ers. The oth­er was the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee, to which Trump relin­quished con­trol over many of its tac­ti­cal deci­sions. “I told him he’s going to want to use the RNC once he’s the nom­i­nee,” says Newt Gin­grich. “Reince has built a real sys­tem, and it can be very valu­able to him.”

    ...

    Parscale was build­ing his own list of Trump sup­port­ers, beyond the RNC’s reach. Cam­bridge Analytica’s sta­tis­ti­cal mod­els iso­lat­ed like­ly sup­port­ers whom Parscale bom­bard­ed with ads on Face­book, while the cam­paign bought up e‑mail lists from the likes of Gin­grich and Tea Par­ty groups to prospect for oth­ers. Some of the ads linked direct­ly to a pay­ment page, others—with but­tons marked “Stand with Trump” or “Sup­port Trump”—to a sign-up page that asked for a name, address, and online con­tact infor­ma­tion. While his team at Giles-Parscale designed the ads, Parscale invit­ed a vari­ety of com­pa­nies to set up shop in San Anto­nio to help deter­mine which social media ads were most effec­tive. Those com­pa­nies test ad vari­a­tions against one another—the cam­paign has ulti­mate­ly gen­er­at­ed 100,000 dis­tinct pieces of cre­ative content—and then roll out the strongest per­form­ers to broad­er audi­ences. At the same time, Parscale made the ven­dors, tech com­pa­nies with names such as Sprin­klr and Ken­shoo, com­pete Appren­tice-style; those whose algo­rithms fared worst in drum­ming up donors lost their con­tracts. Each time Parscale returned to San Anto­nio from Trump Tow­er, he would find that some ven­dors had been boot­ed from their offices.

    ...
    ———-

    “Inside the Trump Bunker, With Days to Go” by Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg; Bloomberg Busi­ness­week; 10/27/2016

    To com­pen­sate for this, Trump’s cam­paign has devised anoth­er strat­e­gy, which, not sur­pris­ing­ly, is neg­a­tive. Instead of expand­ing the elec­torate, Ban­non and his team are try­ing to shrink it. “We have three major vot­er sup­pres­sion oper­a­tions under way,” says a senior offi­cial. They’re aimed at three groups Clin­ton needs to win over­whelm­ing­ly: ide­al­is­tic white lib­er­als, young women, and African Amer­i­cans. Trump’s invo­ca­tion at the debate of Clinton’s Wik­iLeaks e‑mails and sup­port for the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship was designed to turn off Sanders sup­port­ers. The parade of women who say they were sex­u­al­ly assault­ed by Bill Clin­ton and harassed or threat­ened by Hillary is meant to under­mine her appeal to young women. And her 1996 sug­ges­tion that some African Amer­i­can males are “super preda­tors” is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to dis­cour­age infre­quent black vot­ers from show­ing up at the polls—particularly in Flori­da.”

    That was the word from the Trump cam­paign just two weeks before the elec­tion: they were tar­get­ing African Amer­i­cans with neg­a­tive ads. And this includ­ed “dark post” on Face­book:

    ...
    On Oct. 24, Trump’s team began plac­ing spots on select African Amer­i­can radio sta­tions. In San Anto­nio, a young staffer showed off a South Park-style ani­ma­tion he’d cre­at­ed of Clin­ton deliv­er­ing the “super preda­tor” line (using audio from her orig­i­nal 1996 sound bite), as car­toon text popped up around her: “Hillary Thinks African Amer­i­cans are Super Preda­tors.” The ani­ma­tion will be deliv­ered to cer­tain African Amer­i­can vot­ers through Face­book “dark posts”—nonpublic posts whose view­er­ship the cam­paign con­trols so that, as Parscale puts it, “only the peo­ple we want to see it, see it.” The aim is to depress Clinton’s vote total. “We know because we’ve mod­eled this,” says the offi­cial. “It will dra­mat­i­cal­ly affect her abil­i­ty to turn these peo­ple out.”
    ...

    Now, it’s not exact­ly shock­ing that the Trump cam­paign did this. But it’s still note­wor­thy giv­en Parscale’s claims a year lat­er that there was no race-based tar­get­ing of ads at all. Note­wor­thy in the sense that it con­clu­sive­ly estab­lish­es that Parscale was more than hap­py to bla­tant­ly lie dur­ing that CBS inter­view cou­ple months ago.

    So what oth­er bla­tant lies was he telling dur­ing that inter­view? A lie about using Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s data, per­haps?

    ...
    Parscale was build­ing his own list of Trump sup­port­ers, beyond the RNC’s reach. Cam­bridge Analytica’s sta­tis­ti­cal mod­els iso­lat­ed like­ly sup­port­ers whom Parscale bom­bard­ed with ads on Face­book, while the cam­paign bought up e‑mail lists from the likes of Gin­grich and Tea Par­ty groups to prospect for oth­ers. Some of the ads linked direct­ly to a pay­ment page, others—with but­tons marked “Stand with Trump” or “Sup­port Trump”—to a sign-up page that asked for a name, address, and online con­tact infor­ma­tion. While his team at Giles-Parscale designed the ads, Parscale invit­ed a vari­ety of com­pa­nies to set up shop in San Anto­nio to help deter­mine which social media ads were most effec­tive. Those com­pa­nies test ad vari­a­tions against one another—the cam­paign has ulti­mate­ly gen­er­at­ed 100,000 dis­tinct pieces of cre­ative content—and then roll out the strongest per­form­ers to broad­er audi­ences. At the same time, Parscale made the ven­dors, tech com­pa­nies with names such as Sprin­klr and Ken­shoo, com­pete Appren­tice-style; those whose algo­rithms fared worst in drum­ming up donors lost their con­tracts. Each time Parscale returned to San Anto­nio from Trump Tow­er, he would find that some ven­dors had been boot­ed from their offices.
    ...

    Again, this was the arti­cle about the Trump cam­paign’s mechan­ics just two weeks before the elec­tion and the cam­paign was clear­ly very open about its oper­a­tions.

    Inter­est­ing­ly, it isn’t just Parscale who down­plays the impor­tance of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and its psy­cho­me­t­ric pro­files. Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca itself also down­played this after the elec­tion. As the fol­low­ing arti­cle notes, Matt Oczkows­ki, Cam­bridge Analytica’s chief data sci­en­tist, told a pan­el host­ed by Google five weeks after the elec­tion, “I don’t want to break your heart; we actu­al­ly didn’t do any psy­cho­graph­ics with the Trump cam­paign.” And he claimed this was because Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was brought onto the Trump cam­paign that sum­mer, and there­fore “we had five months to scale extreme­ly fast, and doing sexy psy­cho­graph­ics pro­files requires a much longer run time.” It’s a rather strange claim since the firm already had these pro­files on hun­dreds of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans and was using them dur­ing the pri­maries to help Ted Cruz. But that’s what the com­pa­ny claimed...that its key ser­vice was­n’t actu­al­ly used. The same arti­cle notes that it was Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca algo­rithms that iden­ti­fied a large num­ber of “per­suad­able” vot­ers in Michi­gan, Penn­syl­va­nia, and Wis­con­sin in the final weeks of the cam­paign, lead­ing to the strate­gic deci­sion to focus on these vot­ers.

    And the arti­cle also makes an impor­tant point regard­ing direct tar­get­ing of indi­vid­ual vot­ers on Face­book: it turns out Face­book has a tool called “Cus­tom Audi­ences from Cus­tomer Lists” that allowed the Trump cam­paign to match Trump sup­port­ers with their actu­al Face­book pro­files. And since the cam­paign had infor­ma­tion on a lot more than just Trump sup­port­ers, this pre­sum­ably means the Trump cam­paign was able to con­nect Face­book pro­files with its vast data­base on almost all Amer­i­cans. And once these “Cus­tomer Lists” were uploaded into Face­book’s sys­tem, the Trump team was able to slice and dice them accord­ing to all sorts of para­me­ters like race, eth­nic­i­ty, gen­der, loca­tion, and oth­er iden­ti­ties and affini­ties.

    So instead of choos­ing the tar­get audi­ence based on the cat­e­gories Face­book places peo­ple in (like “Peo­ple who like pup­pies”, or “Peo­ple who hate Jews”), it sounds like the Trump cam­paign had the option of gen­er­at­ing tar­get audi­ences that based on spe­cif­ic lists of peo­ple. In oth­er words, yes, the Trump cam­paign was able to direct­ly tar­get spe­cif­ic vot­ers by name with spe­cif­ic mes­sages. At least, it sure sounds like that was how it worked:

    The New York Review of Books

    How He Used Face­book to Win

    Sue Halpern
    June 8, 2017 Issue

    Not long after Don­ald Trump’s sur­pris­ing pres­i­den­tial vic­to­ry, an arti­cle pub­lished in the Swiss week­ly Das Mag­a­zin, and reprint­ed online in Eng­lish by Vice, began churn­ing through the Inter­net. While pun­dits were dis­sect­ing the col­lapse of Hillary Clinton’s cam­paign, the jour­nal­ists for Das Mag­a­zin, Hannes Grasseg­ger and Mikael Krogerus, point­ed to an entire­ly dif­fer­ent explanation—the work of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, a data sci­ence firm cre­at­ed by a British com­pa­ny with deep ties to the British and Amer­i­can defense indus­tries.

    Accord­ing to Grasseg­ger and Krogerus, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca had used psy­cho­log­i­cal data culled from Face­book, paired with vast amounts of con­sumer infor­ma­tion pur­chased from data-min­ing com­pa­nies, to devel­op algo­rithms that were sup­pos­ed­ly able to iden­ti­fy the psy­cho­log­i­cal make­up of every vot­er in the Amer­i­can elec­torate. The com­pa­ny then devel­oped polit­i­cal mes­sages tai­lored to appeal to the emo­tions of each one. As the New York Times reporters Nicholas Con­fes­sore and Dan­ny Hakim described it:

    A vot­er deemed neu­rot­ic might be shown a gun-rights com­mer­cial fea­tur­ing bur­glars break­ing into a home, rather than a defense of the Sec­ond Amend­ment; polit­i­cal ads warn­ing of the dan­gers posed by the Islam­ic State could be tar­get­ed direct­ly at vot­ers prone to anx­i­ety….

    Even more trou­bling was the under­hand­ed way in which Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca appeared to have obtained its infor­ma­tion. Using an Ama­zon site called Mechan­i­cal Turk, the com­pa­ny paid one hun­dred thou­sand peo­ple in the Unit­ed States a dol­lar or two to fill out an online sur­vey. But in order to receive pay­ment, those peo­ple were also required to down­load an app that gave Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca access to the pro­files of their unwit­ting Face­book friends. These pro­files includ­ed their Face­book “likes” and their own con­tact lists.

    Accord­ing to the inves­tiga­tive reporter Mat­tathias Schwartz, writ­ing in The Inter­cept, a fur­ther 185,000 peo­ple were recruit­ed from an unnamed data com­pa­ny, to gain access to anoth­er 30 mil­lion Face­book pro­files. Again, none of these 30 mil­lion peo­ple knew their data were being har­vest­ed and ana­lyzed for the ben­e­fit of an Amer­i­can polit­i­cal cam­paign.

    Face­book did turn out to be essen­tial to Trump’s vic­to­ry, but not in the way Grasseg­ger, Krogerus, and Schwartz sug­gest. Though there is lit­tle doubt that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca exploit­ed mem­bers of the social net­work, Facebook’s real influ­ence came from the campaign’s strate­gic and per­fect­ly legal use of Facebook’s suite of mar­ket­ing tools. (It should be not­ed that inter­nal Face­book doc­u­ments leaked in ear­ly May show that Face­book itself has been min­ing users’ emo­tion­al states and shar­ing that infor­ma­tion with adver­tis­ers.)

    ...

    In the course of the 2016 elec­tion, the Trump cam­paign end­ed up rely­ing on three vot­er data­bas­es: the one sup­plied by Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, with its 5,000 data points on 220 mil­lion Amer­i­cans includ­ing, accord­ing to its web­site, per­son­al­i­ty pro­files on all of them; the RNC’s enhanced Vot­er Vault, which claims to have more than 300 ter­abytes of data, includ­ing 7,700,545,385 micro­tar­get­ing data points on near­ly 200 mil­lion vot­ers; and its own cus­tom-designed one, called Project Alamo, culled in part from the mil­lions of small donors to the cam­paign and e‑mail address­es gath­ered at ral­lies, from sales of cam­paign mer­chan­dise, and even from text mes­sages sent to the cam­paign. Even­tu­al­ly, Project Alamo also came to include data from the oth­er two data­bas­es.

    ...

    In the ear­ly phase of the pri­maries, Parscale launched Trump’s dig­i­tal oper­a­tion by buy­ing $2 mil­lion in Face­book ads—his entire bud­get at the time. He then uploaded all known Trump sup­port­ers into the Face­book adver­tis­ing plat­form and, using a Face­book tool called Cus­tom Audi­ences from Cus­tomer Lists, matched actu­al sup­port­ers with their vir­tu­al dop­pel­gangers and then, using anoth­er Face­book tool, parsed them by race, eth­nic­i­ty, gen­der, loca­tion, and oth­er iden­ti­ties and affini­ties. From there he used Facebook’s Looka­like Audi­ences tool to find peo­ple with inter­ests and qual­i­ties sim­i­lar to those of his orig­i­nal cohort and devel­oped ads based on those char­ac­ter­is­tics, which he test­ed using Facebook’s Brand Lift sur­veys. He was just get­ting start­ed. Even­tu­al­ly, Parscale’s shop was report­ed­ly spend­ing $70 mil­lion a month on dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing, most of it on Face­book. (Face­book and oth­er online venues also net­ted Trump at least $250 mil­lion in dona­tions.)

    While it may not have cre­at­ed indi­vid­ual mes­sages for every vot­er, the Trump cam­paign used Facebook’s vast reach, rel­a­tive­ly low cost, and rapid turn­around to test tens of thou­sands and some­times hun­dreds of thou­sands of dif­fer­ent cam­paign ads. Accord­ing to Issie Lapowsky of Wired, speak­ing with Gary Coby, direc­tor of adver­tis­ing at the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee and a mem­ber of Trump’s dig­i­tal team:

    On any giv­en day…the cam­paign was run­ning 40,000 to 50,000 vari­ants of its ads, test­ing how they per­formed in dif­fer­ent for­mats, with sub­ti­tles and with­out, and sta­t­ic ver­sus video, among oth­er small dif­fer­ences. On the day of the third pres­i­den­tial debate in Octo­ber, the team ran 175,000 vari­a­tions. Coby calls this approach “A/B test­ing on steroids.”


    And this was just Face­book. The cam­paign also placed ads on oth­er social media, includ­ing Twit­ter and Snapchat, and ran spon­sored con­tent on Politi­co. Accord­ing to one esti­mate by a cam­paign insid­er, the Trump team spent “in the high eight fig­ures just on per­sua­sion.” Remark­ably, none of this mon­ey was used on ads cre­at­ed from Cam­bridge Analytica’s ques­tion­ably obtained Face­book data.

    Not long after tout­ing the edge it gave the Trump cam­paign, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca began walk­ing back its ini­tial claim that psy­cho­log­i­cal tar­get­ing was cru­cial to Trump’s vic­to­ry. “I don’t want to break your heart; we actu­al­ly didn’t do any psy­cho­graph­ics with the Trump cam­paign,” Matt Oczkows­ki, Cam­bridge Analytica’s chief data sci­en­tist, told a pan­el host­ed by Google five weeks after the elec­tion. Because the firm was only brought onto the Trump cam­paign the sum­mer before the gen­er­al elec­tion, he said, “we had five months to scale extreme­ly fast, and doing sexy psy­cho­graph­ics pro­files requires a much longer run time.” Appar­ent­ly, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca had deployed its psy­cho­log­i­cal tar­get­ing tech­niques dur­ing the Repub­li­can pri­maries on behalf of Ted Cruz, but Cruz’s fail­ure to win the nom­i­na­tion was cit­ed as evi­dence that Cam­bridge Analytica’s mod­els were inef­fec­tive and that the com­pa­ny did not under­stand Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

    ...

    “Trump didn’t have a lot of ‘Here is my agen­da, here is my nar­ra­tive, I have to per­suade peo­ple to it,’” Catalist’s Lau­ra Quinn told me.

    The Trump world was more like, “Let’s say a lot of dif­fer­ent things, they don’t even nec­es­sar­i­ly need to be coher­ent, and observe, through the won­der­ful new plat­forms that allow you to observe how peo­ple respond and observe what works, and what­ev­er squir­rel every­one chas­es, that’s going to become our nar­ra­tive, our agen­da, our mes­sage.” I’m being very sim­plis­tic, but that was the very dif­fer­ent approach that tru­ly was cre­ative, dif­fer­ent, imag­i­na­tive, revolutionary—whatever you want to say.

    Hillary Clin­ton won the pop­u­lar vote, but win­ning the pop­u­lar vote does not auto­mat­i­cal­ly lead to the White House, and Trump was nev­er going to try to appeal to the entire elec­torate. Apply­ing Cam­bridge Analytica’s algo­rithms, Trump’s data sci­en­tists built a mod­el they called Bat­tle­ground Opti­miz­er Path to Vic­to­ry to rank and weight the states need­ed to get to 270 elec­toral col­lege votes, which was used to run dai­ly sim­u­la­tions of the elec­tion. Through this work, the dig­i­tal team iden­ti­fied 13.5 mil­lion per­suad­able vot­ers in six­teen bat­tle­ground states, and mod­eled which com­bi­na­tions of those vot­ers would yield the win­ning num­ber.

    ...

    Once the Bat­tle­ground Opti­miz­er Path to Vic­to­ry mod­el took account of this cohort, and showed that the ones who lived in Rust Belt states had the most like­ly chance of deliv­er­ing the pres­i­den­cy to Trump, Parscale’s dig­i­tal team focused all its resources in those last few weeks on these vot­ers. This includ­ed send­ing the can­di­date him­self to Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin, and Penn­syl­va­nia in the days before the elec­tion, even though those states were con­sid­ered by most observers like­ly to be unsym­pa­thet­ic to him, because the reweight­ed Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca algo­rithms were point­ing there, and those algo­rithms dic­tat­ed the candidate’s trav­el sched­ule. “[Clinton’s] strat­e­gy was…‘if I turn out enough peo­ple in urban areas, Repub­li­cans can’t make up those num­bers in rur­al areas,’” Cam­bridge Analytica’s Oczkows­ki explained. “Lit­tle did she know that almost every rur­al vot­er in the coun­try was going to show up in this elec­tion.”

    ...
    ———-

    “How He Used Face­book to Win” by Sue Halpern; The New York Review of Books; 06/08/2017

    “In the ear­ly phase of the pri­maries, Parscale launched Trump’s dig­i­tal oper­a­tion by buy­ing $2 mil­lion in Face­book ads—his entire bud­get at the time. He then uploaded all known Trump sup­port­ers into the Face­book adver­tis­ing plat­form and, using a Face­book tool called Cus­tom Audi­ences from Cus­tomer Lists, matched actu­al sup­port­ers with their vir­tu­al dop­pel­gangers and then, using anoth­er Face­book tool, parsed them by race, eth­nic­i­ty, gen­der, loca­tion, and oth­er iden­ti­ties and affini­ties. From there he used Facebook’s Looka­like Audi­ences tool to find peo­ple with inter­ests and qual­i­ties sim­i­lar to those of his orig­i­nal cohort and devel­oped ads based on those char­ac­ter­is­tics, which he test­ed using Facebook’s Brand Lift sur­veys. He was just get­ting start­ed. Even­tu­al­ly, Parscale’s shop was report­ed­ly spend­ing $70 mil­lion a month on dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing, most of it on Face­book. (Face­book and oth­er online venues also net­ted Trump at least $250 mil­lion in dona­tions.)”

    Behold the “Cus­tom Audi­ences from Cus­tomer Lists” too! A tool that allows peo­ple to upload lists of things like email address­es to Face­book and then Face­book and adver­tise direct­ly to them. Or upload the lists, slice and dice them into sub-lists, and then adver­tise to thos sub-list. That appears to be a key ‘secret ingre­di­ent’ in the ‘secret-sauce’ Face­book is offer­ing polit­i­cal cam­paigns. And offer­ing to any­one else with mon­ey to spend.

    And while that may not allow for a cus­tomized ad to be sent to indi­vid­ual Face­book users, it’s prob­a­bly close enough to be effec­tive­ly cus­tomized for every indi­vid­ual since few peo­ple are like­ly to require a unique­ly craft­ed mes­sage to per­suade them. In oth­er words, break­ing peo­ple up into small­er and small­er groups, with mes­sages cus­tomized for each group, could be as micro­tar­get­ed as a cam­paign needs to get to be effec­tive­ly indi­vid­u­al­ly tar­get­ing peo­ple. Espe­cial­ly when the cam­paign is run­ning 40,000–50,000 vari­ants of its ads each day:

    ...
    While it may not have cre­at­ed indi­vid­ual mes­sages for every vot­er, the Trump cam­paign used Facebook’s vast reach, rel­a­tive­ly low cost, and rapid turn­around to test tens of thou­sands and some­times hun­dreds of thou­sands of dif­fer­ent cam­paign ads. Accord­ing to Issie Lapowsky of Wired, speak­ing with Gary Coby, direc­tor of adver­tis­ing at the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee and a mem­ber of Trump’s dig­i­tal team:

    On any giv­en day…the cam­paign was run­ning 40,000 to 50,000 vari­ants of its ads, test­ing how they per­formed in dif­fer­ent for­mats, with sub­ti­tles and with­out, and sta­t­ic ver­sus video, among oth­er small dif­fer­ences. On the day of the third pres­i­den­tial debate in Octo­ber, the team ran 175,000 vari­a­tions. Coby calls this approach “A/B test­ing on steroids.”

    ...

    “While it may not have cre­at­ed indi­vid­ual mes­sages for every vot­er, the Trump cam­paign used Facebook’s vast reach, rel­a­tive­ly low cost, and rapid turn­around to test tens of thou­sands and some­times hun­dreds of thou­sands of dif­fer­ent cam­paign ads.”

    Tens of thou­sands of ads get­ting test­ed every day on the known list of vot­ers made avail­able through the “Cus­tom Audi­ences from Cus­tomer Lists” fea­ture. It’s like shot­gun micro-tar­get­ing set on full-auto.

    And yet, odd­ly, we are told that none of the mon­ey spent on these ads were cre­at­ed using the psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fils from Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca.

    ...
    And this was just Face­book. The cam­paign also placed ads on oth­er social media, includ­ing Twit­ter and Snapchat, and ran spon­sored con­tent on Politi­co. Accord­ing to one esti­mate by a cam­paign insid­er, the Trump team spent “in the high eight fig­ures just on per­sua­sion.” Remark­ably, none of this mon­ey was used on ads cre­at­ed from Cam­bridge Analytica’s ques­tion­ably obtained Face­book data.
    ...

    Even more odd is how Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca appeared to be down­play­ing its own role too, claim­ing it just did­n’t have enough time to ade­quate­ly pro­file peo­ple after join­ing the Trump team (despite hav­ing already col­lect­ed them before join­ing the cam­paign):

    ...
    Not long after tout­ing the edge it gave the Trump cam­paign, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca began walk­ing back its ini­tial claim that psy­cho­log­i­cal tar­get­ing was cru­cial to Trump’s vic­to­ry. “I don’t want to break your heart; we actu­al­ly didn’t do any psy­cho­graph­ics with the Trump cam­paign,” Matt Oczkows­ki, Cam­bridge Analytica’s chief data sci­en­tist, told a pan­el host­ed by Google five weeks after the elec­tion. Because the firm was only brought onto the Trump cam­paign the sum­mer before the gen­er­al elec­tion, he said, “we had five months to scale extreme­ly fast, and doing sexy psy­cho­graph­ics pro­files requires a much longer run time.” Appar­ent­ly, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca had deployed its psy­cho­log­i­cal tar­get­ing tech­niques dur­ing the Repub­li­can pri­maries on behalf of Ted Cruz, but Cruz’s fail­ure to win the nom­i­na­tion was cit­ed as evi­dence that Cam­bridge Analytica’s mod­els were inef­fec­tive and that the com­pa­ny did not under­stand Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.
    ...

    So every­one involved with Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca is now down­play­ing its role. Even Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca. Isn’t that rather sus­pi­cious? Espe­cial­ly after read­ing that it was appar­ent­ly Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s algo­rithms that iden­ti­fied all those vot­ers in Penn­syl­va­nia, Michi­gan, and Wis­con­sin:

    ...
    Hillary Clin­ton won the pop­u­lar vote, but win­ning the pop­u­lar vote does not auto­mat­i­cal­ly lead to the White House, and Trump was nev­er going to try to appeal to the entire elec­torate. Apply­ing Cam­bridge Analytica’s algo­rithms, Trump’s data sci­en­tists built a mod­el they called Bat­tle­ground Opti­miz­er Path to Vic­to­ry to rank and weight the states need­ed to get to 270 elec­toral col­lege votes, which was used to run dai­ly sim­u­la­tions of the elec­tion. Through this work, the dig­i­tal team iden­ti­fied 13.5 mil­lion per­suad­able vot­ers in six­teen bat­tle­ground states, and mod­eled which com­bi­na­tions of those vot­ers would yield the win­ning num­ber.

    ...

    Once the Bat­tle­ground Opti­miz­er Path to Vic­to­ry mod­el took account of this cohort, and showed that the ones who lived in Rust Belt states had the most like­ly chance of deliv­er­ing the pres­i­den­cy to Trump, Parscale’s dig­i­tal team focused all its resources in those last few weeks on these vot­ers. This includ­ed send­ing the can­di­date him­self to Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin, and Penn­syl­va­nia in the days before the elec­tion, even though those states were con­sid­ered by most observers like­ly to be unsym­pa­thet­ic to him, because the reweight­ed Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca algo­rithms were point­ing there, and those algo­rithms dic­tat­ed the candidate’s trav­el sched­ule. “[Clinton’s] strat­e­gy was…‘if I turn out enough peo­ple in urban areas, Repub­li­cans can’t make up those num­bers in rur­al areas,’” Cam­bridge Analytica’s Oczkows­ki explained. “Lit­tle did she know that almost every rur­al vot­er in the coun­try was going to show up in this elec­tion.”
    ...

    So Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s algo­rithms are used to build the “Bat­tle­ground Opti­miz­er Path to Vic­to­ry” mod­el, which ran a bunch of sim­u­la­tions that iden­ti­fied 13.5 mil­lion per­suad­able vot­ers in 16 bat­tle­ground states, and deter­mined the Rust Belt states were the cam­paign’s best shot at vic­to­ry. The cam­paign invests in those states and wins. And yet we are being told by both Brad Parscale and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca that the fir­m’s data just was­n’t actu­al­ly all that use­ful. Again, isn’t that kind of sus­pi­cious?

    Also note that Face­book tech­ni­cal­ly does­n’t tell you who (which Face­book pro­file) clicked on your ads. The com­pa­ny says they don’t do this out of con­cerns about user pri­va­cy. But keep in mind that web track­ing tech­nol­o­gy is such that an indi­vid­u­al’s web activ­i­ty to be effec­tive­ly tracked across the web. It’s the same tech­nol­o­gy (like Face­book’s “pix­el”) that enables the creepy phe­nom­e­na of, for exam­ple, brows­ing a prod­uct web on some ran­dom web­site and then see­ing ads for that same prod­uct sud­den­ly show up on all sorts of oth­er web­sites.

    More impor­tant­ly, in terms of the abil­i­ty to use Face­book to tar­get indi­vid­ual bot­ers, keep in mind that if the Trump cam­paign (or Clin­ton cam­paign or any­one) uploads a “Cus­tomer List” to tar­get a par­tic­u­lar group of vot­ers and then uses Face­book’s inter­nal para­me­ters to cre­ate sub­sets of those users — based on inter­ests, geo­graph­ic loca­tion, etc — there’s no rea­son the cam­paign could­n’t do the same sub­set­ting of that known list of users with the vast data­base of knowl­edge they’ve col­lect­ed from third-par­ty resources like Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca or the RNC’s mas­sive data­base on users. For exam­ple, imag­ine the fol­low­ing sce­nario:

    1. The min­i­mum num­ber of peo­ple Face­book would allow the Trump cam­paign to tar­get a par­tic­u­lar ad at is 10,000 peo­ple.

    2. Trump cam­paign cre­ates a “Cus­tomer List” with the email address­es of 9,900 left-lean­ing vot­ers and 100 GOP vot­ers and then throw a bunch of pro-Trump ads at that group.

    3. Keep in mind that the Trump cam­paign would know the real ids of these 10,000 peo­ple, but would­n’t know which of those 10,000 peo­ple clicked on their ads. But, odds are who­ev­er clicks on the ad will be one of those 100 GOP vot­ers. And thanks to the things like track pix­els, the Trump cam­paign would now poten­tial­ly be able to link unique track­ing pix­els to each of the peo­ple who clicked on the ad and track their web behav­ior going for­ward.

    4. Next, the Trump cam­paign takes those same 100 vot­ers, finds some­thing that divides them (some are real­ly inter­est­ed guns, oth­ers are real­ly inter­est­ed in reli­gious stuff), and then cre­ates a NEW “Cus­tomer List” with that same 100 GOP vot­ers and anoth­er 9,900 left-lean­ing vot­ers and push­es ads intend­ed to appeal to GOP vot­ers that either cov­er guns or reli­gion. If some­one clicks on that add, thanks to track­ing pix­els the Trump cam­paign could see if any of these peo­ple were the same peo­ple who clicked on the pre­vi­ous ad from step 2.

    5. Repeat this process of repeat­ed­ly push­ing dif­fer­ent ads designed to tar­get peo­ple with dif­fer­ent inter­ests at the same audi­ences peo­ple and see­ing which ones dif­fer­ent Face­book pro­files click on. Then, using web track­ing techonol­o­gy, com­pare inter­ests of these anonymized Face­book pro­files with the known inter­ests of the real peo­ple you’re upload­ing to these “Cus­tomer Lists” that you already have from the mas­sive vot­er data­bas­es.

    6. Even­tu­al­ly, the Trump cam­paign will be able to make very edu­cat­ed guess­es about which real vot­ers in their vot­er data­bas­es cor­re­spond to which anony­mous Face­book pro­file’s unique track­ing cookies/pixels. More impo­rant­ly, the cam­paign will have learned what makes these unique vot­ers ‘tick’. What type of per­sua­sion tech­niqes are required to prompt a response from each vot­er. THAT’s micro-tar­get­ing on effe­tive­ly an indi­vid­ual scale.

    Is that what the Trump cam­paign was actu­al­ly doing? Again, it’s unclear, but it sure sounds like that’s what they were doing.

    So, to sum­ma­rize, it looks like Face­book has built a plat­form that will allow just about any­one to cheap­ly and effec­tive­ly micro-tar­get indi­vid­u­als by enabling adver­tis­ers to effec­tive­ly learn what makes their audi­ence ‘tick’. After all, look at the strat­e­gy the Trump team suc­cess­ful­ly employed: say any­thing and every­thing and see what peo­ple respond to:

    ...
    “Trump didn’t have a lot of ‘Here is my agen­da, here is my nar­ra­tive, I have to per­suade peo­ple to it,’” Catalist’s Lau­ra Quinn told me.

    The Trump world was more like, “Let’s say a lot of dif­fer­ent things, they don’t even nec­es­sar­i­ly need to be coher­ent, and observe, through the won­der­ful new plat­forms that allow you to observe how peo­ple respond and observe what works, and what­ev­er squir­rel every­one chas­es, that’s going to become our nar­ra­tive, our agen­da, our mes­sage.” I’m being very sim­plis­tic, but that was the very dif­fer­ent approach that tru­ly was cre­ative, dif­fer­ent, imag­i­na­tive, revolutionary—whatever you want to say.

    ...

    That’s what Face­book enabled. A weaponiza­tion of the ‘say any­thing to win’ strat­e­gy. And it’s a strat­e­gy that can only be suc­cess­ful­ly employed if you use the tools avail­able to gain insights into your tar­get audi­ence’s psy­chol­o­gy. What they click on. What they respond to, etc. And one of the best ways to do that is to be very divi­sive, decep­tive, and gen­er­al­ly inflam­ma­to­ry.

    And, yes, on some lev­el this is just clas­si­cal mar­ket­ing. But on anoth­er lev­el, it’s clas­si­cal mar­ket­ing on steroids: Big Data applied to mas­sive­ly detailed pro­files on vir­tu­al­ly everybody...profiles that grow more and more detailed as these mar­ket­ing tech­niques are applied. Don’t for­get, the gen­er­al strat­e­gy here is to take a bunch of infor­ma­tion known about peo­ple, and use that infor­ma­tion to gain even more infor­ma­tion about them. The Big Data on “Us” gets big­ger the more it’s used.

    And don’t for­get what Chamath Pal­i­hapi­tiya, the for­mer Face­book exec­u­tive, warned above: this isn’t just a Trump cam­paign prob­lem. Or even exclu­sive­ly a Face­book prob­lem. This is a glob­al prob­lem with the inter­net and social media. It’s just a much, much big­ger glob­al prob­lem thanks to Face­book, which is anoth­er rea­son why it would be nice to learn what those “embeds” were doing in the Trump cam­paign.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 15, 2017, 3:53 pm
  8. Here’s an inter­est­ing fol­lowup arti­cle on the top­ic of Google, Face­book, and Twit­ter embed­ding their employ­ees with the Trump cam­paign: a recent­ly pub­lished study exam­ined the role of these social media ’embeds’. And while the study does­n’t go into the details of the ser­vices these embeds offered, it does make the point that the ser­vices offered went far beyond just help­ing use the tech­nol­o­gy, and approached some­thing much clos­er to that of a polit­i­cal con­sul­tant:

    Politi­co

    How Face­book, Google and Twit­ter ’embeds’ helped Trump in 2016

    A study reveals employ­ees the com­pa­nies placed in the Trump cam­paign played a sur­pris­ing­ly active role in shap­ing its mes­sage and tar­get­ing vot­ers.

    By NANCY SCOLA

    10/26/2017 05:00 AM EDT
    Updat­ed 10/26/2017 01:24 PM EDT

    Face­book, Twit­ter and Google played a far deep­er role in Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign than has pre­vi­ous­ly been dis­closed, with com­pa­ny employ­ees tak­ing on the kind of polit­i­cal strate­giz­ing that cam­paigns typ­i­cal­ly entrust to their own staff or paid con­sul­tants, accord­ing to a new study released Thurs­day.

    The peer-reviewed paper, based on more than a dozen inter­views with both tech com­pa­ny staffers who worked inside sev­er­al 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns and cam­paign offi­cials, sheds new light on Sil­i­con Val­ley’s assis­tance to Trump before his sur­prise win last Novem­ber.

    While the com­pa­nies call it stan­dard prac­tice to work hand-in-hand with high-spend­ing adver­tis­ers like polit­i­cal cam­paigns, the new research details how the staffers assigned to the 2016 can­di­dates fre­quent­ly act­ed more like polit­i­cal oper­a­tives, doing things like sug­gest­ing meth­ods to tar­get dif­fi­cult-to-reach vot­ers online, help­ing to tee up respons­es to like­ly lines of attack dur­ing debates, and scan­ning can­di­date cal­en­dars to rec­om­mend ad push­es around upcom­ing speech­es.

    Such sup­port was crit­i­cal for the Trump cam­paign, which didn’t invest heav­i­ly in its own dig­i­tal oper­a­tions dur­ing the pri­ma­ry sea­son and made exten­sive use of Face­book, Twit­ter and Google “embeds” for the gen­er­al elec­tion, says the study, con­duct­ed by com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­fes­sors from the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na at Chapel Hill and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Utah.

    The com­pa­nies offered such ser­vices, with­out charge, to all the 2016 can­di­dates, accord­ing to the study, which details exten­sive tech com­pa­ny involve­ment at every stage of the race. But Hillary Clinton’s cam­paign declined to embed the com­pa­nies’ employ­ees in her oper­a­tions, instead opt­ing to devel­op its own dig­i­tal appa­ra­tus and call in the tech firms to help exe­cute ele­ments of its strat­e­gy.

    “Face­book, Twit­ter, and Google [went] beyond pro­mot­ing their ser­vices and facil­i­tat­ing dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing buys,” the paper con­cludes, adding that their efforts extend­ed to “active­ly shap­ing cam­paign com­mu­ni­ca­tions through their close col­lab­o­ra­tion with polit­i­cal staffers.”

    “The extent to which they were help­ing can­di­dates online was a sur­prise to us,” said co-author Daniel Kreiss, from UNC Chapel Hill. He called the assis­tance “a form of sub­sidy from tech­nol­o­gy firms to polit­i­cal can­di­dates.”

    The study was pub­lished Thurs­day in the jour­nal Polit­i­cal Com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

    Kreiss and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Utah’s Shan­non McGre­gor inter­viewed tech com­pa­ny liaisons to the Trump and Clin­ton oper­a­tions as well as offi­cials from a range of cam­paigns, includ­ing those of for­mer Gov. Jeb Bush and Sens. Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz and Mar­co Rubio.

    The researchers’ find­ings add to the many ques­tions sur­round­ing the part that the coun­try’s biggest tech com­pa­nies played in the 2016 elec­tion. Face­book, Google and Twit­ter already face heavy crit­i­cism for allow­ing the spread of dis­in­for­ma­tion, “fake news” and divi­sive adver­tis­ing dur­ing the cam­paign — much of which tar­get­ed Clin­ton. All three com­pa­nies are set to tes­ti­fy at con­gres­sion­al hear­ings begin­ning next week on Russ­ian use of their plat­forms to inter­fere with the elec­tion.

    The idea that the tech com­pa­nies were so deeply enmeshed in the efforts to elect Trump in par­tic­u­lar could also com­pli­cate the com­pa­nies’ rep­u­ta­tions as polit­i­cal actors. Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg is among those in lib­er­al-lean­ing Sil­i­con Val­ley who have round­ly con­demned Trump’s actions as pres­i­dent on top­ics like LGBT issues and immi­gra­tion.

    As Trump emerged as the like­ly Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, staffers from each of the three com­pa­nies set up shop in a strip-mall office rent­ed by the Trump cam­paign in San Anto­nio, Texas, home to the campaign’s lead dig­i­tal strate­gist, Brad Parscale, the study reports. It attrib­ut­es that infor­ma­tion to Nu Wexler, a Twit­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tions offi­cial at the time, who is explic­it about the val­ue of the arrange­ment for Trump.

    “One, they found that they were get­ting sol­id advice, and two, it’s cheap­er. It’s free labor,” Wexler said in the study.

    While the paper does not detail the spe­cif­ic tasks Face­book car­ried out for Trump, it describes the sort of work the com­pa­ny did gen­er­al­ly for 2016 can­di­dates, includ­ing coor­di­nat­ing so-called dark posts that would appear only to select­ed users and iden­ti­fy­ing the kinds of pho­tos that per­form best on Face­book-owned Insta­gram. Twit­ter, mean­while, would help can­di­dates ana­lyze the per­for­mances of their tweet-based fundrais­ing push­es to rec­om­mend what moves the cam­paigns should make next. Google kept tabs on can­di­dates’ trav­els to rec­om­mend geo­graph­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed adver­tise­ments.

    Dig­i­tal experts inter­viewed by the researchers con­clud­ed that the tech com­pa­ny employ­ees, who would work in San Anto­nio for days at a time, helped Trump close his staffing gap with Clin­ton.

    The White House referred ques­tions to the Trump cam­paign, and Parscale did not respond to requests for com­ment. Parscale said in an Oct. 8 episode of “60 Min­utes” that he active­ly solicit­ed the com­pa­nies’ sup­port, say­ing that he told them: “I wan­na know every­thing you would tell Hillary’s cam­paign plus some. And I want your peo­ple here to teach me how to use it.”

    A source close to the Clin­ton cam­paign reject­ed the notion that her team failed to take advan­tage of a valu­able resource, argu­ing that her oper­a­tion was in reg­u­lar con­tact with the tech com­pa­nies to tap their exper­tise. The source, who would only speak anony­mous­ly because of the sen­si­tiv­i­ty around attribut­ing caus­es of Clin­ton’s defeat, said there would have been no advan­tage to hav­ing tech com­pa­ny employ­ees sit­ting at desks at Clin­ton’s Brook­lyn head­quar­ters.

    One unnamed tech com­pa­ny staffer is quot­ed in the study as say­ing, “Clin­ton viewed us as ven­dors rather than con­sul­tants.”

    Asked about the arrange­ment with Trump, the tech com­pa­nies were quick to point out that they make their ser­vices avail­able to all polit­i­cal play­ers regard­less of par­ty.

    “Face­book offers iden­ti­cal lev­els of sup­port to can­di­dates and cam­paigns across the polit­i­cal spec­trum, whether by Facebook’s pol­i­tics and gov­ern­ment or ad sales teams,” a spokesper­son for the social net­work said in a state­ment.

    That sen­ti­ment was echoed by Twit­ter, which said it offered help to both the Clin­ton and Trump cam­paigns, and by Google, which stressed that it is up to each can­di­date to deter­mine how exten­sive­ly to work with the com­pa­ny. Dur­ing the pri­ma­ry sea­son, Google made avail­able to each can­di­date an eight-hour ses­sion with the company’s cre­ative teams, but only Ken­tucky Repub­li­can Sen. Rand Paul’s cam­paign took them up on it, accord­ing to the study.

    But at least one tech vet­er­an said he can see how it would raise alarms that the bulk of Sil­i­con Val­ley’s hands-on cam­paign sup­port went to Trump rather than to Clin­ton.

    “It can be con­fus­ing from the out­side look­ing in when it appears one cam­paign or anoth­er is get­ting more sup­port,” Adam Sharp, a for­mer Twit­ter exec­u­tive who led the com­pa­ny’s elec­tions team from 2010 to 2016, said in an inter­view. But while the com­pa­nies strive to be bal­anced, they can­not inform vot­ers “when a can­di­date does­n’t heed the help,” he said.

    An inti­mate rela­tion­ship between tech com­pa­nies and can­di­dates has con­sid­er­able upside for both. The cam­paign gets high-qual­i­ty advice and advance notice on cut­ting-edge prod­ucts. The com­pa­ny gets nation­al expo­sure for its prod­ucts and builds rela­tion­ships with politi­cians who might be in a posi­tion to reg­u­late it once they get to Wash­ing­ton.

    Sil­i­con Val­ley had addi­tion­al con­sid­er­a­tions dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign. The big tech com­pa­nies were eager to fight the per­cep­tion they were unfair to con­ser­v­a­tives — and few in the lib­er­al-lean­ing indus­try expect­ed Trump to win, with or with­out their assis­tance.

    ...

    The his­to­ry of the tech com­pa­nies’ cam­paign out­reach dates back to the 2008 pres­i­den­tial con­test. That year, Ran­di Zucker­berg, sis­ter of Face­book’s CEO, trav­eled to both the Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Repub­li­can con­ven­tions to pitch the polit­i­cal util­i­ty of the then-4-year-old social net­work. Around that same time, the com­pa­ny began offer­ing con­gres­sion­al offices one-on-one guid­ance on how to use Face­book.

    The out­reach did­n’t always work at first. “I was, like, beg­ging peo­ple to meet with us,” Ran­di Zucker­berg said of the GOP’s 2008 con­ven­tion. But as polit­i­cal spend­ing on Facebook’s ad prod­ucts and elect­ed lead­ers’ depen­dence on the plat­form sky­rock­et­ed over the years, so too did the company’s close work with politi­cians.

    One con­stant in the dynam­ic: The com­pa­nies break down their polit­i­cal out­reach teams along par­ty lines. Facebook’s point of con­tact to Clinton’s 2016 White House run, Crys­tal Pat­ter­son, was a vet­er­an of Demo­c­ra­t­ic pol­i­tics, and Henke — Google’s liai­son to the Trump oper­a­tion and oth­er 2016 Repub­li­can bids — was once the direc­tor of oper­a­tions for the West­ern Repub­li­can Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence.

    That par­ti­san match­ing is need­ed, com­pa­ny rep­re­sen­ta­tives say, to allow all involved to speak freely when pro­vid­ing advice. Car­o­line McCain, social media man­ag­er for Rubio’s White House bid, is quot­ed in the paper say­ing that when tech com­pa­ny staffers have a sim­i­lar polit­i­cal back­ground as the cam­paign they’re assigned to, it rais­es the cam­paign’s com­fort lev­el in work­ing with them.

    “When you real­ize, ‘Oh yeah, the per­son I’m work­ing with at Google, they actu­al­ly worked on Rom­ney back in 2012,’ like, ‘Oh, okay, they actu­al­ly might have our best inter­est at heart,’” McCain said. After the cam­paign, McCain took a posi­tion at Face­book.

    Kreiss, the paper’s co-author, said the sym­bi­ot­ic rela­tion­ship between Sil­i­con Val­ley and polit­i­cal cam­paigns demands fur­ther exam­i­na­tion.

    “It rais­es the larg­er ques­tion of what should be the trans­paren­cy around this, giv­en that it’s tak­ing place in the con­text of a demo­c­ra­t­ic elec­tion,” he said.

    ———-

    “How Face­book, Google and Twit­ter ’embeds’ helped Trump in 2016” by NANCY SCOLA; Politi­co; 10/26/2017

    “While the com­pa­nies call it stan­dard prac­tice to work hand-in-hand with high-spend­ing adver­tis­ers like polit­i­cal cam­paigns, the new research details how the staffers assigned to the 2016 can­di­dates fre­quent­ly act­ed more like polit­i­cal oper­a­tives, doing things like sug­gest­ing meth­ods to tar­get dif­fi­cult-to-reach vot­ers online, help­ing to tee up respons­es to like­ly lines of attack dur­ing debates, and scan­ning can­di­date cal­en­dars to rec­om­mend ad push­es around upcom­ing speech­es”

    Tech giant ’embed’ polit­i­cal oper­a­tives. That’s quite a ser­vice:

    ...
    “Face­book, Twit­ter, and Google [went] beyond pro­mot­ing their ser­vices and facil­i­tat­ing dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing buys,” the paper con­cludes, adding that their efforts extend­ed to “active­ly shap­ing cam­paign com­mu­ni­ca­tions through their close col­lab­o­ra­tion with polit­i­cal staffers.”

    “The extent to which they were help­ing can­di­dates online was a sur­prise to us,” said co-author Daniel Kreiss, from UNC Chapel Hill. He called the assis­tance “a form of sub­sidy from tech­nol­o­gy firms to polit­i­cal can­di­dates.”
    ...

    And those ser­vices includ­ed things like coor­di­nat­ing dark posts on Face­book that would appear only to select­ed users, ana­lyz­ing the per­for­mances of their tweet-based fundrais­ing push­es and rec­om­mend­ing what moves the cam­paigns should make next, or Google rec­om­mend­ing geo­graph­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed adver­tise­ments while the cam­paign was on the move. Which, again, is one hel­lu­va ser­vice for the social media giants of our age to be offer­ing can­di­dates:

    ...
    As Trump emerged as the like­ly Repub­li­can nom­i­nee, staffers from each of the three com­pa­nies set up shop in a strip-mall office rent­ed by the Trump cam­paign in San Anto­nio, Texas, home to the campaign’s lead dig­i­tal strate­gist, Brad Parscale, the study reports. It attrib­ut­es that infor­ma­tion to Nu Wexler, a Twit­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tions offi­cial at the time, who is explic­it about the val­ue of the arrange­ment for Trump.

    “One, they found that they were get­ting sol­id advice, and two, it’s cheap­er. It’s free labor,” Wexler said in the study.

    While the paper does not detail the spe­cif­ic tasks Face­book car­ried out for Trump, it describes the sort of work the com­pa­ny did gen­er­al­ly for 2016 can­di­dates, includ­ing coor­di­nat­ing so-called dark posts that would appear only to select­ed users and iden­ti­fy­ing the kinds of pho­tos that per­form best on Face­book-owned Insta­gram. Twit­ter, mean­while, would help can­di­dates ana­lyze the per­for­mances of their tweet-based fundrais­ing push­es to rec­om­mend what moves the cam­paigns should make next. Google kept tabs on can­di­dates’ trav­els to rec­om­mend geo­graph­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed adver­tise­ments.

    Dig­i­tal experts inter­viewed by the researchers con­clud­ed that the tech com­pa­ny employ­ees, who would work in San Anto­nio for days at a time, helped Trump close his staffing gap with Clin­ton.
    ...

    You almost have to won­der if the polit­i­cal con­sult­ing indus­try is excit­ed about these ’embeds’ or fear­ing they’re going to lose their jobs to them? Although if they do lose their jobs they can pre­sum­ably go work for one of these tech giants as embed since these embeds were them­selves for­mer polit­i­cal oper­a­tives:

    ...
    One con­stant in the dynam­ic: The com­pa­nies break down their polit­i­cal out­reach teams along par­ty lines. Facebook’s point of con­tact to Clinton’s 2016 White House run, Crys­tal Pat­ter­son, was a vet­er­an of Demo­c­ra­t­ic pol­i­tics, and Henke — Google’s liai­son to the Trump oper­a­tion and oth­er 2016 Repub­li­can bids — was once the direc­tor of oper­a­tions for the West­ern Repub­li­can Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence.
    ...

    So it’s pret­ty clear why the polti­ical par­ties would love this ‘ser­vice’, although it sounds like the Repub­li­cans were the only ones to real­ly take them up on the ’embed’ offer. But it’s very unclear why the pub­lic at large like this. After all, if there’s one thing offer polit­i­cal con­sul­tant ’embed’s

    ...
    An inti­mate rela­tion­ship between tech com­pa­nies and can­di­dates has con­sid­er­able upside for both. The cam­paign gets high-qual­i­ty advice and advance notice on cut­ting-edge prod­ucts. The com­pa­ny gets nation­al expo­sure for its prod­ucts and builds rela­tion­ships with politi­cians who might be in a posi­tion to reg­u­late it once they get to Wash­ing­ton.

    ...

    Kreiss, the paper’s co-author, said the sym­bi­ot­ic rela­tion­ship between Sil­i­con Val­ley and polit­i­cal cam­paigns demands fur­ther exam­i­na­tion.

    “It rais­es the larg­er ques­tion of what should be the trans­paren­cy around this, giv­en that it’s tak­ing place in the con­text of a demo­c­ra­t­ic elec­tion,” he said.
    ...

    Heads, Face­book, Google, and Twit­ter win, because helped the can­di­date win. Tails, Face­book, Google, and Twit­ter win, because they backed the oth­er can­di­date win. And not just donat­ed to both par­ties. Helped both par­ties win by work­ing inti­mate­ly with their cam­paign. It’s a reminder that offer­ing ’embeds’ to vir­tu­al­ly all big-spend­ing cam­paigns is a great way to get your tech giant com­pa­ny per­ma­nent­ly embed­ded in the halls of pow­er. More so.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 21, 2017, 9:24 pm
  9. Here’s a sto­ry about Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and polit­i­cal hacks that should come as no sur­prise at this point giv­en the reports of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s out­reach to Wik­ileaks dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign to help orga­nized and index what they assumed were Hillary Clin­ton’s hacked emails. But it’s still quite notable in that it appears to demon­strate that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca isn’t just will­ing to accept hacked mate­ri­als. It was will­ing to hire teams to obtain it:

    It turns out Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca received a set of hacked polit­i­cal doc­u­ments a year ear­li­er. But it had noth­ing to do with the US race. The com­pa­ny was hired by a Niger­ian bil­lion­aire to help with the reelec­tion of Nige­ri­a’s then-pres­i­dent, Good­luck John­son. And accord­ing to mul­ti­ple for­mer employ­ees, the com­pa­ny was ful­ly will­ing to accept hacked doc­u­ments of John­son’s rival, oppo­si­tion leader Muham­madu Buhari.

    Specif­i­cal­ly, there was what was known as the “Israeli team” of cyber­se­cu­ri­ty con­trac­tors who pro­vid­ed hacked doc­u­ments to Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca. Accord­ing to Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca staff work­ing on the cam­paign John­son cam­paign, in ear­ly 2015 they met these Israeli cyber­se­cu­ri­ty con­trac­tors in Cam­bridge Analytica’s offices in Lon­don. Employ­ees say they were told the meet­ing was arranged by a senior direc­tor at the firm. The Israelis brought a lap­top and hand­ed employ­ees a USB stick con­tain­ing what they believed were hacked per­son­al emails. Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca CEP Alexan­der Nix and oth­er senior direc­tors told staff to search for incrim­i­nat­ing mate­r­i­al that could be used to dam­age oppo­si­tion can­di­dates, includ­ing Buhari.

    In addi­tion, the Guardian was shown an email from Nix from Jan­u­ary 26, 2015, that refers to the “Israeli team”. “Although it is out­side of our remit, I have asked for an update on what the Israeli team has been work­ing on and what they will be deliv­er­ing between now and the elec­tion,” Nix wrote. So it’s not like some Israeli hack­ers showed up out of the blue to offer this hacked data because that email sure sounds like they hired these hack­ers for the expressed pur­pose of hack­ing John­son’s oppo­nents.

    Beyond that, this same “Israeli team” also some­how obtained pri­vate infor­ma­tion of the St Kitts and Nevis politi­cian Tim­o­thy Har­ris in 2015. Har­ris was an oppo­si­tion leader at the time and is now prime min­is­ter.

    So we have two sep­a­rate politi­cians in two coun­tries get­ting hacked by con­trac­tors who appear to have been hired by Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca: sur­prise, sur­prise:

    The Guardian

    Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was offered politi­cians’ hacked emails, say wit­ness­es

    Hack­ers offered per­son­al data about future Niger­ian pres­i­dent and future PM of St Kitts and Nevis, sources say

    Car­ole Cad­wal­ladr

    Wed 21 Mar 2018 14.59 EDT
    Last mod­i­fied on Sat 24 Mar 2018 22.56 EDT

    The data ana­lyt­ics firm that worked on the Don­ald Trump elec­tion cam­paign was offered mate­r­i­al from Israeli hack­ers who had accessed the pri­vate emails of two politi­cians who are now heads of state, wit­ness­es have told the Guardian.

    Mul­ti­ple sources have described how senior direc­tors of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca – includ­ing its chief exec­u­tive, Alexan­der Nix – gave staff instruc­tions to han­dle mate­r­i­al pro­vid­ed by com­put­er hack­ers in elec­tion cam­paigns in Nige­ria and St Kitts and Nevis.

    They claim there were two episodes in 2015 that alarmed mem­bers of staff and led them to refuse to han­dle the data, which they assumed would have been obtained ille­gal­ly.

    SCL Elec­tions, Cam­bridge Analytica’s par­ent com­pa­ny, denied tak­ing pos­ses­sion of or using hacked or stolen per­son­al infor­ma­tion from such indi­vid­u­als for any pur­pose in either cam­paign.

    The rev­e­la­tions are the lat­est to focus atten­tion on Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, whose activ­i­ties are being inves­ti­gat­ed in the US by the spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller as part of his inquiry into pos­si­ble Russ­ian col­lu­sion in the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

    The firm is under pres­sure to explain how it came to have unau­tho­rised access to mil­lions of Face­book pro­files. Politi­cians in the US and UK have accused it of giv­ing mis­lead­ing state­ments about its work, and the infor­ma­tion com­mis­sion­er has demand­ed access to the company’s data­bas­es.

    In all, the Guardian and Observ­er has spo­ken to sev­en indi­vid­u­als with knowl­edge of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and its cam­paign in Nige­ria in ear­ly 2015.

    Hired by a Niger­ian bil­lion­aire to sup­port the re-elec­tion of Good­luck Jonathan, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was paid an esti­mat­ed £2m to orches­trate a fero­cious cam­paign against his rival, the oppo­si­tion leader Muham­madu Buhari. Jonathan lost out to Buhari in the pres­i­den­tial race. There is no sug­ges­tion Jonathan knew of the covert oper­a­tion.

    Staff work­ing on the cam­paign say in ear­ly 2015 they met Israeli cyber­se­cu­ri­ty con­trac­tors in Cam­bridge Analytica’s offices in May­fair, Lon­don. Employ­ees say they were told the meet­ing was arranged by Brit­tany Kaiser, a senior direc­tor at the firm.

    The Guardian and Observ­er have been told the Israelis brought a lap­top from their office in Tel Aviv and hand­ed employ­ees a USB stick con­tain­ing what they believed were hacked per­son­al emails.

    Sources said Nix, who was sus­pend­ed on Tues­day, and oth­er senior direc­tors told staff to search for incrim­i­nat­ing mate­r­i­al that could be used to dam­age oppo­si­tion can­di­dates, includ­ing Buhari.

    “It made every­one feel real­ly uncom­fort­able,” said one source. “They want­ed peo­ple to load it into their email pro­grams.”

    Peo­ple “freaked out”, anoth­er employ­ee said. “They want­ed to have noth­ing to do with it.”

    One mem­ber of the cam­paign team told the Guardian and Observ­er that the mate­r­i­al they believed had been hacked includ­ed Buhari’s med­ical records. “I’m 99% sure of that. Or if they didn’t have his med­ical records they at least had emails that referred to what was going on.”

    When news of the Lon­don meet­ing fil­tered back to Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca staff work­ing on the ground in Nige­ria, it caused pan­ic, the source said. Local secu­ri­ty advis­ers told the firm’s team to leave the coun­try imme­di­ate­ly because if oppo­si­tion sup­port­ers found out, they could turn on them.

    “What is clear is that the secu­ri­ty of their employ­ees didn’t even seem to have occurred to them,” said one for­mer employ­ee. “It was a very seri­ous sit­u­a­tion and they had to evac­u­ate imme­di­ate­ly.”

    An SCL Elec­tions spokesper­son said team mem­bers work­ing on the Nige­ria cam­paign remained in the coun­try through­out the orig­i­nal cam­paign­ing peri­od, and left in accor­dance with the company’s cam­paign plan.

    The Guardian has seen an email from Nix dat­ed 26 Jan­u­ary 2015, refer­ring to the “Israeli team”.

    It says: “Although it is out­side of our remit, I have asked for an update on what the Israeli team has been work­ing on and what they will be deliv­er­ing between now and the elec­tion.”

    In a sec­ond episode in ear­ly 2015, sources said the same Israeli team that had worked on the Nige­ria cam­paign obtained pri­vate infor­ma­tion of the St Kitts and Nevis politi­cian Tim­o­thy Har­ris. At the time he was an oppo­si­tion leader, and is now prime min­is­ter.

    Sources have said staff did not want to han­dle what appeared to be stolen mate­r­i­al. “Nobody want­ed to have any­thing to do with it,” one employ­ee said.

    A state­ment from SCL Elec­tions said: “Dur­ing an elec­tion cam­paign, it is nor­mal for SCL Elec­tions to meet with ven­dors seek­ing to pro­vide ser­vices as a sub­con­trac­tor. SCL Elec­tions did not take pos­ses­sion of or use any per­son­al infor­ma­tion from such indi­vid­u­als for any pur­pos­es. SCL Elec­tions does not use ‘hacked’ or ‘stolen’ data.”

    The state­ment added: “Mem­bers of the SCL Elec­tions team that worked on the Nige­ria cam­paign remained in coun­try through­out the orig­i­nal cam­paign­ing peri­od, although the elec­tion was resched­uled and SCL was not retained for the entire­ty of the extend­ed cam­paign peri­od.

    “Team mem­bers left in accor­dance with the company’s cam­paign plan. Team mem­bers were reg­u­lar­ly briefed about secu­ri­ty con­cerns pri­or to and dur­ing deploy­ment and mea­sures were tak­en to ensure the team’s safe­ty through­out.”

    ...

    ———-

    “Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was offered politi­cians’ hacked emails, say wit­ness­es” by Car­ole Cad­wal­ladr; The Guardian; 03/21/2018

    Mul­ti­ple sources have described how senior direc­tors of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca – includ­ing its chief exec­u­tive, Alexan­der Nix – gave staff instruc­tions to han­dle mate­r­i­al pro­vid­ed by com­put­er hack­ers in elec­tion cam­paigns in Nige­ria and St Kitts and Nevis.”

    Yep, Alexan­der Nix, the CEO of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and not some low­er lev­el man­ag­er, is the guy who instruct­ed employ­ees to han­dle these hacked doc­u­ments to search for con­tent on oppo­si­tion fig­ures.

    There was two dis­tinct episodes 2015, both of which report­ed­ly alarmed employ­ees because these employ­ees were being asked to han­dle what they assumed were stolen doc­u­ments. In ear­ly 2015, these employ­ees met Israeli cyber­se­cu­ri­ty con­trac­tors in Cam­bridge Analytica’s offices in Lon­don, where they were giv­en a USB stick of what they believed were hacked per­son­al emails. And Nix then asked the employ­ees to look through the doc­u­ments:

    ...
    They claim there were two episodes in 2015 that alarmed mem­bers of staff and led them to refuse to han­dle the data, which they assumed would have been obtained ille­gal­ly.

    ...

    Hired by a Niger­ian bil­lion­aire to sup­port the re-elec­tion of Good­luck Jonathan, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was paid an esti­mat­ed £2m to orches­trate a fero­cious cam­paign against his rival, the oppo­si­tion leader Muham­madu Buhari. Jonathan lost out to Buhari in the pres­i­den­tial race. There is no sug­ges­tion Jonathan knew of the covert oper­a­tion.

    Staff work­ing on the cam­paign say in ear­ly 2015 they met Israeli cyber­se­cu­ri­ty con­trac­tors in Cam­bridge Analytica’s offices in May­fair, Lon­don. Employ­ees say they were told the meet­ing was arranged by Brit­tany Kaiser, a senior direc­tor at the firm.

    The Guardian and Observ­er have been told the Israelis brought a lap­top from their office in Tel Aviv and hand­ed employ­ees a USB stick con­tain­ing what they believed were hacked per­son­al emails.

    Sources said Nix, who was sus­pend­ed on Tues­day, and oth­er senior direc­tors told staff to search for incrim­i­nat­ing mate­r­i­al that could be used to dam­age oppo­si­tion can­di­dates, includ­ing Buhari.

    “It made every­one feel real­ly uncom­fort­able,” said one source. “They want­ed peo­ple to load it into their email pro­grams.”

    Peo­ple “freaked out”, anoth­er employ­ee said. “They want­ed to have noth­ing to do with it.”

    One mem­ber of the cam­paign team told the Guardian and Observ­er that the mate­r­i­al they believed had been hacked includ­ed Buhari’s med­ical records. “I’m 99% sure of that. Or if they didn’t have his med­ical records they at least had emails that referred to what was going on.”
    ...

    And then there was a sec­ond episode in ear­ly 2015 where the same Israeli team some­how obtained pri­vate infor­ma­tion on Tim­o­thy Har­ris, an oppo­si­tion leader of St Kitts and Nevis:

    ...
    In a sec­ond episode in ear­ly 2015, sources said the same Israeli team that had worked on the Nige­ria cam­paign obtained pri­vate infor­ma­tion of the St Kitts and Nevis politi­cian Tim­o­thy Har­ris. At the time he was an oppo­si­tion leader, and is now prime min­is­ter.

    Sources have said staff did not want to han­dle what appeared to be stolen mate­r­i­al. “Nobody want­ed to have any­thing to do with it,” one employ­ee said.
    ...

    And based on a Jan­u­ary 26, 2015, email from Nix, it sure sounds like the “Israeli team” was hired by Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca to “deliv­er” some­thing before the Niger­ian elec­tion:

    ...
    The Guardian has seen an email from Nix dat­ed 26 Jan­u­ary 2015, refer­ring to the “Israeli team”.

    It says: “Although it is out­side of our remit, I have asked for an update on what the Israeli team has been work­ing on and what they will be deliv­er­ing between now and the elec­tion.”
    ...

    So there was have it: we already knew Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was will­ing to work with hacked emails. The out­reach to Wik­ileaks made that clear. But now we have pret­ty com­pelling evi­dence that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was will­ing to hire hack­ers to do the hack­ing in the first place. Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was clear­ly try­ing to be a ‘full ser­vice’ elec­tions oper­a­tion, and those ser­vices appear to include order­ing the hacks too. Or at least order­ing peo­ple to track down and obtain mate­r­i­al that had been hacked by oth­ers and was avail­able for sale.

    And both of those pos­si­bil­i­ties are worth keep­ing in mind regard­ing the sto­ry of Repub­li­can financier/opposition researcher Peter Smith and how he and fig­ures like Kellyanne Con­way, Sam Clo­vis, Michael Fly­nn and Steve Ban­non (a Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca offi­cer) set up a sep­a­rate LLC in Delaware for the pur­pose of hunt­ing down Hillary’s hacked emails over the dark web (which led to calls for them to con­tact Andrew “weev” Anuern­heimer). Were they try­ing to con­tact and hunt down hack­ers Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca pre­vi­ous­ly hired or just search­ing for emails they assumed were already hacked by some third par­ty and avail­able for sale? Who knows, but based on the total­i­ty of infor­ma­tion we have about this Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and how it oper­ates it’s hard to imag­ine that the com­pa­ny would have any a prob­lem at all with either sit­u­a­tion if the oppor­tu­ni­ty arose. Sure, some of the employ­ees tasked with sift­ing through the hacked doc­u­ments would have had a prob­lem with that, but not the peo­ple actu­al­ly run­ning the com­pa­ny, as we just saw.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 2, 2018, 1:17 pm
  10. Here’s of those “look how quirky Robert Mer­cer is” kinds of sto­ries that is both inter­est­ing and also quit alarm­ing. Because this par­tic­u­lar instance of Mer­cer’s quirk­i­ness is direct­ly tied to an appar­ent gun obses­sion the guy has. A gun obses­sion that includes pos­sess­ing a mas­sive bunker of arms and own­ing a firearms man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­ny:

    So it turns out Robert Mer­cer has an unex­pect­ed hob­by. He was a reserve police offi­cer for the town of Lake Arthur, New Mex­i­co from 2011 until last Sep­tem­ber. And he was lav­ish­ing the Lake Arthur And it’s not because of a love of polic­ing. Obvi­ous­ly. Mer­cer was clear­ly doing it to exploit a loop­hole in fed­er­al law that said off-duty police offi­cers could car­ried con­cealed weapons any­where in the US. He even start­ed a non-prof­it, the Law Enforce­ment Edu­ca­tion Orga­ni­za­tion, that is ded­i­cat­ed to edu­cat­ing peo­ple about the fact that off-duty police get con­cealed car­ry rights. That’s how des­per­ate­ly Robert Mer­cer is to car­ry a gun.

    But that’s where the quirk­i­ness ends and the scari­ness begins. Because Mer­cer’s gun fetish isn’t lim­it­ed to get­ting the right to con­cealed car­ry a pis­tol or some­thing like that. No, it turns out Mer­cer lit­er­al­ly bought a mas­sive pri­vate gun col­lec­tion. And also appears to own a gun man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­ny. And these don’t appear to be pur­chas­es based on the prof­it poten­tial of these invest­ments. He just wants guns. Lots and lots of guns

    Bloomberg Busi­ness­week

    Robert Mercer’s Secret Adven­ture as a New Mex­i­co Cop
    Why was the fab­u­lous­ly wealthy Trump donor wear­ing a badge and a gun in a tiny desert town? To obtain some­thing that’s impos­si­ble to buy.

    By Zachary Mider
    March 28, 2018, 3:00 AM CDT

    Robert Mer­cer prob­a­bly would have flown into Roswell. From there—1,800 miles from home—he would’ve trav­eled south through the high desert plains of south­east New Mex­i­co, flat as a tor­tilla, past aban­doned home­steads and irri­ga­tion machines mov­ing in slow cir­cles.

    His phone recep­tion would’ve got­ten spot­ty when he turned left off High­way 285. He would’ve seen the bare limbs of a pecan orchard and a grave­yard decked in plas­tic flow­ers. At the town hall in Lake Arthur, pop­u­la­tion 433, he would’ve met Police Chief William Nor­wood, the depart­ment’s sole full-time employ­ee, a bar­rel-chest­ed man with two spare rifle mag­a­zines on his belt. There, Mer­cer, the fab­u­lous­ly wealthy com­put­er sci­en­tist who helped bankroll the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, would’ve report­ed for duty as a vol­un­teer police­man.

    ...

    For most of the past six years, as Mer­cer became one of the country’s polit­i­cal king­mak­ers, he was also peri­od­i­cal­ly polic­ing Lake Arthur, accord­ing to the depart­ment. If he fol­lowed Norwood’s protocols—and Nor­wood insists no vol­un­teers get spe­cial treatment—he would’ve patrolled at least six days a year. He would’ve paid for trav­el and room and board, and sup­plied his own body armor and weapon.

    Until a few months ago, Mer­cer, 71, ran what is arguably the world’s most suc­cess­ful hedge fund. He employs a pha­lanx of ser­vants and body­guards and owns a 203-foot yacht named Sea Owl. He was the mon­ey behind Bre­it­bart News and Steve Ban­non, whose fiery pop­ulism helped pro­pel Trump to the White House, as well as the data firm Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, which shaped the campaign’s mes­sages. Short­ly after the elec­tion, Mer­cer donned a top hat and wel­comed the pres­i­dent-elect to a cos­tume par­ty at his sea­side man­sion on Long Island. What was a guy like that doing in the desert, wear­ing a gun and a shiny badge?

    I was sur­prised when I first heard about Mercer’s sojourns in Lake Arthur, but then I’m used to his sur­pris­es. Dur­ing the two and a half years I’ve cov­ered Mer­cer, I’ve come to think of him as a hard-right ver­sion of that guy in the beer com­mer­cials, the Most Inter­est­ing Man in the World. There seems to be an inex­haustible sup­ply of incred­i­ble-but-true Mer­cer sto­ries, includ­ing his pio­neer­ing research that begat Google Trans­late, his fund­ing of a stock­pile of human urine in the Ore­gon moun­tains, his mil­lion-dol­lar mod­el train set, and his habit of whistling con­stant­ly, even dur­ing work meet­ings. The com­mon threads in these sto­ries are a fierce intel­li­gence, a wide-rang­ing curios­i­ty, and an utter indif­fer­ence to the judg­ment of oth­ers. The sto­ry of his adven­tures in Lake Arthur, which hasn’t been pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed, adds yet anoth­er strand. It shows just how far a man of means will go to get some­thing he can’t buy: the right to car­ry a con­cealed firearm any­where in Amer­i­ca.

    The Mer­cers don’t talk to the press, and Robert Mer­cer wouldn’t tell me why he start­ed vol­un­teer­ing for the Lake Arthur police. When I went there to see for myself, I found that it was unlike any police depart­ment I’d come across. Nor­wood and three part-timers are but­tressed by 84 reserve offi­cers, most of whom live hun­dreds or even thou­sands of miles away. There are Lake Arthur reservists in San Diego and Vir­ginia Beach. Sev­er­al are among the most elite sol­diers on Earth—former U.S. Navy SEALs. Many are high-dol­lar body­guards or firearms instruc­tors, and almost all of them are seri­ous gun enthu­si­asts. On that count, Mer­cer fits right in. He once built a per­son­al pis­tol range in his base­ment. Through a com­pa­ny he co-owns, Cen­tre Firearms Co., he has a vast col­lec­tion of machine guns and oth­er weapons of war, as well as a fac­to­ry in South Car­oli­na that makes assault-style rifles.

    Over our own lunch at Pic­col­i­no, the Ital­ian place, Chief Nor­wood passed me a copy of his department’s newslet­ter, the Blue Heel­er. One pic­ture shows reservists train­ing in a two-man sniper-spot­ter team. The sniper is kit­ted out in a mesh veil for cam­ou­flage and appears to be fir­ing from inside a kitchen. Anoth­er shows a door with a hole blast­ed through it, the result of an exer­cise in “explo­sive breach­ing.” The newslet­ter gave the impres­sion that Nor­wood was run­ning his depart­ment as a sort of high-octane club for guys who sub­scribe to Guns & Ammo. It was hard to imag­ine these skills being put to heavy use in Lake Arthur, where reservists’ offi­cial duties include find­ing lost pets.

    Even the coolest drills wouldn’t explain why Mer­cer would go to the trou­ble of get­ting a Lake Arthur badge. With his con­nec­tions in the gun world, he wouldn’t need to trav­el all the way from Long Island to have some week­end fun on the range. And if he just want­ed to serve the pub­lic and wear a uni­form, he could choose from sev­er­al police aux­il­iary pro­grams with­out leav­ing his home coun­ty.

    Then I learned that in 2012 sev­er­al of Mercer’s asso­ciates had set up a non­prof­it in Geor­gia bland­ly named the Law Enforce­ment Edu­ca­tion Orga­ni­za­tion. Among the founders were Mercer’s son-in-law George Wells and Wells’s long­time friend Peter Pukish—both of whom were also Lake Arthur vol­un­teers. Chair­ing the group was for­mer Geor­gia Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Robert Barr, a Mer­cer lawyer and Nation­al Rifle Asso­ci­a­tion board mem­ber who got pranked in the 2006 mock­u­men­tary Borat. (The movie cap­tures his sour expres­sion when he’s told the cheese he just ate was made from a woman’s breast milk.) Tax records sug­gest Mer­cer gave the group’s sis­ter foun­da­tion more than $400,000, and his gun com­pa­ny became a spon­sor (see note 1, below) . The pur­pose: to edu­cate local author­i­ties across the coun­try about the rights of off-duty police offi­cers to car­ry con­cealed weapons. The group showed up at police con­fer­ences and hand­ed out brochures and moon pies.

    States vary wide­ly in their approach­es to reg­u­lat­ing con­cealed weapons. But in 2004, Con­gress passed the Law Enforce­ment Offi­cers Safe­ty Act, declar­ing that police offi­cers can car­ry con­cealed guns in any state with no need of a local license. The law applies to offi­cers who are off-duty and out of their jurisdiction—and includes vol­un­teer reservists.

    The law made a police badge an immea­sur­ably valu­able item in places such as Suf­folk Coun­ty, N.Y., where Mer­cer lives, and where con­cealed-car­ry per­mits are grant­ed only rarely. Appli­cants must prove they face “extra­or­di­nary per­son­al dan­ger”; in 2016 the coun­ty reject­ed the request of a man who had helped the FBI take down an out­law bik­er gang. Even if Mer­cer did get a local per­mit, it wouldn’t be valid if he trav­eled to New York City or to most oth­er states. For peo­ple in Suf­folk who want to car­ry, the Law Enforce­ment Offi­cers Safe­ty Act is a tan­ta­liz­ing way to cut through all of that—if they can find a police force that will grant them its tin.

    Since the law took effect, a few police and sheriff’s depart­ments around the coun­try have been rumored to hand out badges to bud­dies or in exchange for cash. The gun com­mu­ni­ty calls them “badge fac­to­ries.” Ques­tions about whether Lake Arthur was such a place swirled last year on a pop­u­lar gun chat room, after a not­ed firearms expert from North Car­oli­na who was also a reservist got drunk and acci­den­tal­ly shot his broth­er-in-law in the leg. (Nor­wood quick­ly stripped him of his badge.) It’s not clear exact­ly when or how Mer­cer became aware of Lake Arthur’s reserve corps. But he became an offi­cer on Dec. 10, 2011, and since then, Mer­cer and his son-in-law have sup­port­ed the town gen­er­ous­ly. Their foun­da­tion under­wrote a grant for some Lake Arthur offi­cers to get SWAT train­ing in Las Vegas. Sep­a­rate­ly, Wells helped start a reserve offi­cers’ asso­ci­a­tion that appar­ent­ly direct­ed tens of thou­sands of dol­lars to the depart­ment. (2)

    At lunch, Nor­wood ordered a sal­ad and insist­ed that his depart­ment was no badge fac­to­ry. “It’s a big help to me, I’ll tell you that,” he said of the reserve pro­gram. “It’s bet­ter than going out to a domes­tic vio­lence call way out in the coun­ty all by your­self.” Norwood’s head was close­ly shaved, and he had a hint of red­dish stub­ble on his cheeks. He was dressed from head to toe in black tac­ti­cal gear, and a patch on his chest gave his blood type as O+. Nor­wood refused to dis­cuss Mer­cer or any oth­er indi­vid­ual reservist but said that if a per­son sim­ply want­ed con­cealed-car­ry rights, vol­un­teer­ing for his squad wouldn’t be worth the trou­ble: Depart­ment rules require 96 hours of patrol work and 20 hours of train­ing a year. He added that while reservists are encour­aged to car­ry their weapons off-duty for pro­tec­tion, they’re not allowed to use their con­cealed-car­ry priv­i­leges for out­side work. (Lat­er, after I showed Nor­wood the LinkedIn accounts of two men who seemed to be doing just that—security con­trac­tors tout­ing their abil­i­ty to car­ry guns anywhere—the men faced “severe” dis­ci­pli­nary action, a depart­ment spokesman said.)

    Nor­wood formed the reserve pro­gram in 2005, not long after he joined the depart­ment. With the near­est back­up a half-hour or more away, he didn’t like the idea of patrolling solo, so he turned to a cou­ple of Army bud­dies for vol­un­teer help. The pro­gram expand­ed by word of mouth. At one point a few years ago, there were almost 150 reserve officers—that’d be a ratio of one to every 2.9 residents—and Nor­wood, who prefers patrolling to paper­work, acknowl­edged he wasn’t giv­ing the pro­gram the over­sight it need­ed. In 2016 a reserve cap­tain took over admin­is­tra­tive duties, tight­ened up poli­cies, and cut the num­ber of reservists almost in half. Last year, Nor­wood stopped accept­ing new mem­bers alto­geth­er. But even this small­er force is enough to pro­vide him with a vis­it­ing reservist or two on any giv­en day, free of charge.

    “There may have been some abus­es in the past,” said the admin­is­tra­tor, Oliv­er Brooks, who lives 200 miles away and joined us for lunch. “But when­ev­er we find out about them, we take action.”

    After a for­mal request under New Mexico’s open-records law, Nor­wood sent me doc­u­ments show­ing that Mer­cer, Wells, and Puk­ish joined on the same day in 2011. Mer­cer and Wells left the depart­ment last Sep­tem­ber, and Puk­ish stayed on until Feb­ru­ary. Brooks said he didn’t know why they left; Puk­ish declined to com­ment, and Wells didn’t respond to inquiries.

    Many of Mercer’s links to the gun world flow through Wells, who’s mar­ried to the youngest of Mercer’s three daugh­ters, Heather Sue. She deserves a beer com­mer­cial of her own. A tal­ent­ed place­kick­er, she made Duke University’s foot­ball team in 1995 and then sued the coach for sex dis­crim­i­na­tion when he refused to let her suit up. She won. Lat­er, after run­ning a bak­ery in New York with her sis­ters, Heather Sue moved to Las Vegas and gam­bled for high stakes. She played $25,000 no-lim­it hold ’em six-hand­ed at the 2010 World Series of Pok­er, plac­ing 15th. She mar­ried Wells, one of the family’s body­guards, the next year.

    Wells had pre­vi­ous­ly worked as a firearms train­er and a secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor in Iraq, and he once had a side­line mak­ing con­cealed-car­ry hol­sters out of ele­phant and ostrich skin. Soon after the mar­riage, he got a new job: Wells and Mer­cer joined with oth­er investors to acquire Cen­tre Firearms (3), a long­time Man­hat­tan deal­er that spe­cial­ized in out­fit­ting movies and TV shows, and Wells became its pres­i­dent.

    Mer­cer and Wells want­ed to expand beyond props, and they soon entered talks with Daniel Shea, a Neva­da arms deal­er who had a world-class col­lec­tion of machine guns. His wares includ­ed 19th cen­tu­ry antiques, a Stinger anti­air­craft mis­sile launch­er, and the fake grenade launch­er that Al Paci­no wield­ed in Scar­face, accord­ing to doc­u­ments filed in sub­se­quent lit­i­ga­tion. He also rent­ed guns to video game mak­ers. If you play cer­tain Call of Duty titles, you hear their thun­der. But Shea was far more than a mere col­lec­tor: He had bro­kered arms deals in Jor­dan and Ser­bia and trained U.S. com­man­dos on obscure weapons they might face in the field.

    Cen­tre agreed to buy the assets of Shea’s com­pa­ny, Long Moun­tain Out­fit­ters, for as much as $8 mil­lion, with Mer­cer pro­vid­ing the cash, court doc­u­ments show. Shea stuck around to intro­duce the new own­ers to his con­tacts in the U.S. gov­ern­ment and for­eign mil­i­taries. In a Novem­ber 2013 busi­ness plan, Cen­tre exec­u­tives described their aim to become “the lead­ing inter­na­tion­al sup­pli­er of arms and train­ing.” As part of their strat­e­gy, they wrote, they would “use our rela­tions with gov­ern­ment con­tacts and politi­cians.”

    Wells put his friend Puk­ish in charge of the Neva­da oper­a­tions, locat­ed in an indus­tri­al park in a Las Vegas sub­urb. Puk­ish is a mar­tial-arts mas­ter who once ran a dojo, as well as a train­ing busi­ness called Chaos Inter­na­tion­al. In online pro­files he claims to be expert in jiu­jit­su, kun­tao knife fight­ing, and the Japan­ese heal­ing art of rei­ki. Mean­while, in ear­ly 2014, Mer­cer and his part­ners acquired a ware­house in the Ridge­wood neigh­bor­hood of Queens, N.Y., and moved much of Centre’s East Coast inven­to­ry there. (Ed Leit­er, a for­mer own­er of Cen­tre who vis­it­ed the site recent­ly, said the stash includes an Mk 19 belt-fed grenade launch­er, capa­ble of hurl­ing 60 explo­sives per minute. Leit­er said he thinks it’s used for train­ing.)

    But Centre’s part­ner­ship with Shea quick­ly col­lapsed. In Novem­ber 2014, Cen­tre sued Long Moun­tain Out­fit­ters in Neva­da, accus­ing Shea of keep­ing guns he was sup­posed to hand over. Shea denied that and coun­ter­sued, alleg­ing Puk­ish was run­ning the busi­ness into the ground and that sales trips the two of them had tak­en to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Israel, and Jor­dan had been a dis­as­ter. The par­ties set­tled the law­suit on undis­closed terms. Shea left the com­pa­ny, and Cen­tre kept most of his armory. (Through his lawyer, Shea declined to com­ment.)

    While Mercer’s for­ay into inter­na­tion­al arms deal­ing strug­gled, he moved in anoth­er direc­tion: man­u­fac­tur­ing guns him­self. In 2016, Cen­tre acquired South Carolina’s PTR Indus­tries Inc., the mak­er of a civil­ian ver­sion of a Cold War-era Ger­man bat­tle rifle called the G3. PTR hasn’t dis­closed its investors and declined to com­ment for this sto­ry. But accord­ing to a per­son with knowl­edge of the mat­ter, Mer­cer appeared at the plant one day in ear­ly 2016 and went on an hours­long tour, flanked by Cen­tre exec­u­tives and a woman said to be Mercer’s nurse. He asked a few ques­tions about the pro­duc­tion process but was oth­er­wise silent, the per­son said. Around plant employ­ees, PTR’s chief exec­u­tive took to call­ing the vis­i­tor “Mr. M.” (4)

    Trump’s vic­to­ry seemed to vault Mer­cer to the cen­ter of Amer­i­can polit­i­cal pow­er. His two clos­est polit­i­cal advis­ers, Ban­non and Kellyanne Con­way, helped lead the cam­paign and then moved to the White House, and his daugh­ter Rebekah, who over­sees his polit­i­cal and char­i­ta­ble spend­ing, won a lead­er­ship role on the tran­si­tion team. But Ban­non has since been cast out of the president’s cir­cle, and Rebekah tossed him from Bre­it­bart News. Lib­er­al activists hound­ed investors in Mercer’s hedge fund, Renais­sance Tech­nolo­gies, until he announced in Novem­ber that he would step down as co-CEO. And Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca is at the cen­ter of a tech and polit­i­cal firestorm after rev­e­la­tions that it improp­er­ly har­vest­ed the per­son­al data of 50 mil­lion Face­book users with­out their knowl­edge.

    Trump’s win appears to be, at best, a mixed bless­ing for Mercer’s gun inter­ests. The pres­i­dent sup­ports a House mea­sure requir­ing states to rec­og­nize con­cealed-car­ry per­mits regard­less of where they were issued—essentially offer­ing civil­ians the same workaround Mer­cer got from Lake Arthur—but after the school shoot­ing in Park­land, Fla., the measure’s chances in the Sen­ate grew dim­mer. On the cor­po­rate front, it’s unclear if Mercer’s gun com­pa­ny has won any gov­ern­ment con­tracts. And with a gun-rights sup­port­er in the White House, civil­ian pur­chas­es of assault-style rifles have plum­met­ed from Oba­ma-era highs. Rem­ing­ton Out­door Co., among the nation’s largest gun­mak­ers, declared bank­rupt­cy on March 25.

    Mer­cer didn’t get into the gun busi­ness to get rich; the Bloomberg Bil­lion­aires Index val­ues his wealth at almost $1 bil­lion. But his fam­i­ly seems to be hav­ing fun. They’ve shown off their guns to polit­i­cal allies, tak­ing them to a vault deep under the streets of Man­hat­tan or to the ware­house near Las Vegas and point­ing out some of the more remark­able weapons. Vis­i­tors, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty, say the spaces are laid out like high-end club­hous­es, with ful­ly stocked bars. And in Jan­u­ary, Mercer’s man­u­fac­tur­er rolled out a new prod­uct: a civil­ian ver­sion of the Ger­man sub­ma­chine gun known as the MP5. It offers a 30-round mag­a­zine and an option­al thread­ed bar­rel for attach­ing a silencer. It retails for $1,899.

    Mer­cer would’ve used a more mod­est gun at the marks­man­ship tests he was required to pass annu­al­ly to keep his Lake Arthur badge valid. To qual­i­fy, he might’ve head­ed to the local range, in a des­o­late part of Hager­man, where a bull­doz­er has piled up berms of earth on three sides. A fel­low reservist would’ve plant­ed a man-shaped paper tar­get at a dis­tance and called out instruc­tions, timer and clip­board in hand: “Two rounds, kneel­ing posi­tion.” Mer­cer would’ve dropped to a knee and fired. “Two rounds, cen­ter mass.” Mer­cer would’ve tak­en aim, felt the trig­ger against his fin­ger, and sent two more bul­lets out into the desert. —With Joshua Green

    1. The Mer­cer Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion report­ed dona­tions in its 2015 and 2016 tax returns total­ing $436,437 to a non­prof­it iden­ti­fied as the Law Enforce­ment Edu­ca­tion Fund, locat­ed on East Big Beaver Road in Troy, Michi­gan. There’s no such non­prof­it at that address, but there is one with a sim­i­lar name, the Law Enforce­ment Edu­ca­tion Pro­gram. John Walsh, an accoun­tant for that orga­ni­za­tion, said it has nev­er received mon­ey from Mercer’s foun­da­tion. The dona­tions appear to have gone instead to the Law Enforce­ment Edu­ca­tion Foun­da­tion, a sis­ter orga­ni­za­tion to the Law Enforce­ment Edu­ca­tion Orga­ni­za­tion. Both of these groups are based in Geor­gia and have links to Mer­cer son-in-law George Wells and Bob Barr, a lawyer who has rep­re­sent­ed Mer­cer.

    2. Wells was one of the orig­i­nal direc­tors of the South­east New Mex­i­co Police Reserve Foun­da­tion, set up in 2013. The foun­da­tion report­ed rais­ing $93,000 over two years. Under its bylaws, at least half the foundation’s net dues were required to be paid to police depart­ments whose reservists were mem­bers. At the time of its found­ing, all the mem­bers were Lake Arthur reservists.

    3. A prop­er­ty doc­u­ment filed in New York City in 2014 shows that Mer­cer and Wells togeth­er owned 40 per­cent of Cen­tre, with the bal­ance owned by the­atri­cal-firearms entre­pre­neurs Rick and Ryder Wash­burn, and by Mark Barnes, a firearms lawyer. Mer­cer and Wells also owned 50 per­cent of the Queens site.

    4. Records on file in South Car­oli­na pro­vide fur­ther evi­dence that Cen­tre Firearms is the new own­er of PTR. A ven­dor to Cen­tre filed a financ­ing state­ment there in 2016 list­ing Cen­tre as a debtor, and iden­ti­fy­ing its address as the site of the PTR plant in Aynor, S.C. In 2017, the same ven­dor filed anoth­er financ­ing state­ment iden­ti­fy­ing the debtor as “Cen­tre Firearms Co. (PTR).”
    ———-

    “Robert Mercer’s Secret Adven­ture as a New Mex­i­co Cop” by Zachary Mider; Bloomberg Busi­ness­week; 03/28/2018

    “The Mer­cers don’t talk to the press, and Robert Mer­cer wouldn’t tell me why he start­ed vol­un­teer­ing for the Lake Arthur police. When I went there to see for myself, I found that it was unlike any police depart­ment I’d come across. Nor­wood and three part-timers are but­tressed by 84 reserve offi­cers, most of whom live hun­dreds or even thou­sands of miles away. There are Lake Arthur reservists in San Diego and Vir­ginia Beach. Sev­er­al are among the most elite sol­diers on Earth—former U.S. Navy SEALs. Many are high-dol­lar body­guards or firearms instruc­tors, and almost all of them are seri­ous gun enthu­si­asts. On that count, Mer­cer fits right in. He once built a per­son­al pis­tol range in his base­ment. Through a com­pa­ny he co-owns, Cen­tre Firearms Co., he has a vast col­lec­tion of machine guns and oth­er weapons of war, as well as a fac­to­ry in South Car­oli­na that makes assault-style rifles.

    As we can see, Robert Mer­cer real­ly, real­ly, real­ly wants guns. All the time. In 2011, he joins the Lake Arthur reserve police pro­gram, and then a year lat­er sev­er­al of his asso­ciates, includ­ing his son-in-law George Wells, set up a a non-prof­it for the expressed pur­pose of teach­ing peo­ple about the right of off-duty police offi­cers to car­ry con­cealed weapons. That’s how much this guy want the right to have a con­cealed gun on hand:

    ...
    Over our own lunch at Pic­col­i­no, the Ital­ian place, Chief Nor­wood passed me a copy of his department’s newslet­ter, the Blue Heel­er. One pic­ture shows reservists train­ing in a two-man sniper-spot­ter team. The sniper is kit­ted out in a mesh veil for cam­ou­flage and appears to be fir­ing from inside a kitchen. Anoth­er shows a door with a hole blast­ed through it, the result of an exer­cise in “explo­sive breach­ing.” The newslet­ter gave the impres­sion that Nor­wood was run­ning his depart­ment as a sort of high-octane club for guys who sub­scribe to Guns & Ammo. It was hard to imag­ine these skills being put to heavy use in Lake Arthur, where reservists’ offi­cial duties include find­ing lost pets.

    Even the coolest drills wouldn’t explain why Mer­cer would go to the trou­ble of get­ting a Lake Arthur badge. With his con­nec­tions in the gun world, he wouldn’t need to trav­el all the way from Long Island to have some week­end fun on the range. And if he just want­ed to serve the pub­lic and wear a uni­form, he could choose from sev­er­al police aux­il­iary pro­grams with­out leav­ing his home coun­ty.

    Then I learned that in 2012 sev­er­al of Mercer’s asso­ciates had set up a non­prof­it in Geor­gia bland­ly named the Law Enforce­ment Edu­ca­tion Orga­ni­za­tion. Among the founders were Mercer’s son-in-law George Wells and Wells’s long­time friend Peter Pukish—both of whom were also Lake Arthur vol­un­teers. Chair­ing the group was for­mer Geor­gia Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Robert Barr, a Mer­cer lawyer and Nation­al Rifle Asso­ci­a­tion board mem­ber who got pranked in the 2006 mock­u­men­tary Borat. (The movie cap­tures his sour expres­sion when he’s told the cheese he just ate was made from a woman’s breast milk.) Tax records sug­gest Mer­cer gave the group’s sis­ter foun­da­tion more than $400,000, and his gun com­pa­ny became a spon­sor (see note 1, below) . The pur­pose: to edu­cate local author­i­ties across the coun­try about the rights of off-duty police offi­cers to car­ry con­cealed weapons. The group showed up at police con­fer­ences and hand­ed out brochures and moon pies.

    States vary wide­ly in their approach­es to reg­u­lat­ing con­cealed weapons. But in 2004, Con­gress passed the Law Enforce­ment Offi­cers Safe­ty Act, declar­ing that police offi­cers can car­ry con­cealed guns in any state with no need of a local license. The law applies to offi­cers who are off-duty and out of their jurisdiction—and includes vol­un­teer reservists.

    The law made a police badge an immea­sur­ably valu­able item in places such as Suf­folk Coun­ty, N.Y., where Mer­cer lives, and where con­cealed-car­ry per­mits are grant­ed only rarely. Appli­cants must prove they face “extra­or­di­nary per­son­al dan­ger”; in 2016 the coun­ty reject­ed the request of a man who had helped the FBI take down an out­law bik­er gang. Even if Mer­cer did get a local per­mit, it wouldn’t be valid if he trav­eled to New York City or to most oth­er states. For peo­ple in Suf­folk who want to car­ry, the Law Enforce­ment Offi­cers Safe­ty Act is a tan­ta­liz­ing way to cut through all of that—if they can find a police force that will grant them its tin.
    ...

    That said, he appears to have end­ed his sham reserve police offi­cer rela­tion­ship with the Lake Arthur pro­gram last Fall. Although giv­en all the neg­a­tive atten­tion he’s received over the last cou­ple of years it’s not sur­pris­ing that he would have decid­ed to end his obvi­ous­ly scam­my rela­tion­ship with this pro­gram:

    ...
    After a for­mal request under New Mexico’s open-records law, Nor­wood sent me doc­u­ments show­ing that Mer­cer, Wells, and Puk­ish joined on the same day in 2011. Mer­cer and Wells left the depart­ment last Sep­tem­ber, and Puk­ish stayed on until Feb­ru­ary. Brooks said he didn’t know why they left; Puk­ish declined to com­ment, and Wells didn’t respond to inquiries.
    ...

    And dur­ing this same 2011–2017 peri­od that Mer­cer was play­ing cop he was also acquir­ing a mas­sive pri­vate gun col­lec­tion via his Cen­tre Firearms com­pa­ny. Cen­tre Firearms was a long­time Man­hat­tan deal­er that spe­cial­ized in out­fit­ting movies and TV shows, and after Mer­cer acquired it he decid­ed to expand beyond prop guns. So they pro­ceed­ed to buy the com­pa­ny of Neva­da arms deal Daniel Shea, who owns a world-class col­lec­tion of machine guns. And a Stinger anti­air­craft mis­sile launch­er (let’s hope he does­n’t own any mis­siles too):

    ...
    Many of Mercer’s links to the gun world flow through Wells, who’s mar­ried to the youngest of Mercer’s three daugh­ters, Heather Sue. She deserves a beer com­mer­cial of her own. A tal­ent­ed place­kick­er, she made Duke University’s foot­ball team in 1995 and then sued the coach for sex dis­crim­i­na­tion when he refused to let her suit up. She won. Lat­er, after run­ning a bak­ery in New York with her sis­ters, Heather Sue moved to Las Vegas and gam­bled for high stakes. She played $25,000 no-lim­it hold ’em six-hand­ed at the 2010 World Series of Pok­er, plac­ing 15th. She mar­ried Wells, one of the family’s body­guards, the next year.

    Wells had pre­vi­ous­ly worked as a firearms train­er and a secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor in Iraq, and he once had a side­line mak­ing con­cealed-car­ry hol­sters out of ele­phant and ostrich skin. Soon after the mar­riage, he got a new job: Wells and Mer­cer joined with oth­er investors to acquire Cen­tre Firearms (3), a long­time Man­hat­tan deal­er that spe­cial­ized in out­fit­ting movies and TV shows, and Wells became its pres­i­dent.

    Mer­cer and Wells want­ed to expand beyond props, and they soon entered talks with Daniel Shea, a Neva­da arms deal­er who had a world-class col­lec­tion of machine guns. His wares includ­ed 19th cen­tu­ry antiques, a Stinger anti­air­craft mis­sile launch­er, and the fake grenade launch­er that Al Paci­no wield­ed in Scar­face, accord­ing to doc­u­ments filed in sub­se­quent lit­i­ga­tion. He also rent­ed guns to video game mak­ers. If you play cer­tain Call of Duty titles, you hear their thun­der. But Shea was far more than a mere col­lec­tor: He had bro­kered arms deals in Jor­dan and Ser­bia and trained U.S. com­man­dos on obscure weapons they might face in the field.

    Cen­tre agreed to buy the assets of Shea’s com­pa­ny, Long Moun­tain Out­fit­ters, for as much as $8 mil­lion, with Mer­cer pro­vid­ing the cash, court doc­u­ments show. Shea stuck around to intro­duce the new own­ers to his con­tacts in the U.S. gov­ern­ment and for­eign mil­i­taries. In a Novem­ber 2013 busi­ness plan, Cen­tre exec­u­tives described their aim to become “the lead­ing inter­na­tion­al sup­pli­er of arms and train­ing.” As part of their strat­e­gy, they wrote, they would “use our rela­tions with gov­ern­ment con­tacts and politi­cians.”
    ...

    Alas, Mer­cer and Shea had a falling out. Shea left the com­pa­ny, and Cen­tre Firearms got to keep most of Shea’s armory. Much of that armory was moved to a ware­house in Queens, NY:

    ...
    Wells put his friend Puk­ish in charge of the Neva­da oper­a­tions, locat­ed in an indus­tri­al park in a Las Vegas sub­urb. Puk­ish is a mar­tial-arts mas­ter who once ran a dojo, as well as a train­ing busi­ness called Chaos Inter­na­tion­al. In online pro­files he claims to be expert in jiu­jit­su, kun­tao knife fight­ing, and the Japan­ese heal­ing art of rei­ki. Mean­while, in ear­ly 2014, Mer­cer and his part­ners acquired a ware­house in the Ridge­wood neigh­bor­hood of Queens, N.Y., and moved much of Centre’s East Coast inven­to­ry there. (Ed Leit­er, a for­mer own­er of Cen­tre who vis­it­ed the site recent­ly, said the stash includes an Mk 19 belt-fed grenade launch­er, capa­ble of hurl­ing 60 explo­sives per minute. Leit­er said he thinks it’s used for train­ing.)

    But Centre’s part­ner­ship with Shea quick­ly col­lapsed. In Novem­ber 2014, Cen­tre sued Long Moun­tain Out­fit­ters in Neva­da, accus­ing Shea of keep­ing guns he was sup­posed to hand over. Shea denied that and coun­ter­sued, alleg­ing Puk­ish was run­ning the busi­ness into the ground and that sales trips the two of them had tak­en to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., Israel, and Jor­dan had been a dis­as­ter. The par­ties set­tled the law­suit on undis­closed terms. Shea left the com­pa­ny, and Cen­tre kept most of his armory. (Through his lawyer, Shea declined to com­ment.)
    ...

    Then, in 2016, Cen­tre Firearms acquired PTR Indus­tries, the mak­er of a civil­ian ver­sion of a Cold War-era Ger­man bat­tle rifle called the G3. In Jan­u­ary, PTR rolled out a civil­ian ver­sion of the Ger­man sub­ma­chine gun known as the MP5 with a 30-round mag­a­zine and an option­al thread­ed bar­rel for attach­ing a silencer.

    ...
    While Mercer’s for­ay into inter­na­tion­al arms deal­ing strug­gled, he moved in anoth­er direc­tion: man­u­fac­tur­ing guns him­self. In 2016, Cen­tre acquired South Carolina’s PTR Indus­tries Inc., the mak­er of a civil­ian ver­sion of a Cold War-era Ger­man bat­tle rifle called the G3. PTR hasn’t dis­closed its investors and declined to com­ment for this sto­ry. But accord­ing to a per­son with knowl­edge of the mat­ter, Mer­cer appeared at the plant one day in ear­ly 2016 and went on an hours­long tour, flanked by Cen­tre exec­u­tives and a woman said to be Mercer’s nurse. He asked a few ques­tions about the pro­duc­tion process but was oth­er­wise silent, the per­son said. Around plant employ­ees, PTR’s chief exec­u­tive took to call­ing the vis­i­tor “Mr. M.” (4)

    ...

    Mer­cer didn’t get into the gun busi­ness to get rich; the Bloomberg Bil­lion­aires Index val­ues his wealth at almost $1 bil­lion. But his fam­i­ly seems to be hav­ing fun. They’ve shown off their guns to polit­i­cal allies, tak­ing them to a vault deep under the streets of Man­hat­tan or to the ware­house near Las Vegas and point­ing out some of the more remark­able weapons. Vis­i­tors, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymi­ty, say the spaces are laid out like high-end club­hous­es, with ful­ly stocked bars. And in Jan­u­ary, Mercer’s man­u­fac­tur­er rolled out a new prod­uct: a civil­ian ver­sion of the Ger­man sub­ma­chine gun known as the MP5. It offers a 30-round mag­a­zine and an option­al thread­ed bar­rel for attach­ing a silencer. It retails for $1,899.
    ...

    “Mer­cer didn’t get into the gun busi­ness to get rich.”

    And that’s per­haps the most dis­turb­ing part of this sto­ry: it’s NOT about the mon­ey. It’s about Robert Mer­cer’s appar­ent desire to pos­sess a per­son­al mil­i­tary-grade arse­nal. And the fact that he’s a pow­er­ful fas­cist who clear­ly wants to see a far right takeover of soci­ety and is clear­ly will­ing to make major invest­ments to make that hap­pen. That’s what’s so extra dis­turb­ing about this sto­ry.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 3, 2018, 2:36 pm
  11. Check out the announce­ment Face­book made one day before Mark Zucker­berg is set to tes­ti­fy before the US con­gress over the ever-grow­ing list of Face­book scan­dals: Face­book is start­ing a new aca­d­e­m­ic ini­tia­tive to “pro­vide inde­pen­dent, cred­i­ble research about the role of social media in elec­tions, as well as democ­ra­cy more gen­er­al­ly.”

    Sounds large­ly help­ful, right? Well, it prob­a­bly would be large­ly help­ful if Face­book had actu­al­ly found a high qual­i­ty group of aca­d­e­mics to study the top­ic. This this is Face­book we’re talk­ing about, so instead their “aca­d­e­m­ic ini­tia­tive” is going to run by sev­en large phil­an­thropic foun­da­tions. Includ­ing the Charles Koch Foun­da­tion, the John and Lau­ra Arnold Foun­da­tion (also very con­ser­v­a­tive), and two foun­da­tions cre­at­ed by Pierre Omid­yar. That’s who is going to be car­ry­ing out Face­book’s “aca­d­e­m­ic ini­tia­tive” to study the impact of social media:

    Crooks and Liars

    Face­book Hands Off Elec­tions Research To A Cabal Of Foun­da­tions, Includ­ing Charles Koch’s

    By Karoli Kuns
    4/09/18 9:17am — UPDATED: 4/09/18 2:23pm

    As Mark Zucker­berg takes up his cross and trudges to Capi­tol Hill this week, Face­book is on an extreme apol­o­gy tour, rush­ing to put all sorts of ini­tia­tives in place which will have no impact on the midterms but will like­ly impact the 2020 elec­tion.

    This one defies all log­ic. In an announce­ment today, Face­book announced a new aca­d­e­m­ic ini­tia­tive to “pro­vide inde­pen­dent, cred­i­ble research about the role of social media in elec­tions, as well as democ­ra­cy more gen­er­al­ly.”

    Instead of hir­ing inde­pen­dent researchers for the project, they’re hand­ing it off to a cabal of foun­da­tions. Here is the list:

    John and Lau­ra Arnold Foun­da­tion
    Democ­ra­cy Fund (cre­at­ed by Pierre Omid­yar)
    William and Flo­ra Hewlett Foun­da­tion
    John S. and James L. Knight Foun­da­tion
    Charles Koch Foun­da­tion
    Omid­yar Net­work
    Alfred P. Sloan Foun­da­tion

    Yes, that’s right. There are at least three right-wing lib­er­tar­i­an anti-reg­u­la­tion foun­da­tions on that list: Omid­yar, Koch, and Arnold. (Note: Though I have been told that Omid­yar is not right- wing, I beg to dif­fer. He is not a social con­ser­v­a­tive, but still fierce­ly lib­er­tar­i­an with regard to right-wing pri­or­i­ties like tax­es, and eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy, which includes the social safe­ty net.)

    Enron ben­e­fi­cia­ries John and Lau­ra Arnold are now inter­est­ed in offi­cial­ly cor­rupt­ing social media, hav­ing already suc­ceed­ed with pub­lic broad­cast­ing, pub­lic schools, and pub­lic pen­sions.

    Charles Koch is vir­u­lent­ly anti-gov­ern­ment and anti-reg­u­la­tion, He has spent mil­lions — pos­si­bly bil­lions — build­ing a robust right-wing net­work and infra­struc­ture to tear down reg­u­la­tions and indeed, the entire fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. Who bet­ter to help fund an ini­tia­tive and accept data for said ini­tia­tive than the guy who wants to kill Social Secu­ri­ty, Medicare, the Afford­able Care Act, Med­ic­aid, and any oth­er social safe­ty net for which he might have to give up an extra pen­ny in tax­es?

    Final­ly, there is Pierre Omid­yar, who is less of an ide­alogue but no less lib­er­tar­i­an than the rest of them. He has invest­ed in and pro­mot­ed online jour­nal­ism with his megabucks from the sale of eBay.

    The Hewlett, Sloan and Knight Foun­da­tions are cor­po­rate-fund­ed non-prof­its with links to tech­nol­o­gy and jour­nal­ism but which are not par­tic­u­lar­ly ide­o­log­i­cal. Hewlett is a fam­i­ly foun­da­tion, again not espe­cial­ly ide­o­log­i­cal.

    Face­book and oth­er tech com­pa­nies do not want to be reg­u­lat­ed. They do not want the gov­ern­ment to over­see the way they sell and prof­it from users’ data. I can see no bet­ter way for them to pre­tend they are doing some­thing about how their users’ pri­va­cy was vio­lat­ed than to hand off all the data to a cabal of non­prof­its which are intend­ed to give the appear­ance of a non-par­ti­san blend of inter­ests.

    Any time you put the Kochs and the Arnolds in the mix, par­ti­san­ship will result. They make no bones out of the fact that they exist to fight all reg­u­la­tion, tooth and nail.

    Worse yet, the Kochs fund­ed much of the astro­turf efforts to game social media toward right-wing inter­ests in the name of defeat­ing any lib­er­al ini­tia­tives. Now they want to STUDY it? Sure thing.

    ...

    ———-

    “Face­book Hands Off Elec­tions Research To A Cabal Of Foun­da­tions, Includ­ing Charles Koch’s” by Karoli Kuns; Crooks and Liars; 4/09/2018

    Face­book and oth­er tech com­pa­nies do not want to be reg­u­lat­ed. They do not want the gov­ern­ment to over­see the way they sell and prof­it from users’ data. I can see no bet­ter way for them to pre­tend they are doing some­thing about how their users’ pri­va­cy was vio­lat­ed than to hand off all the data to a cabal of non­prof­its which are intend­ed to give the appear­ance of a non-par­ti­san blend of inter­ests.”

    And that’s the key point to keep in mind with Face­book’s new “aca­d­e­m­ic ini­tia­tive”: Face­book does not want to be reg­u­lat­ed. And that desire to avoid any hint at sug­gest­ing Face­book should be reg­u­lat­ed is inevitably s going to per­me­ate the deci­sions Face­book makes when it does things like set up “aca­d­e­m­ic ini­tia­tives” to study the pub­lic impact of social media. And that’s why this shock­ing­ly laugh­able list of phil­an­thropic foun­da­tions with con­ser­v­a­tive and hyper-lib­er­tar­i­an lean­ings is only shock­ing in how trans­par­ent­ly rigged it is. It’s not shock­ing that Face­book would like to pre­fer to have groups like the Charles Koch Foun­da­tion or two sep­a­rate Omid­yar foun­da­tions car­ry out this research because its obvi­ous that such orga­ni­za­tions will be high­ly inclined to arrive at find­ings that don’t point towards a need for greater gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion:

    ...
    This one defies all log­ic. In an announce­ment today, Face­book announced a new aca­d­e­m­ic ini­tia­tive to “pro­vide inde­pen­dent, cred­i­ble research about the role of social media in elec­tions, as well as democ­ra­cy more gen­er­al­ly.”

    Instead of hir­ing inde­pen­dent researchers for the project, they’re hand­ing it off to a cabal of foun­da­tions. Here is the list:

    John and Lau­ra Arnold Foun­da­tion
    Democ­ra­cy Fund (cre­at­ed by Pierre Omid­yar)
    William and Flo­ra Hewlett Foun­da­tion
    John S. and James L. Knight Foun­da­tion
    Charles Koch Foun­da­tion
    Omid­yar Net­work
    Alfred P. Sloan Foun­da­tion

    Yes, that’s right. There are at least three right-wing lib­er­tar­i­an anti-reg­u­la­tion foun­da­tions on that list: Omid­yar, Koch, and Arnold. (Note: Though I have been told that Omid­yar is not right- wing, I beg to dif­fer. He is not a social con­ser­v­a­tive, but still fierce­ly lib­er­tar­i­an with regard to right-wing pri­or­i­ties like tax­es, and eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy, which includes the social safe­ty net.)

    ...

    Any time you put the Kochs and the Arnolds in the mix, par­ti­san­ship will result. They make no bones out of the fact that they exist to fight all reg­u­la­tion, tooth and nail.
    ...

    And don’t for­get that the Koch broth­ers have been engaged in a dri­ve to cor­rupt aca­d­e­m­ic research for years, notably at Flori­da State Uni­ver­si­ty where they tried to use their phil­an­thropic dona­tions through the Charles Koch Foun­da­tion as an excuse to get hard-right eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sors appoint­ed to the school. More recent­ly, pro­fes­sors and stu­dents in Ari­zona have had to warn the pub­lic of a Koch-led influ­ence cam­paign at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ari­zona and local high schools to inject far right con­tent into the edu­ca­tion sys­tem via a new “Free­dom Cen­ter” financed by the Kochs and a host of oth­er hard right donors. Med­dling in aca­d­e­m­ic research is long-run­ning Koch hob­by.

    And that’s just the Kochs. Pierre Omid­yar is so ded­i­cat­ed to lib­er­tar­i­an/free-mar­ket par­a­digms that he’s try­ing to turn edu­ca­tion for the poor­est peo­ple on the plan­et into a for-prof­it ini­tia­tive. At this point we should basi­cal­ly expect Face­book’s “aca­d­e­m­ic ini­tia­tive” to come back with the find­ing that social media is over­ly reg­u­lat­ed and not prof­itable enough.

    Ok, hope­ful­ly the research that emerges from this ini­tia­tive won’t be that obvi­ous­ly bias­es. But to get a sense of what we can expect, here’s a recent piece from last Octo­ber n the dan­gers of social media writ­ten by the Pierre Omid­yar him­self. The piece sum­ma­rizes the find­ings of a Omid­yar Net­work research team that looked into exact­ly the kind of top­ic Face­book is ask­ing its new “aca­d­e­m­ic ini­tia­tive” to look into: the impact of social media on democ­ra­cy.

    Unlike a 2014 piece pub­lished by Omid­yar — where he calls social media one of the most impor­tant and lib­er­at­ing inven­tions ever cre­at­ed — this 2017 piece does actu­al­ly have a set of com­plaints about the impact of social media on democ­ra­cy. They were exact­ly the same com­plaints we’ve heard numer­ous times else­where since the 2016 elec­tion (fake news, polar­iza­tion, etc). And what did the Omid­yar Net­work researchers con­clude about what to do about this? Well, he con­clud­ed that it was a big­ger prob­lem than any one gov­ern­ment or enti­ty could deal with alone, and that the social media giants them­selves should be lead­ing the way on mak­ing the required changes. In oth­er words, bet­ter self-reg­u­la­tion by the indus­try. That was the Omid­yar Net­work’s big rec­om­men­da­tion (sur­prise!):

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    Pierre Omid­yar: 6 ways social media has become a direct threat to democ­ra­cy

    By Pierre Omid­yar
    Octo­ber 9, 2017

    Pierre Omid­yar, founder of eBay, is a phil­an­thropist, tech­nol­o­gist and human­i­tar­i­an. He is a mem­ber of The World­Post edi­to­r­i­al board.

    While it’s hard to believe that help­ing strangers con­nect through the Inter­net was ever a rad­i­cal idea, when I start­ed eBay 22 years ago, it felt more like a social exper­i­ment than a busi­ness endeav­or. And in many ways, it was.

    Back then, online com­merce was a new and wild fron­tier. I believed in our mis­sion to empow­er peo­ple to con­duct pri­vate trade on the Inter­net, but there were unfore­see­able chal­lenges lurk­ing deep in those unchart­ed waters. I had a lot to learn, and I felt a deep respon­si­bil­i­ty to help build an account­able and sus­tain­able new indus­try — a weight that the lead­ers of today’s evolv­ing social media indus­try shoul­der as well.

    For all the ways this tech­nol­o­gy brings us togeth­er, the mon­e­ti­za­tion and manip­u­la­tion of infor­ma­tion is swift­ly tear­ing us apart. From for­eign inter­fer­ence in our elec­tions to tar­get­ed cam­paigns designed to con­fuse and divide on impor­tant social issues, groups look­ing for an effec­tive way to infil­trate and influ­ence our democ­ra­cy have found gen­er­ous hosts in the world of social media.

    But the time has come for these unwel­come guests to leave the par­ty.

    For years, Face­book has been paid to dis­trib­ute ads known as “dark posts,” which are only shared with high­ly tar­get­ed users select­ed by adver­tis­ers. When these ads are polit­i­cal or divi­sive in nature, their secre­cy deprives those affect­ed by the ads the oppor­tu­ni­ty to respond in a time­ly man­ner — say, before an elec­tion con­cludes. It also allows out­siders, such as the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment, to influ­ence and manip­u­late U.S. cit­i­zens from the shad­ows.

    Face­book has since shared its plan to pro­tect the integri­ty of future elec­tions and increase trans­paren­cy and mon­i­tor­ing of its adver­tis­ing. It’s an aggres­sive effort, and I am cau­tious­ly opti­mistic about the company’s ded­i­ca­tion to address­ing the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties of its plat­form. But even if these safe­guards are suc­cess­ful, we’re still just begin­ning to address how social media across all plat­forms is being used to under­mine trans­paren­cy, account­abil­i­ty and trust in our democ­ra­cy.

    The Omid­yar Group works to address, in part, how to sup­port and pro­tect our demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues. Recent­ly, a team from two of our orga­ni­za­tions, Democ­ra­cy Fund and Omid­yar Net­work, assem­bled to inves­ti­gate the rela­tion­ship between social media and democ­ra­cy. The ini­tial find­ings are detailed in a paper that iden­ti­fies six key areas where social media has become a direct threat to our demo­c­ra­t­ic ideals:

    1. Echo cham­bers, polar­iza­tion and hyper-par­ti­san­ship.

    In many ways, the design of cer­tain social media plat­forms mir­rors the grow­ing vol­ume of par­ti­san media in tra­di­tion­al chan­nels. As they increas­ing­ly become a pri­ma­ry dis­tri­b­u­tion chan­nel, social media plat­forms cre­ate bub­bles of one-sided infor­ma­tion and opin­ions, per­pet­u­at­ing biased views and dimin­ish­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for healthy dis­course.

    2. Spread of false or mis­lead­ing infor­ma­tion

    Viral dis­in­for­ma­tion or mis­in­for­ma­tion, com­mon­ly dubbed “fake news,” runs ram­pant across social media chan­nels, dis­sem­i­nat­ed by both state and pri­vate actors. These false and dis­tort­ed pieces of infor­ma­tion can inten­si­fy divi­sive­ness and make it dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to trust both what they read as well as the peo­ple and insti­tu­tions they are read­ing about.

    3. Con­fla­tion of pop­u­lar­i­ty with legit­i­ma­cy

    The idea that likes or retweets can be used to mea­sure valid­i­ty or mass sup­port for a per­son, mes­sage or orga­ni­za­tion cre­ates a dis­tort­ed sys­tem of eval­u­at­ing infor­ma­tion and pro­vides a false pulse on the pop­u­lar­i­ty of cer­tain views. This is com­pound­ed by how chal­leng­ing it is to dis­tin­guish legit­i­mate­ly expressed opin­ions from those gen­er­at­ed by trolls and bots.

    4. Polit­i­cal manip­u­la­tion

    Such trolls and bots, dis­guised as ordi­nary cit­i­zens, have become a weapon of choice for gov­ern­ments and polit­i­cal lead­ers to shape online con­ver­sa­tions. Gov­ern­ments in Turkey, Chi­na, Israel, Rus­sia and the Unit­ed King­dom are known to have deployed thou­sands of hired social media oper­a­tives who run mul­ti­ple accounts to shift or con­trol pub­lic opin­ion.

    5. Manip­u­la­tion, micro-tar­get­ing and behav­ior change

    Adver­tis­ers and their sophis­ti­cat­ed tar­get­ing mech­a­nisms dri­ve the atten­tion econ­o­my. Not all of these mes­sages look like ads or are vis­i­ble to any­one out­side the tar­get pop­u­la­tion, as was the case with Facebook’s recent admis­sions sur­round­ing Russ­ian-spon­sored ads pur­chased dur­ing the U.S. elec­tion. This mod­el fur­ther widens the gap between pub­lish­ers and jour­nal­ists and erodes the rev­enue and sus­tain­abil­i­ty of tra­di­tion­al news orga­ni­za­tions charged with hold­ing the pow­er­ful account­able.

    6. Intol­er­ance, exclu­sion and hate speech

    Var­i­ous poli­cies and fea­tures of these plat­forms can ampli­fy hate speech, ter­ror­ist appeals, and racial and sex­u­al harass­ment. These envi­ron­ments can deter those tar­get­ed by hate speech from engag­ing in the con­ver­sa­tion.

    Our hope is that this research will serve as a start­ing point for social media lead­ers, pol­i­cy­mak­ers, gov­ern­ment offi­cials and oth­er key stake­hold­ers to delve deep­er into the impact this tech­nol­o­gy is hav­ing on our nation and, ulti­mate­ly, to iden­ti­fy tan­gi­ble solu­tions. This isn’t a par­ti­san prob­lem, and it’s not some­thing any one per­son, com­pa­ny or gov­ern­ment can fix. But some­one must lead the charge, and I respect­ful­ly call upon the social media com­pa­nies at the cen­ter of this issue to dri­ve this crit­i­cal dia­logue.

    Just as new reg­u­la­tions and poli­cies had to be estab­lished for the evolv­ing online com­merce sec­tor, social media com­pa­nies must now help nav­i­gate the seri­ous threats posed by their plat­forms and help lead the devel­op­ment and enforce­ment of clear indus­try safe­guards. Change won’t hap­pen overnight, and these issues will require ongo­ing exam­i­na­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion and vig­i­lance to effec­tive­ly turn the tide.

    ...

    ———-

    “Pierre Omid­yar: 6 ways social media has become a direct threat to democ­ra­cy” by Pierre Omid­yar; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 10/09/2017

    The Omid­yar Group works to address, in part, how to sup­port and pro­tect our demo­c­ra­t­ic val­ues. Recent­ly, a team from two of our orga­ni­za­tions, Democ­ra­cy Fund and Omid­yar Net­work, assem­bled to inves­ti­gate the rela­tion­ship between social media and democ­ra­cy. The ini­tial find­ings are detailed in a paper that iden­ti­fies six key areas where social media has become a direct threat to our demo­c­ra­t­ic ideals”

    As we can see, the Omid­yar Net­work has already been think­ing about this top­ic and has already made its thoughts on the mat­ter avail­able. And Face­book no doubt read those thoughts before they select­ed not one, but two Omid­yar-backed phil­an­thropic orga­ni­za­tions to join their new “aca­d­e­m­ic ini­tia­tive”.

    And as we can also see, it’s no sur­prise that Face­book would choose the Omid­yar-backed orga­ni­za­tions because the grand pol­i­cy approach the Omid­yar Net­work team arrived at with “the devel­op­ment and enforce­ment clear indus­try safe­guards”. In oth­er words, indus­try self-reg­u­la­tion. In oth­er, oth­er words, music to Face­book’s ear:

    ...
    Our hope is that this research will serve as a start­ing point for social media lead­ers, pol­i­cy­mak­ers, gov­ern­ment offi­cials and oth­er key stake­hold­ers to delve deep­er into the impact this tech­nol­o­gy is hav­ing on our nation and, ulti­mate­ly, to iden­ti­fy tan­gi­ble solu­tions. This isn’t a par­ti­san prob­lem, and it’s not some­thing any one per­son, com­pa­ny or gov­ern­ment can fix. But some­one must lead the charge, and I respect­ful­ly call upon the social media com­pa­nies at the cen­ter of this issue to dri­ve this crit­i­cal dia­logue.

    Just as new reg­u­la­tions and poli­cies had to be estab­lished for the evolv­ing online com­merce sec­tor, social media com­pa­nies must now help nav­i­gate the seri­ous threats posed by their plat­forms and help lead the devel­op­ment and enforce­ment of clear indus­try safe­guards. Change won’t hap­pen overnight, and these issues will require ongo­ing exam­i­na­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion and vig­i­lance to effec­tive­ly turn the tide.
    ...

    And that’s just what the Omid­yar Net­work came up. Now imag­ine the con­clu­sions the Charles Koch or Arnold foun­da­tion teams are going to come up with.

    It’s all a reminder that, while the top­ic of the impact of social media on democ­ra­cy is an impor­tant top­ic that needs to be stud­ied and addressed, there’s a larg­er par­al­lel top­ic that also needs to be addressed: the impact of extreme­ly wealthy and pow­er­ful far right ide­o­logues on soci­ety’s under­stand­ing of itself in gen­er­al. Face­book’s team of “aca­d­e­mics” prob­a­bly isn’t the best enti­ty to tack­le that issue.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 10, 2018, 1:06 pm
  12. Well, this was basi­cal­ly inevitable: Face­book just announced they are sub­mit­ted them­selves to set of audits.

    One set of audits actu­al­ly seems quite rea­son­able and intend­ed to address civ­il rights con­cerns over the poten­tial­ly abus­es of Face­book’s ad tar­get­ing tools. Like employ­ers or land­lords exclud­ing minori­ties from see­ing ads or the dis­cov­ery of tar­get cat­e­gories like “Jew haters”. Not a bad set of top­ics for Face­book to con­duct an audit over.

    And then there’s the oth­er audit. The ‘is Face­book dis­crim­i­nat­ing against con­ser­v­a­tives?’ audit. This is the con­se­quence of the end­less claims of vic­tim­iza­tion by right-wing groups that start­ed in 2016 after some con­ser­v­a­tive Face­book employ­ees claimed that the com­pa­ny was rou­tine­ly pulling arti­cles from right-wing news sources from its “trend­ing news” sec­tion, with sto­ries from out­lets like Bre­it­bart, Wash­ing­ton Exam­in­er, and News­max not mak­ing it onto trend­ing news. This com­plaint, of course, ignores the fact that out­lets like Bre­it­bart and News­max are noto­ri­ous for push­ing decep­tive arti­cles. The real ‘fake news’. But Face­book relent­ed and sub­se­quent­ly changed its trend­ing news poli­cies, mak­ing it algo­rith­mi­cal­ly gen­er­at­ed instead of curat­ed, thus ensur­ing that Face­book became the pre­mier out­let for pro­mot­ing right-wing mis­in­for­ma­tion dur­ing the 2016 US elec­tion.

    And, of course, these claims of an anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias ignore the real­i­ty that Face­book worked close­ly with Trump cam­paign in order to max­i­mize the effec­tive­ness of their micro­tar­get­ing. And also ignores that much of the Trump cam­paign’s micro­tar­get­ing was done using the data gath­ered on Face­book users by Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and that data was col­lect­ed because Face­book gave Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca pref­er­en­tial treat­ment and allowed them to scrape Face­book pro­files after most app devel­op­ers lost that priv­i­lege.

    And let’s not for­get about the recent sto­ry about Face­book select­ed two Repub­li­cans to head up its DC lob­by­ing efforts.

    So how is Face­book plan­ning on address­ing its alleged anti-con­ser­v­a­tive bias? By hav­ing the Her­itage Foun­da­tion and for­mer GOP Sen­a­tor Jon Kyl con­duct the audit and tell Face­book what to do to fix this per­ceived bias. And this will no doubt result on calls for Face­book to ensure that noto­ri­ous dis­in­for­ma­tion sites like Bre­it­bart and InfoWars are free to pro­mote as much dis­in­for­ma­tion as pos­si­ble. In oth­er words, we have Face­book con­duct­ing one audit to ensure its tools aren’t used to pro­mote hate and big­otry and anoth­er audit to ensure that the forces of hate and big­otry don’t feel like they’re being cen­sored:

    Axios

    Exclu­sive: Face­book com­mits to civ­il rights audit, polit­i­cal bias review

    Sara Fis­ch­er
    May 2, 2018

    To address alle­ga­tions of bias, Face­book is bring­ing in two out­side advi­sors — one to con­duct a legal audit of its impact on under­rep­re­sent­ed com­mu­ni­ties and com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, and anoth­er to advise the com­pa­ny on poten­tial bias against con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es.

    Why it mat­ters: The efforts are hap­pen­ing in response to alle­ga­tions that the tech giant cen­sors con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es and dis­crim­i­nates against minor­i­ty groups. Face­book hopes the inde­pen­dent audit and for­mal advis­ing part­ner­ship will show it takes these issues very seri­ous­ly.

    The civ­il rights audit will be guid­ed by Lau­ra Mur­phy, a nation­al civ­il lib­er­ties and civ­il rights leader. Mur­phy will take feed­back from civ­il rights groups, like The Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civ­il and Human Rights, and advise Face­book on the best path for­ward.

    * Rel­man, Dane & Col­fax, a promi­nent law firm based in Wash­ing­ton, will car­ry out a com­pre­hen­sive civ­il rights audit of Face­book’s ser­vices and inter­nal oper­a­tions. The firm has lit­i­gat­ed some of the most piv­otal cas­es relat­ing to hous­ing, employ­ment and pub­lic accom­mo­da­tion dis­crim­i­na­tion over the past two decades.

    * The Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence, along with oth­er orga­ni­za­tions, had called for such a review last year.

    “We are encour­aged by Facebook’s com­mit­ment to con­duct a civ­il rights audit of the com­pa­ny and its prod­ucts, and the team they have select­ed to do it....We will remain vig­i­lant until Face­book does every­thing in its pow­er to reduce the civ­il rights harm its plat­form enables.”
    — Vani­ta Gup­ta, pres­i­dent and CEO of The Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence on Civ­il and Human Rights:

    The con­ser­v­a­tive bias advis­ing part­ner­ship will be led by for­mer Ari­zona Repub­li­can Sen. Jon Kyl, along with his team at Cov­ing­ton and Burl­ing, a Wash­ing­ton law firm.

    * Kyl will exam­ine con­cerns about alleged lib­er­al bias on Face­book, inter­nal­ly and on its ser­vices. They will get feed­back direct­ly from con­ser­v­a­tive groups and advise Face­book on the best way to work with these groups mov­ing for­ward.

    * The Her­itage Foun­da­tion, a con­ser­v­a­tive pub­lic pol­i­cy think tank, will con­vene meet­ings on these issues with Face­book exec­u­tives. Last week the group brought in tech pol­i­cy expert Klon Kitchen to host an event with Face­book’s head of glob­al pol­i­cy man­age­ment, Moni­ka Bick­ert.

    “From what I’ve heard, it sounds encour­ag­ing that Face­book is tak­ing steps to eval­u­ate where things stand in the mar­ket­place and hear con­cerns.”
    — Rob Bluey, VP Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Her­itage and Edi­tor-in-chief of The Dai­ly Sig­nal

    Con­ser­v­a­tives have alleged Face­book bias for years, with the nar­ra­tive build­ing after reports that Face­book’s con­tent review­ers were sup­press­ing con­ser­v­a­tive con­tent via its “Trend­ing Top­ics” fea­ture led to an inquiry by the Sen­ate Com­merce com­mit­tee in 2016.

    * Most recent­ly, the House Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee held a hear­ing fea­tur­ing two con­ser­v­a­tive video per­son­al­i­ties, Dia­mond and Silk, who have accused the social plat­form of lim­it­ing the reach of their videos.

    * Minori­ties, includ­ing Jews, African Amer­i­cans, His­pan­ic Amer­i­cans and oth­ers have voiced con­cerns over Face­book’s ad tools allow­ing users to tar­get ads to “Jew Haters” and exclude some minor­i­ty groups from hous­ing ads.

    Alle­ga­tions of bias by con­ser­v­a­tive law­mak­ers is espe­cial­ly trou­ble­some for the com­pa­ny, which relies on Repub­li­cans to advo­cate for min­i­mal reg­u­la­tion.

    ...

    ———-

    “Exclu­sive: Face­book com­mits to civ­il rights audit, polit­i­cal bias review” by Sara Fis­ch­er; Axios; 05/02/2018

    “To address alle­ga­tions of bias, Face­book is bring­ing in two out­side advi­sors — one to con­duct a legal audit of its impact on under­rep­re­sent­ed com­mu­ni­ties and com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, and anoth­er to advise the com­pa­ny on poten­tial bias against con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es

    The Alt Right does­n’t get enough respect. That’s more or less what the con­ser­v­a­tive audit is going to con­clude, although they won’t put it quite that way. And it’s going to be Jon Kyl and the Her­itage Foun­da­tion lead­ing the way on this fes­ti­val of faux-griev­ances:

    ...
    The con­ser­v­a­tive bias advis­ing part­ner­ship will be led by for­mer Ari­zona Repub­li­can Sen. Jon Kyl, along with his team at Cov­ing­ton and Burl­ing, a Wash­ing­ton law firm.

    * Kyl will exam­ine con­cerns about alleged lib­er­al bias on Face­book, inter­nal­ly and on its ser­vices. They will get feed­back direct­ly from con­ser­v­a­tive groups and advise Face­book on the best way to work with these groups mov­ing for­ward.

    * The Her­itage Foun­da­tion, a con­ser­v­a­tive pub­lic pol­i­cy think tank, will con­vene meet­ings on these issues with Face­book exec­u­tives. Last week the group brought in tech pol­i­cy expert Klon Kitchen to host an event with Face­book’s head of glob­al pol­i­cy man­age­ment, Moni­ka Bick­ert.

    “From what I’ve heard, it sounds encour­ag­ing that Face­book is tak­ing steps to eval­u­ate where things stand in the mar­ket­place and hear con­cerns.”
    — Rob Bluey, VP Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Her­itage and Edi­tor-in-chief of The Dai­ly Sig­nal

    Con­ser­v­a­tives have alleged Face­book bias for years, with the nar­ra­tive build­ing after reports that Face­book’s con­tent review­ers were sup­press­ing con­ser­v­a­tive con­tent via its “Trend­ing Top­ics” fea­ture led to an inquiry by the Sen­ate Com­merce com­mit­tee in 2016.

    * Most recent­ly, the House Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee held a hear­ing fea­tur­ing two con­ser­v­a­tive video per­son­al­i­ties, Dia­mond and Silk, who have accused the social plat­form of lim­it­ing the reach of their videos.
    ...

    And to get a sense of where they’re head­ing with this, note that “Dia­mond and Silk”, the two right-wing sis­ter accus­ing Face­book of lim­it­ing the reach of their videos, recent­ly tweet­ed out that radio sta­tions who decid­ed to stop play­ing Kanye West songs after West­’s embrace of Trump and bizarre com­ments on slav­ery are vio­lat­ing West­’s Frist Amend­ment rights:

    For a Radio Sta­tion to stop play­ing @kanyewest music because of his views is a vio­la­tion of his First Amend­ment Rights. You can’t just silence some­one because you don’t like their Free Speech. Thoughts?— Dia­mond and Silk® (@DiamondandSilk) May 4, 2018

    Now, if the gov­ern­ment pulled Kanye West­’s songs from the radio, that would indeed be a vio­la­tion of his First Amend­ment rights. Not when a radio sta­tion does it. But that appears to be the gen­er­al sen­ti­ment right that’s dri­ving this.

    So what should we expect Face­book to do when it receives its set of rec­om­men­da­tions for its right-wing audi­tors? Well, as the fol­low­ing arti­cle reminds us, we should prob­a­bly expect Face­book to take it very, very seri­ous­ly:

    The New Repub­lic

    Why Face­book Is Des­per­ate for Con­ser­v­a­tive Allies
    Does Mark Zucker­berg care about stop­ping the spread of fake news? Or is he shoring up his sup­port in Wash­ing­ton?

    By Alex Shep­hard
    May 4, 2018

    There is no one in the world more impor­tant to the future of jour­nal­ism than Mark Zucker­berg. That should make any­one who cares about jour­nal­ism very afraid.

    Speak­ing to a group of reporters on Tues­day, Zucker­berg laid out a new pro­gram in which users would rank news out­lets by trust­wor­thi­ness. Face­book will then use that data to make changes to its News Feed, which has been over­whelmed by fake news in recent years. Back in Jan­u­ary, Zucker­berg had said such a pro­gram was nec­es­sary because Face­book “strug­gled with ... how to decide what news sources are broad­ly trust­ed in a world with so much divi­sion.”

    Face­book is, in oth­er words, lay­ing the respon­si­bil­i­ty on users for what appears on the News Feed. Com­bined with a recent­ly announced “audit” that will address crit­i­cism that the social net­work sup­press­es con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es, Facebook’s lat­est moves point to a larg­er prob­lem that’s big­ger than fake news: Zucker­berg, des­per­ate for con­ser­v­a­tive allies, has bought into the argu­ment that main­stream news is fun­da­men­tal­ly biased.

    “I do think that in gen­er­al, with­in a news orga­ni­za­tion, there is an opin­ion,” Zucker­berg told reporters. “I do think that a lot of what you all do, is have an opin­ion and have a view.” Zucker­berg, accord­ing to The Atlantic’s Adri­anne LaFrance, said Face­book was a plat­form with “more opin­ions.” These opin­ions allow users to select those they find to be the most con­vinc­ing. “It’s not about say­ing here’s one view; here’s the oth­er side. You should decide where you want to be.”

    As LaFrance writes, this is an argu­ment that’s hos­tile to the idea of pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­ism: Zucker­berg is close to say­ing that The New York Times and your InfoWars-link­ing uncle are rough­ly anal­o­gous. He has con­sis­tent­ly argued that Face­book is intent on knock­ing down the kinds of bar­ri­ers that were once enforced by gate­keep­ers like the Times, all in a bid to con­nect people—an inher­ent­ly good thing, in his view.

    ...

    Fur­ther­more, Face­book doesn’t real­ly make peo­ple con­nect with one anoth­er across once-imper­me­able bor­ders. Instead, they sort them­selves into groups that rein­force their own nar­row viewpoints—sometimes doing so with the aid of fake news that pan­ders to them. Giv­en this dynam­ic, there’s no rea­son to believe that users will be able to dis­cern what’s “trust­wor­thy,” but instead will rate sites that rein­force their pri­ors. Zucker­berg is final­ly acknowl­edg­ing that Face­book is, at least in part, a media com­pa­ny, but there is noth­ing in this pilot pro­gram that would actu­al­ly ele­vate impor­tant, fact-based sto­ries.

    That’s because Face­book has been skit­tish ever since a 2016 Giz­mo­do report revealed that Face­book employ­ees curat­ing its “Trend­ing Top­ics” sup­pressed con­ser­v­a­tive sites like The Dai­ly Caller and Bre­it­bart. Con­ser­v­a­tives screamed bloody mur­der and Face­book end­ed up fir­ing all of the cura­tors who worked on “Trend­ing Top­ics” and replac­ing them with algorithms—a move that had dis­as­trous con­se­quences. Repub­li­cans have since turned this issue into some­thing of a cru­sade, argu­ing that tech com­pa­nies are biased against them—the farce that was last week’s Dia­mond and Silk tes­ti­mo­ny before the House Judi­cial Com­mit­tee was, in some ways, a cul­mi­na­tion of this argu­ment.

    In truth, Facebook’s news cura­tors were doing their job by sup­press­ing these sto­ries, which are often poor­ly sourced or reliant on par­ti­san spin. Sup­press­ing Bre­it­bart, which is slop­py and racist and often flirts with fake news, is a good thing if you real­ly care about high­light­ing sto­ries that will make your users more informed about the world.

    But that’s not what Zucker­berg cares about. The deci­sion to allow users to rank news sites by trust­wor­thi­ness proves that. And this gen­er­al apa­thy about jour­nal­ism is under­lined by Face­book hir­ing for­mer Sen­a­tor Jon Kyl, a Repub­li­can, to lead a group that would “exam­ine con­cerns about alleged lib­er­al bias on Face­book, inter­nal­ly and on its ser­vices.” The group would be tasked with gath­er­ing feed­back from con­ser­v­a­tive groups and to “advise Face­book on work­ing with these groups going for­ward.” The group is entire­ly made up of con­ser­v­a­tives, includ­ing mem­bers of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

    Invit­ing a bunch of main­stream media–hating ide­o­logues into the room is gen­er­al­ly not a very good way to inves­ti­gate a prob­lem. Face­book is punt­ing, encour­ag­ing its crit­ics to set poli­cies for it. These poli­cies will have wide-rang­ing impli­ca­tions, and not just for news. When con­ser­v­a­tives have been rep­ri­mand­ed or sus­pend­ed from social media ser­vices it has often been for spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion or for harass­ment. Dia­mond and Silk have turned these inci­dents into brand­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, claim­ing they were cen­sored. If these changes mean that Face­book will be even more lenient to con­ser­v­a­tives, par­tic­u­lar­ly those who abuse the ser­vice to spread mis­in­for­ma­tion, its fake news prob­lem will get even worse.

    There are two rea­sons why Face­book would expend so much time and ener­gy cater­ing to con­ser­v­a­tives. The first is that it very much wants to be a site for peo­ple of all polit­i­cal persuasions—for every­one on earth, for that mat­ter. Con­ser­v­a­tives whin­ing about their treat­ment on the site is a real threat to the com­pa­ny. But more impor­tant­ly, Face­book feels that it needs Repub­li­cans to head off reg­u­la­to­ry fights. It dodged a bul­let in the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal, but there’s no rea­son to believe that it will next time, giv­en that Democ­rats are increas­ing­ly embrac­ing antitrust poli­cies and are more broad­ly con­cerned with Big Tech’s per­ni­cious cul­tur­al and eco­nom­ic effects. By get­ting the Her­itage Foun­da­tion to write up a bunch of poli­cies, Face­book is hop­ing to win friends that can help Zucker­berg out the next time he is hauled before Con­gress.

    Face­book is skirt­ing the fun­da­men­tal ques­tion before it, which is just how it should deal with the fact that it has become the eas­i­est place to wide­ly share mis­in­for­ma­tion on the inter­net. Real work on that sub­ject would require expertise—and input from across the polit­i­cal spec­trum. But real work isn’t what Zucker­berg is inter­est­ed in.

    ———-

    “Why Face­book Is Des­per­ate for Con­ser­v­a­tive Allies” by Alex Shep­hard; The New Repub­lic; 05/04/2018

    “Face­book is skirt­ing the fun­da­men­tal ques­tion before it, which is just how it should deal with the fact that it has become the eas­i­est place to wide­ly share mis­in­for­ma­tion on the inter­net. Real work on that sub­ject would require expertise—and input from across the polit­i­cal spec­trum. But real work isn’t what Zucker­berg is inter­est­ed in.”

    That’s the meta-prob­lem Face­book is try­ing to deal with: how to address the fact that it has become the eas­i­est place to wide­ly share mis­in­for­ma­tion on the inter­net.

    And the solu­tion Face­book is clear­ly embrac­ing is to buy into the right-wing argu­ment that main­stream news is fun­da­men­tal­ly biased against con­ser­v­a­tives and and come up with gim­micks that effec­tive­ly val­i­dates the mis­in­for­ma­tion and rede­fines it as just ‘anoth­er opin­ion’:

    ...
    Speak­ing to a group of reporters on Tues­day, Zucker­berg laid out a new pro­gram in which users would rank news out­lets by trust­wor­thi­ness. Face­book will then use that data to make changes to its News Feed, which has been over­whelmed by fake news in recent years. Back in Jan­u­ary, Zucker­berg had said such a pro­gram was nec­es­sary because Face­book “strug­gled with ... how to decide what news sources are broad­ly trust­ed in a world with so much divi­sion.”

    Face­book is, in oth­er words, lay­ing the respon­si­bil­i­ty on users for what appears on the News Feed. Com­bined with a recent­ly announced “audit” that will address crit­i­cism that the social net­work sup­press­es con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es, Facebook’s lat­est moves point to a larg­er prob­lem that’s big­ger than fake news: Zucker­berg, des­per­ate for con­ser­v­a­tive allies, has bought into the argu­ment that main­stream news is fun­da­men­tal­ly biased.

    “I do think that in gen­er­al, with­in a news orga­ni­za­tion, there is an opin­ion,” Zucker­berg told reporters. “I do think that a lot of what you all do, is have an opin­ion and have a view.” Zucker­berg, accord­ing to The Atlantic’s Adri­anne LaFrance, said Face­book was a plat­form with “more opin­ions.” These opin­ions allow users to select those they find to be the most con­vinc­ing. “It’s not about say­ing here’s one view; here’s the oth­er side. You should decide where you want to be.”

    As LaFrance writes, this is an argu­ment that’s hos­tile to the idea of pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­ism: Zucker­berg is close to say­ing that The New York Times and your InfoWars-link­ing uncle are rough­ly anal­o­gous. He has con­sis­tent­ly argued that Face­book is intent on knock­ing down the kinds of bar­ri­ers that were once enforced by gate­keep­ers like the Times, all in a bid to con­nect people—an inher­ent­ly good thing, in his view.
    ...

    “As LaFrance writes, this is an argu­ment that’s hos­tile to the idea of pro­fes­sion­al jour­nal­ism: Zucker­berg is close to say­ing that The New York Times and your InfoWars-link­ing uncle are rough­ly anal­o­gous.”

    So now Face­book users them­selves will col­lec­tive­ly rank and deter­mine which news sites are ‘trust­wor­thy’, thus ensur­ing the Alt Right online troll army — skilled at gam­ing online algo­rithms — will have even more influ­ence online:

    ...
    Fur­ther­more, Face­book doesn’t real­ly make peo­ple con­nect with one anoth­er across once-imper­me­able bor­ders. Instead, they sort them­selves into groups that rein­force their own nar­row viewpoints—sometimes doing so with the aid of fake news that pan­ders to them. Giv­en this dynam­ic, there’s no rea­son to believe that users will be able to dis­cern what’s “trust­wor­thy,” but instead will rate sites that rein­force their pri­ors. Zucker­berg is final­ly acknowl­edg­ing that Face­book is, at least in part, a media com­pa­ny, but there is noth­ing in this pilot pro­gram that would actu­al­ly ele­vate impor­tant, fact-based sto­ries.
    ...

    And this is all the pre­dictable con­se­quence of the con­ser­v­a­tive out­rage machine act­ing like Face­book’s alleged cen­sor­ship of its trend­ing news was an act of ide­o­log­i­cal bias as opposed to sim­ply pulling right-wing mis­in­for­ma­tion out of its news feed:

    ...
    That’s because Face­book has been skit­tish ever since a 2016 Giz­mo­do report revealed that Face­book employ­ees curat­ing its “Trend­ing Top­ics” sup­pressed con­ser­v­a­tive sites like The Dai­ly Caller and Bre­it­bart. Con­ser­v­a­tives screamed bloody mur­der and Face­book end­ed up fir­ing all of the cura­tors who worked on “Trend­ing Top­ics” and replac­ing them with algorithms—a move that had dis­as­trous con­se­quences. Repub­li­cans have since turned this issue into some­thing of a cru­sade, argu­ing that tech com­pa­nies are biased against them—the farce that was last week’s Dia­mond and Silk tes­ti­mo­ny before the House Judi­cial Com­mit­tee was, in some ways, a cul­mi­na­tion of this argu­ment.

    In truth, Facebook’s news cura­tors were doing their job by sup­press­ing these sto­ries, which are often poor­ly sourced or reliant on par­ti­san spin. Sup­press­ing Bre­it­bart, which is slop­py and racist and often flirts with fake news, is a good thing if you real­ly care about high­light­ing sto­ries that will make your users more informed about the world.
    ...

    But, of course, it’s also a result of uni­fied GOP con­trol of the US fed­er­al gov­ern­ment:

    ...
    But that’s not what Zucker­berg cares about. The deci­sion to allow users to rank news sites by trust­wor­thi­ness proves that. And this gen­er­al apa­thy about jour­nal­ism is under­lined by Face­book hir­ing for­mer Sen­a­tor Jon Kyl, a Repub­li­can, to lead a group that would “exam­ine con­cerns about alleged lib­er­al bias on Face­book, inter­nal­ly and on its ser­vices.” The group would be tasked with gath­er­ing feed­back from con­ser­v­a­tive groups and to “advise Face­book on work­ing with these groups going for­ward.” The group is entire­ly made up of con­ser­v­a­tives, includ­ing mem­bers of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

    Invit­ing a bunch of main­stream media–hating ide­o­logues into the room is gen­er­al­ly not a very good way to inves­ti­gate a prob­lem. Face­book is punt­ing, encour­ag­ing its crit­ics to set poli­cies for it. These poli­cies will have wide-rang­ing impli­ca­tions, and not just for news. When con­ser­v­a­tives have been rep­ri­mand­ed or sus­pend­ed from social media ser­vices it has often been for spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion or for harass­ment. Dia­mond and Silk have turned these inci­dents into brand­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties, claim­ing they were cen­sored. If these changes mean that Face­book will be even more lenient to con­ser­v­a­tives, par­tic­u­lar­ly those who abuse the ser­vice to spread mis­in­for­ma­tion, its fake news prob­lem will get even worse.

    There are two rea­sons why Face­book would expend so much time and ener­gy cater­ing to con­ser­v­a­tives. The first is that it very much wants to be a site for peo­ple of all polit­i­cal persuasions—for every­one on earth, for that mat­ter. Con­ser­v­a­tives whin­ing about their treat­ment on the site is a real threat to the com­pa­ny. But more impor­tant­ly, Face­book feels that it needs Repub­li­cans to head off reg­u­la­to­ry fights. It dodged a bul­let in the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal, but there’s no rea­son to believe that it will next time, giv­en that Democ­rats are increas­ing­ly embrac­ing antitrust poli­cies and are more broad­ly con­cerned with Big Tech’s per­ni­cious cul­tur­al and eco­nom­ic effects. By get­ting the Her­itage Foun­da­tion to write up a bunch of poli­cies, Face­book is hop­ing to win friends that can help Zucker­berg out the next time he is hauled before Con­gress.
    ...

    So get ready for Face­book to pret­ty much do what­ev­er the Jon Kyl and the Her­itage Foun­da­tion asks of it. And when Face­book does every­thing asked of it, get ready for the right-wing to ask for some more. After all, this isn’t about real griev­ances and bias­es. It’s about griev­ance the­ater and that’s the kind of show nev­er ends.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 4, 2018, 2:46 pm
  13. Now that Pres­i­dent Trump just pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal, the sto­ry of “Black Cube” — an Israeli pri­vate intel­li­gence firm report­ed­ly hired by the Trump team to dig up dis­cred­it­ing infor­ma­tion on two form Oba­ma staffers involved with boost­ing sup­port for the deal and their fam­i­lies — has sud­den­ly become much more top­i­cal. It was already top­i­cal due to the fact that Black Cube is the same pri­vate intel­li­gence firm hired by Har­vey Wein­stein to gath­er infor­ma­tion on the women who accused him of sex­u­al harass­ment. But learn­ing that the Trump team hired Black Cube to inves­ti­gate Ben­jamin J. Rhodes, a top nation­al secu­ri­ty aide to Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, and Col­in Kahl, the nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er to Vice Pres­i­dent Biden, and their fam­i­lies after Oba­ma left office and learn­ing this just days before Trump sud­den­ly announces the US pull out of the Iran nuclear treaty makes this a much more top­i­cal sto­ry. Top­i­cal in a ‘get­ting a peak at how the peo­ple who are going to blow up the world oper­ate’ kind of way:

    The New York Times

    Oppo­nents of Iran Deal Hired Inves­ti­ga­tors to Dig Up Dirt on Oba­ma Aide

    By Michael D. Shear and Ronen Bergman
    May 7, 2018

    WASHINGTON — For years, oppo­nents of the nuclear deal with Iran have accused Ben­jamin J. Rhodes, a top nation­al secu­ri­ty aide to Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, of schem­ing to sell the diplo­mat­ic agree­ment on false pre­tens­es to the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

    Now, just as Pres­i­dent Trump appears like­ly to announce his deci­sion to with­draw from the deal, evi­dence has sur­faced that the agreement’s oppo­nents engaged in a sophis­ti­cat­ed effort to dig up dirt on Mr. Rhodes and his fam­i­ly that con­tin­ued well after the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion left office.

    A detailed report about Mr. Rhodes, com­piled by Black Cube, a pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tions firm estab­lished by for­mer intel­li­gence ana­lysts from the Israel Defense Forces, con­tains pic­tures of his apart­ment in Wash­ing­ton, tele­phone num­bers and email address­es of mem­bers of his fam­i­ly, as well as unsub­stan­ti­at­ed alle­ga­tions of per­son­al and eth­i­cal trans­gres­sions.

    In a sep­a­rate case in 2017, the same firm was hired to gath­er dirt on women accus­ing Har­vey Wein­stein, the movie mogul, of mul­ti­ple instances of sex­u­al mis­con­duct.

    It is unclear who hired Black Cube to pre­pare the report on Mr. Rhodes and a sim­i­lar report on Col­in Kahl, the nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er to Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Biden Jr., which were obtained by The New York Times from a source with knowl­edge of their prove­nance.

    The Guardian, which first pub­lished the exis­tence of the reports on Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Kahl, said aides to Mr. Trump hired the firm, but there is no evi­dence in the doc­u­ments that indi­cate any con­nec­tion to any­one in Mr. Trump’s admin­is­tra­tion. A spokesman for the com­pa­ny vehe­ment­ly denied any con­nec­tion to the pres­i­dent.

    “Black Cube has no rela­tion what­so­ev­er to the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, to Trump aides, to any­one close to the admin­is­tra­tion or to the Iran nuclear deal,” said Ido Minkows­ki, the company’s spokesman. “Any­one who claims oth­er­wise is mis­lead­ing their read­ers and view­ers.”

    One per­son with knowl­edge of the reports sug­gest­ed that the com­pa­ny had been hired by a com­mer­cial client with an inter­est in oppos­ing the nuclear deal.

    The reports appear to be aimed at under­min­ing pub­lic sup­port for the agree­ment by find­ing ways to dis­cred­it Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Kahl, who have been staunch advo­cates of the deal on social media and in tele­vi­sion appear­ances. In an inter­view on Mon­day, Mr. Rhodes said he was sur­prised that fero­cious crit­i­cism direct­ed at him con­tin­ued after he left gov­ern­ment.

    “I nev­er imag­ined that upon leav­ing gov­ern­ment, that not only would that infor­ma­tion cam­paign con­tin­ue, but that it would be sup­ple­ment­ed by inves­ti­ga­tions into me and my fam­i­ly by shad­owy inter­na­tion­al oper­a­tions, involv­ing for­eign enti­ties,” Mr. Rhodes said.

    The deal to cur­tail Iran’s nuclear weapons pro­gram was signed by the Unit­ed States, Iran and sev­er­al Euro­pean coun­tries in 2015. Its crit­ics, includ­ing Mr. Trump and Ben­jamin Netanyahu, the prime min­is­ter of Israel, have said it does noth­ing to cur­tail the dan­ger posed by Iran and will not cur­tail Iran’s abil­i­ty to devel­op nuclear weapons. The pres­i­dent said Mon­day that he will announce on Tues­day whether he will for­mal­ly with­draw the Unit­ed States from the deal, as he has repeat­ed­ly sig­naled he would.

    While there is no evi­dence direct­ly link­ing Trump offi­cials to the prepa­ra­tion of the reports, sev­er­al cur­rent or for­mer mem­bers of the Trump White House have repeat­ed­ly attacked Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Kahl for their sup­port of the Iran agree­ment.

    Sebas­t­ian Gor­ka, a Trump sup­port­er who served briefly in the White House as an advis­er, has repeat­ed­ly attacked both men on social media and in con­ser­v­a­tive news out­lets, accus­ing Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Kahl of work­ing to under­mine Mr. Trump and defend the Iran deal from its crit­ics.

    Cur­rent and for­mer Trump admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials have also tar­get­ed John Ker­ry, the for­mer sec­re­tary of state who nego­ti­at­ed the Iran deal for the Unit­ed States. Even Mr. Trump him­self said in a Twit­ter post on Mon­day that recent efforts by Mr. Ker­ry to save the deal amount­ed to “pos­si­bly ille­gal Shad­ow Diplo­ma­cy.”

    Unlike Mr. Ker­ry, Mr. Kahl and Mr. Rhodes were not part of the nuclear deal nego­ti­at­ing team for the Unit­ed States. But even before he left the White House, Mr. Rhodes was the tar­get of crit­i­cism for his efforts to help build sup­port for its approval.

    “Why did who­ev­er did this con­join Ben and me? Why the two of us?” Mr. Kahl said. “Being vocal on Twit­ter would make me a tar­get. But why would it bring down the Iran deal?”

    A New York Times Mag­a­zine pro­file of Mr. Rhodes in May 2016 described a White House “war room” in which he tried to man­age news cov­er­age of the Iran nuclear nego­ti­a­tions. In the arti­cle, Mr. Rhodes was quot­ed as say­ing: “We cre­at­ed an echo cham­ber. They were say­ing things that val­i­dat­ed what we had giv­en them to say.”

    Crit­ics of the Iran deal have seized on the arti­cle to insist that Mr. Rhodes — and by exten­sion, the entire Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion — were secret­ly manip­u­lat­ing pub­lic opin­ion by mis­rep­re­sent­ing the impli­ca­tions of the nuclear deal.

    The report on Mr. Rhodes by Black Cube notes that “in the arti­cle, he boasts about the cre­ation of an ‘echo cham­ber’ in which he told jour­nal­ists what to say and they repeat­ed it back over and over as orig­i­nal thoughts.”

    The reports also pro­vide a list of sev­er­al Wash­ing­ton jour­nal­ists who have had “exten­sive con­tact” with Mr. Rhodes. Among those list­ed under the head­ing “con­tacts to inves­ti­gate” are Jef­frey Gold­berg, now the edi­tor of The Atlantic; Mark Landler, a White House cor­re­spon­dent for The Times who often writes about for­eign pol­i­cy; Andrea Mitchell, now NBC News’s chief for­eign affairs cor­re­spon­dent; and Glenn Thrush, a Times reporter who cov­ered the Oba­ma White House for Politi­co.

    ...

    ———-

    “Oppo­nents of Iran Deal Hired Inves­ti­ga­tors to Dig Up Dirt on Oba­ma Aide” by Michael D. Shear and Ronen Bergman; The New York Times; 05/07/2018

    “Now, just as Pres­i­dent Trump appears like­ly to announce his deci­sion to with­draw from the deal, evi­dence has sur­faced that the agreement’s oppo­nents engaged in a sophis­ti­cat­ed effort to dig up dirt on Mr. Rhodes and his fam­i­ly that con­tin­ued well after the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion left office.”

    Yep, there was some­thing about Ben Rhodes and Col­in Kahl and their involve­ment in the Iran deal that was of such inter­est to the oppo­nents of the deal that the Trump team appar­ent­ly paid Black Cube to inves­ti­gate them and their fam­i­lies and this mon­i­tor­ing con­tin­ued well after Oba­ma left office. It was appar­ent­ly a ‘kill the mes­sen­ger’ strat­e­gy based on dis­cred­it­ing Rhodes and Kahl:

    ...
    The reports appear to be aimed at under­min­ing pub­lic sup­port for the agree­ment by find­ing ways to dis­cred­it Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Kahl, who have been staunch advo­cates of the deal on social media and in tele­vi­sion appear­ances. In an inter­view on Mon­day, Mr. Rhodes said he was sur­prised that fero­cious crit­i­cism direct­ed at him con­tin­ued after he left gov­ern­ment.

    “I nev­er imag­ined that upon leav­ing gov­ern­ment, that not only would that infor­ma­tion cam­paign con­tin­ue, but that it would be sup­ple­ment­ed by inves­ti­ga­tions into me and my fam­i­ly by shad­owy inter­na­tion­al oper­a­tions, involv­ing for­eign enti­ties,” Mr. Rhodes said.
    ...

    So why, of all the peo­ple involved in the Iran deal, did they focus their ‘kill the mes­sen­ger’ strat­e­gy on Rhodes and Kahl? That’s unclear at this point, but the fact that Trump sup­port­ers in the media, like the far right Sebas­t­ian Gor­ka, have been repeat­ed­ly attack­ing both of those men on social media and con­ser­v­a­tive out­lets gives us a big hint: the right-wing media had already decid­ed to make Rhodes and Kahl into boogey­men who will there­fore need to be demo­nized in order to pro­pel what­ev­er nar­ra­tives peo­ple like Gor­ka choose to pro­mote:

    ...
    While there is no evi­dence direct­ly link­ing Trump offi­cials to the prepa­ra­tion of the reports, sev­er­al cur­rent or for­mer mem­bers of the Trump White House have repeat­ed­ly attacked Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Kahl for their sup­port of the Iran agree­ment.

    Sebas­t­ian Gor­ka, a Trump sup­port­er who served briefly in the White House as an advis­er, has repeat­ed­ly attacked both men on social media and in con­ser­v­a­tive news out­lets, accus­ing Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Kahl of work­ing to under­mine Mr. Trump and defend the Iran deal from its crit­ics.

    Cur­rent and for­mer Trump admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials have also tar­get­ed John Ker­ry, the for­mer sec­re­tary of state who nego­ti­at­ed the Iran deal for the Unit­ed States. Even Mr. Trump him­self said in a Twit­ter post on Mon­day that recent efforts by Mr. Ker­ry to save the deal amount­ed to “pos­si­bly ille­gal Shad­ow Diplo­ma­cy.”

    Unlike Mr. Ker­ry, Mr. Kahl and Mr. Rhodes were not part of the nuclear deal nego­ti­at­ing team for the Unit­ed States. But even before he left the White House, Mr. Rhodes was the tar­get of crit­i­cism for his efforts to help build sup­port for its approval.

    “Why did who­ev­er did this con­join Ben and me? Why the two of us?” Mr. Kahl said. “Being vocal on Twit­ter would make me a tar­get. But why would it bring down the Iran deal?”

    A New York Times Mag­a­zine pro­file of Mr. Rhodes in May 2016 described a White House “war room” in which he tried to man­age news cov­er­age of the Iran nuclear nego­ti­a­tions. In the arti­cle, Mr. Rhodes was quot­ed as say­ing: “We cre­at­ed an echo cham­ber. They were say­ing things that val­i­dat­ed what we had giv­en them to say.”

    Crit­ics of the Iran deal have seized on the arti­cle to insist that Mr. Rhodes — and by exten­sion, the entire Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion — were secret­ly manip­u­lat­ing pub­lic opin­ion by mis­rep­re­sent­ing the impli­ca­tions of the nuclear deal.

    The report on Mr. Rhodes by Black Cube notes that “in the arti­cle, he boasts about the cre­ation of an ‘echo cham­ber’ in which he told jour­nal­ists what to say and they repeat­ed it back over and over as orig­i­nal thoughts.”
    ...

    Although the Trump team is deny­ing they have any­thing to do at all with Black Cube at this point. And peo­ple involved are sug­gest­ing that this was actu­al­ly being done at the behest of a com­mer­cial client with an inter­est in oppos­ing the nuclear deal:

    ...
    A detailed report about Mr. Rhodes, com­piled by Black Cube, a pri­vate inves­ti­ga­tions firm estab­lished by for­mer intel­li­gence ana­lysts from the Israel Defense Forces, con­tains pic­tures of his apart­ment in Wash­ing­ton, tele­phone num­bers and email address­es of mem­bers of his fam­i­ly, as well as unsub­stan­ti­at­ed alle­ga­tions of per­son­al and eth­i­cal trans­gres­sions.

    ...

    It is unclear who hired Black Cube to pre­pare the report on Mr. Rhodes and a sim­i­lar report on Col­in Kahl, the nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er to Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Biden Jr., which were obtained by The New York Times from a source with knowl­edge of their prove­nance.

    The Guardian, which first pub­lished the exis­tence of the reports on Mr. Rhodes and Mr. Kahl, said aides to Mr. Trump hired the firm, but there is no evi­dence in the doc­u­ments that indi­cate any con­nec­tion to any­one in Mr. Trump’s admin­is­tra­tion. A spokesman for the com­pa­ny vehe­ment­ly denied any con­nec­tion to the pres­i­dent.

    “Black Cube has no rela­tion what­so­ev­er to the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, to Trump aides, to any­one close to the admin­is­tra­tion or to the Iran nuclear deal,” said Ido Minkows­ki, the company’s spokesman. “Any­one who claims oth­er­wise is mis­lead­ing their read­ers and view­ers.”

    One per­son with knowl­edge of the reports sug­gest­ed that the com­pa­ny had been hired by a com­mer­cial client with an inter­est in oppos­ing the nuclear deal.
    ...

    So it sounds like there’s prob­a­bly a cor­po­rate proxy that was used for this oper­a­tion. And it’s very pos­si­ble it’s not the Trump team who hired Black Cube but instead some oth­er GOP-con­nect­ed fig­ure. Shel­don Adel­son, per­haps? Whether or not it was a cor­po­ra­tion who did the actu­al hir­ing of Black Cube, accord­ing to Guardian jour­nal­ist Julian Borg­er, their sources are telling them that the ulti­mate client was indeed the Trump team.

    And then there’s the fact that this is the same firm hired by Har­vey Wein­stein to gath­er dirt of Wein­stein’s accusers over the years:

    ...
    In a sep­a­rate case in 2017, the same firm was hired to gath­er dirt on women accus­ing Har­vey Wein­stein, the movie mogul, of mul­ti­ple instances of sex­u­al mis­con­duct.
    ...

    Giv­en the prob­lems Trump has had with accu­sa­tions of sex­u­al harass­ment and secret pay­offs of mis­tress­es, you have to won­der if the Black Cube has been doing sim­i­lar ser­vices for Trump over the years.

    So we learn about this sto­ry of the Trump team hir­ing Black Cube to dis­cred­it Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion fig­ures, the same firm used by Wein­stein, and then a few days lat­er Trump pulls out of the Iran deal. Again, it’s a dis­turbing­ly top­i­cal sto­ry that just gets more and more dis­turbing­ly top­i­cal.

    But that’s not all in terms of Black Cube’s top­i­cal­ness. Because guess which oth­er high­ly scan­dalous enti­ty alleged­ly hired Black Cube to do some dirty work for shady ends: Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca! Of course.

    Remem­ber those sto­ries about Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca hir­ing an “Israeli team” to hack the doc­u­ments (or at least obtain hacked doc­u­ments) of its clients oppo­nents in places like Nige­ria and St Kitts? Well, it sure sounds like Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s “Israeli team” was actu­al­ly Black Cube:

    The Dai­ly Dot

    What is Black Cube, the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca-linked intel­li­gence firm?

    Amri­ta Khalid—
    Apr 7 at 1:30AM

    Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, the data firm which was hired by the Trump cam­paign, has drawn fire for its murky tac­tics in engag­ing vot­ers dur­ing the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and the Brex­it ref­er­en­dum. includ­ing ille­gal­ly har­vest­ing infor­ma­tion from 87 mil­lion Face­book pro­files. But an even shadier sto­ry is brew­ing. In his tes­ti­mo­ny last month to the U.K. Par­lia­ment, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca whistle­blow­er Christo­pher Wylie threw an Israeli pri­vate intel­li­gence firm known as Black Cube under the bus.

    Wylie claimed that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca hired Black Cube to hack Niger­ian pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari.

    “Black Cube on the Nige­ria project was engaged to hack the now-pres­i­dent Buhari to get access to his med­ical records and pri­vate emails,” said Wylie before a com­mit­tee of British MPs.

    In the wake of the bur­geon­ing scan­dal, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was banned from Face­book, its CEO has been sus­pend­ed, and it is cur­rent­ly the sub­ject of mul­ti­ple gov­ern­ment inves­ti­ga­tions on both sides of the Atlantic.

    The Guardian report­ed that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was paid £2 mil­lion pounds by a Niger­ian bil­lion­aire to orga­nize an oppo­si­tion cam­paign against Buhari on behalf of his oppo­nent, Good­luck Jonathan. Accord­ing to reports, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was giv­en Buhari’s med­ical records and pri­vate emails by Israeli hack­ers. Still, it is unclear whether the hack­ers are asso­ci­at­ed with Black Cube.

    Fol­low­ing Wylie’s damn­ing tes­ti­mo­ny, Black Cube denied any ties to the embat­tled data firm as well as engag­ing in any work in Nige­ria. The Israeli firm said it plans on inves­ti­gat­ing why Wylie made the claim and will then pro­ceed to sue any enti­ty involved in its defama­tion.

    “Addi­tion­al­ly, we will file a mas­sive defama­tion claim against any enti­ty whom we find has defamed Black Cube, includ­ing Christo­pher Wylie, SCL, and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, and pur­sue them for every pen­ny,” said the state­ment from Black Cube.

    What is Black Cube?

    A look at Black Cube’s web­site cur­rent­ly reveals that Nige­ria is not high­light­ed on a world map that indi­cates coun­tries in which the firm has clients. But a sim­ple glance at the Way­back Machine shows that Nige­ria was once very clear­ly high­light­ed.

    Here’s a screen­shot of Black Cube’s cur­rent web­site:

    [see screen­shot of Black Cube’s web­site show­ing world map of clients with­out Nige­ria high­light­ed]

    And here’s a screen­shot of Black Cube’s web­site from Decem­ber 2016, dur­ing which Nige­ria is very clear­ly shad­ed:

    [see screen­shot of Black Cube’s web­site show­ing world map of clients with Nige­ria high­light­ed]

    But what exact­ly is Black Cube? Black Cube was found­ed in 2010 by two for­mer Israeli intel­li­gence offi­cers; Dan Zorel­la, who cur­rent­ly serves as CEO of the com­pa­ny and Dr. Avi Yanus, who cur­rent­ly serves as direc­tor and CFO. Its staff was esti­mat­ed by Forbes to num­ber 100. This includes promi­nent for­mer mem­bers of Israeli intel­li­gence, attor­neys, aca­d­e­mics, and psy­chol­o­gists. Meir Dagan, the for­mer direc­tor of Mossad, served at the helm of Black Cube’s board until his death in 2016.

    “Meir was not involved in Black Cube’s day-to-day oper­a­tions, but when you say ‘The pres­i­dent of my com­pa­ny is Meir Dagan,’ there is no bet­ter entrance card to any club you choose,” a for­mer Israeli intel­li­gence offi­cer told Forbes Israel.

    What does Black Cube do?

    Accord­ing to its web­site, Black Cube’s pri­ma­ry func­tion is lit­i­ga­tion and con­flict sup­port. In short, it helps com­pa­nies involved in legal dis­putes find evi­dence to strength­en their cas­es in court. Black Cube’s clients are more often than not mul­ti-bil­lion dol­lar, multi­na­tion­al com­pa­nies involved in tricky, for­eign legal bat­tles.

    A for­mer British army offi­cer who worked in the Israeli pri­vate sec­tor praised the qual­i­ty of Black Cube’s work in an inter­view with the Inde­pen­dent in 2013: “Black Cube is at the high end of the mar­ket. From what we know they are into analy­sis and secu­ri­ty sys­tems rather than heavy, mus­cle stuff. They appear to have good con­nec­tions with­in the IDF, [but] we don’t know the lev­el of [any] work they car­ry out for the Israeli state,” said the offi­cer.

    Who are Black Cube’s clients?

    One of Black Cube’s clients was Vin­cent Tchen­guiz, a British real estate tycoon whose busi­ness­es took a hit dur­ing the 2008 finan­cial cri­sis. After the British Office of Seri­ous Fraud (SFO) opened an inves­ti­ga­tion into the col­lapse of a bank Tchen­guiz owned, he tapped Black Cube to help build his defense. Black Cube did such a good job that not only were the charges against Tchen­guiz dropped, but SFO was ordered by the court to pay £3 mil­lion in dam­ages and issue a for­mal apol­o­gy to Tchen­guiz.

    ...

    Black Cube was also hired by Har­vey Wein­stein in order to inves­ti­gate the women that accused the Hol­ly­wood film pro­duc­er of sex­u­al abuse. The Israeli firm com­piled exten­sive psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files of dozens of women, includ­ing sex­u­al and per­son­al his­to­ries in an effort to intim­i­date the vic­tims from going pub­lic.

    Ash­er Tish­ler, a mem­ber of Black Cube’s advi­so­ry board, apol­o­gized for tak­ing on the Wein­stein job in an inter­view on Israeli tele­vi­sion.

    “Of course we apol­o­gize to who­ev­er was hurt by this,” said Tish­ler dur­ing a TV inter­view on Israel’s The News. “In ret­ro­spect, it’s a shame we took the job.”

    ———-

    “What is Black Cube, the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca-linked intel­li­gence firm?” by Amri­ta Khalid; The Dai­ly Dot; 04/07/2018

    “Wylie claimed that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca hired Black Cube to hack Niger­ian pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari.”

    So that’s the claim Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca whistle­blow­er Christo­pher Wylie made last month: it was Black Cube who hacked its Niger­ian clien­t’s oppo­nent to get his med­ical records and pri­vate emails or at least worked with the peo­ple who did the actu­al hack­ing:

    ...
    “Black Cube on the Nige­ria project was engaged to hack the now-pres­i­dent Buhari to get access to his med­ical records and pri­vate emails,” said Wylie before a com­mit­tee of British MPs.

    In the wake of the bur­geon­ing scan­dal, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was banned from Face­book, its CEO has been sus­pend­ed, and it is cur­rent­ly the sub­ject of mul­ti­ple gov­ern­ment inves­ti­ga­tions on both sides of the Atlantic.

    The Guardian report­ed that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was paid £2 mil­lion pounds by a Niger­ian bil­lion­aire to orga­nize an oppo­si­tion cam­paign against Buhari on behalf of his oppo­nent, Good­luck Jonathan. Accord­ing to reports, Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was giv­en Buhari’s med­ical records and pri­vate emails by Israeli hack­ers. Still, it is unclear whether the hack­ers are asso­ci­at­ed with Black Cube.
    ...

    So what’s the range of ser­vices offered by Black Cube? Well, giv­en that it was led by a for­mer direc­tor of the Mossad, Meri Dagan, those ser­vices are prob­a­bly some­thing like ‘any­thing a spy ser­vice might be capa­ble of doing’, although its osten­si­bly focused on help­ing com­pa­nies resolve legal dis­putes by find­ing evi­dence to strength­en their cas­es in court:

    ...
    But what exact­ly is Black Cube? Black Cube was found­ed in 2010 by two for­mer Israeli intel­li­gence offi­cers; Dan Zorel­la, who cur­rent­ly serves as CEO of the com­pa­ny and Dr. Avi Yanus, who cur­rent­ly serves as direc­tor and CFO. Its staff was esti­mat­ed by Forbes to num­ber 100. This includes promi­nent for­mer mem­bers of Israeli intel­li­gence, attor­neys, aca­d­e­mics, and psy­chol­o­gists. Meir Dagan, the for­mer direc­tor of Mossad, served at the helm of Black Cube’s board until his death in 2016.

    “Meir was not involved in Black Cube’s day-to-day oper­a­tions, but when you say ‘The pres­i­dent of my com­pa­ny is Meir Dagan,’ there is no bet­ter entrance card to any club you choose,” a for­mer Israeli intel­li­gence offi­cer told Forbes Israel.

    What does Black Cube do?

    Accord­ing to its web­site, Black Cube’s pri­ma­ry func­tion is lit­i­ga­tion and con­flict sup­port. In short, it helps com­pa­nies involved in legal dis­putes find evi­dence to strength­en their cas­es in court. Black Cube’s clients are more often than not mul­ti-bil­lion dol­lar, multi­na­tion­al com­pa­nies involved in tricky, for­eign legal bat­tles.

    A for­mer British army offi­cer who worked in the Israeli pri­vate sec­tor praised the qual­i­ty of Black Cube’s work in an inter­view with the Inde­pen­dent in 2013: “Black Cube is at the high end of the mar­ket. From what we know they are into analy­sis and secu­ri­ty sys­tems rather than heavy, mus­cle stuff. They appear to have good con­nec­tions with­in the IDF, [but] we don’t know the lev­el of [any] work they car­ry out for the Israeli state,” said the offi­cer.
    ...

    And, of course, Black Cube total­ly denies ever work­ing for Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca or its par­ent com­pa­ny SCL and pledges to sue every­one mak­ing these claims:

    ...
    Fol­low­ing Wylie’s damn­ing tes­ti­mo­ny, Black Cube denied any ties to the embat­tled data firm as well as engag­ing in any work in Nige­ria. The Israeli firm said it plans on inves­ti­gat­ing why Wylie made the claim and will then pro­ceed to sue any enti­ty involved in its defama­tion.

    “Addi­tion­al­ly, we will file a mas­sive defama­tion claim against any enti­ty whom we find has defamed Black Cube, includ­ing Christo­pher Wylie, SCL, and Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, and pur­sue them for every pen­ny,” said the state­ment from Black Cube.
    ...

    And yet, despite those denials, it’s hard to ignore that Black Cube’s own web­site used to list Nige­ria on its list of coun­tries in which the firm has clients:

    ...
    What is Black Cube?

    A look at Black Cube’s web­site cur­rent­ly reveals that Nige­ria is not high­light­ed on a world map that indi­cates coun­tries in which the firm has clients. But a sim­ple glance at the Way­back Machine shows that Nige­ria was once very clear­ly high­light­ed.

    Here’s a screen­shot of Black Cube’s cur­rent web­site:

    [see screen­shot of Black Cube’s web­site show­ing world map of clients with­out Nige­ria high­light­ed]

    And here’s a screen­shot of Black Cube’s web­site from Decem­ber 2016, dur­ing which Nige­ria is very clear­ly shad­ed:

    [see screen­shot of Black Cube’s web­site show­ing world map of clients with Nige­ria high­light­ed]
    ...

    We’ll see if Black Cube ends up suing Christo­pher Wylie for libel like they pledged to do, but this sto­ry is from a month ago and so far we haven’t seen any reports of law­suits fly­ing out of Black Cube.

    All in all, it sure looks like the Trump team hired the same pri­vate intel­li­gence firm for its ‘kill the mes­sen­ger’ Iran deal dirty tricks oper­a­tion that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca used to use for its polit­i­cal hack­ing oper­a­tions. It’s the kind of rev­e­la­tion that rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was going to be part of this anti-Iran deal oper­a­tion too. Because while Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca may have tech­ni­cal­ly shut­tered itself at this point (only to be reborn as “Emer­da­ta”), don’t for­get that the Iran deal sur­veil­lance appar­ent­ly began before the end of Oba­ma’s term, a time when the Trump team could have hired Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca with­out too much pub­lic scruti­ny. And the pat­tern for Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca appeared to be that Black Cube gath­ers the dirty infor­ma­tion and then Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca expert­ly exploits it for pub­lic con­sump­tion. Now we learn that Black Cube was gath­er­ing dirt on two form Oba­ma staffers and their fam­i­lies for the pur­pose of dis­cred­it­ing them, imply­ing a planned phased of pub­lic con­sump­tion for the dirt they gath­er.

    So we have to ask, was Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca in on this anti-Iran deal dirty tricks oper­a­tion too at some point? Per­haps part of a ‘kill the mes­sen­ger via psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare ser­vices’ planned cam­paign? Either way, this sto­ry is anoth­er reminder that even if Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca com­plete­ly goes away, the demand for its kind of ser­vices isn’t going any­where thanks to an abun­dance of peo­ple who will do any­thing for pow­er.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 9, 2018, 3:49 pm
  14. Here’s a sto­ry users of What­sApp — the encrypt­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions app pur­chased by Face­book — should prob­a­bly keep in mind if they’re assum­ing that Face­book isn’t going to find a way to learn about the con­tents of your What­sApp con­ver­sions: the CEO of What­sApp, Jan Koum, recent­ly announced he’s plan­ning on leav­ing Face­book. And it’s a par­tic­u­lar­ly notable exec­u­tive depar­ture because Koum was the onoy founder of a com­pa­ny acquired by Face­book to end up serv­ing on its board and only two oth­er Face­book exec­u­tives, Mark Zucker­berg and Chief Oper­at­ing Offi­cer Sheryl Sand­berg, are mem­bers of the board. So this is a remark­ably high lev­el depar­ture.

    Koum’s What­sApp co-founder, Bri­an Acton, left Face­book in Novem­ber.

    So what’s trig­gered Koum’s and Acton’s deci­sion to resign and, as Koum put it, focus on oth­er pur­suits, “such as col­lect­ing rare air-cooled Porsches, work­ing on my cars and play­ing ulti­mate fris­bee”? Well, that where the inher­ent con­flict between Face­book’s busi­ness mod­el and Koum’s and Acton’s promise to What­sApp users comes in: What­sApp promised to be an encrypt­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions app that guar­an­teed user pri­va­cy, includ­ing pri­va­cy from What­sApp itself. Face­book, a com­pa­ny with a busi­ness mod­el pred­i­cat­ed on serv­ing up per­son­al­ly tar­get­ed ads, paid $19 bil­lion for What­sApp. And when Face­book pur­chased What­sApp it promised Koum that it would adhere to his vision of respect­ing user pri­va­cy and keep What­sApp an inde­pen­dent ser­vice that does­n’t get fused with the rest of Face­book.

    How is Face­book plan­ning on mon­e­tiz­ing that $19 bil­lion invest­ment in a prod­uct it promised to not merge with Face­book’s per­son­al­ized ads mod­el? By vio­lat­ing Koum’s and Acton’s vision, of course. With­in 18 months of pur­chas­ing What­sApp, Face­book was already find­ing way to merge it into the rest of Face­book’s tar­get­ed busi­ness mod­el. Koum and Acton were ok with shar­ing some data with Face­book to mea­sure who was using What­sApp, but they opposed incor­po­rat­ing What­App data int the cen­tral­ized user pro­files that Face­book cre­ates on all of us and shares across its var­i­ous prod­ucts and uses for tar­get­ed ads. In the end, Koun and Acton agreed to let Face­book rec­om­mend that users’ What­sApps con­tacts become their Face­book friends too and also allow Face­book to col­lect more data on those rela­tion­ships.

    In addi­tion, adver­tis­ers are now allowed to use Face­book’s “cus­tom lists” fea­ture — where adver­tis­ers give Face­book a list of email address of peo­ple they want to tar­get and Face­book match­es those email address­es and phone num­bers to Face­book accounts and serves of the ads — on What­sApp users too. There are no ads on What­sApp at this point, but the phone num­bers of What­sApp users (which are now con­nect­ed to their Face­book accounts) can now be used in Face­book’s Cus­tom Lists ad tar­get­ing tool. In oth­er words, What­sApp is now used to asso­ci­at­ed phone num­bers with Face­book accounts in case Face­book did­n’t already have that infor­ma­tion.

    There’s also a new What­sApp tool that allows busi­ness to send mes­sages to tar­get lists of peo­ple (which is basi­cal­ly an ad deliv­ery sys­tem). In oth­er words, while it’s unclear how much of the con­tent of peo­ple’s actu­al What­sApp mes­sages are being merged into Face­book cen­tral­ized ad tar­get­ing sys­tem, it’s pret­ty clear that all of the oth­er kinds of infor­ma­tion What­sApp col­lects on its user (like your phone num­ber and What­sApp con­tacts) is now fused with the rest of Face­book data-col­lec­tion mono­lith.

    And regard­ing data-min­ing the actu­al con­tent of What­sApp mes­sages, Face­book appears to be inter­est­ing in weak­en­ing What­sAp­p’s encryp­tion. This is osten­si­bly to enable some fea­tures for busi­ness­es but its also pret­ty obvi­ous­ly a path to all Face­book to start har­vest­ing the con­tent of user’s mes­sages.

    So the full incor­po­ra­tion of What­sApp data into the rest of Face­book is well under­way and just a mat­ter of time. And that all is why Acton left Face­book last year and Koum recent­ly decid­ed to focus on col­lect­ing rare air-cooled Porsches, work on cars and play ulti­mate fris­bee:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    What­sApp founder plans to leave after broad clash­es with par­ent Face­book

    by Eliz­a­beth Dwoskin
    April 30, 2018 at 4:49 PM

    SAN FRANCISCO — The bil­lion­aire chief exec­u­tive of What­sApp, Jan Koum, is plan­ning to leave the com­pa­ny after clash­ing with its par­ent, Face­book, over the pop­u­lar mes­sag­ing service’s strat­e­gy and Facebook’s attempts to use its per­son­al data and weak­en its encryp­tion, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with inter­nal dis­cus­sions.

    Koum, who sold What­sApp to Face­book for more than $19 bil­lion in 2014, also plans to step down from Facebook’s board of direc­tors, accord­ing to these peo­ple. The date of his depar­ture isn’t known.

    It “is time for me to move on,” Koum wrote in a Face­book post after The Wash­ing­ton Post report­ed his plans to depart. He has been inform­ing senior exec­u­tives at Face­book and What­sApp of his deci­sion, and in recent months has been show­ing up less fre­quent­ly to WhatsApp’s offices on Facebook’s cam­pus in Sil­i­con Val­ley, accord­ing to the peo­ple.

    The inde­pen­dence and pro­tec­tion of its users’ data is a core tenet of What­sApp that Koum and his co-founder, Bri­an Acton, promised to pre­serve when they sold their tiny start-up to Face­book. It dou­bled down on its pledge by adding encryp­tion in 2016. The clash over data took on addi­tion­al sig­nif­i­cance in the wake of rev­e­la­tions in March that Face­book had allowed third par­ties to mis­han­dle its users’ per­son­al infor­ma­tion.

    Face­book chief exec­u­tive Mark Zucker­berg replied to Koum’s post by cred­it­ing Koum with teach­ing him “about encryp­tion and its abil­i­ty to take pow­er from cen­tral­ized sys­tems and put it back in people’s hands. Those val­ues will always be at the heart of What­sApp.”

    Face­book, though, needs to prove that its invest­ment in What­sApp — its largest acqui­si­tion ever — was worth it.

    “Part of Facebook’s suc­cess has been to digest acqui­si­tions, suc­cess­ful­ly mon­e­tize them, and inte­grate them into their adver­tis­ing machine,” said Daniel Ives, chief strat­e­gy offi­cer and head of tech­nol­o­gy research for research firm GBH Insights. But What­sApp has been more chal­leng­ing because of resis­tance from the founders, he said. “This was a mas­sive cul­ture clash.”

    Koum’s exit is high­ly unusu­al at Face­book. The inner cir­cle of man­age­ment, as well as the board of direc­tors, has been fierce­ly loy­al dur­ing the scan­dals that have rocked the social media giant. In addi­tion, Koum is the sole founder of a com­pa­ny acquired by Face­book to serve on its board. Only two oth­er Face­book exec­u­tives, Zucker­berg and Chief Oper­at­ing Offi­cer Sheryl Sand­berg, are mem­bers of the board.

    ...

    In his Face­book post, Koum said he would take some time off from tech­nol­o­gy to focus on oth­er pur­suits, “such as col­lect­ing rare air-cooled Porsches, work­ing on my cars and play­ing ulti­mate fris­bee.”

    Acton left the com­pa­ny in Novem­ber. He has joined a cho­rus of for­mer exec­u­tives crit­i­cal of Face­book. Acton recent­ly endorsed a #Delete­Face­book social media cam­paign that has gained force in the wake of the con­tro­ver­sy over data pri­va­cy sparked by Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, a polit­i­cal mar­ket­ing firm tied to the Trump cam­paign that had inap­pro­pri­ate­ly obtained the pri­vate infor­ma­tion of 87 mil­lion Face­book users.

    Though the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca rev­e­la­tions con­tributed to a cli­mate of broad­er frus­tra­tion with Face­book among What­sApp employ­ees, Koum made his deci­sion to leave before the scan­dal, the peo­ple said.

    What­sApp, with 1.5 bil­lion month­ly users, is the largest mes­sag­ing ser­vice in the world. It is most pop­u­lar in coun­tries such as India, Egypt and Brazil, as well as in Europe, where it is used for phone calls and text mes­sag­ing with friends and busi­ness­es, as well as news dis­tri­b­u­tion and group chats.

    Koum and Acton, for­mer co-work­ers at Yahoo, found­ed What­sApp in 2009. It promised pri­vate com­mu­ni­ca­tions for 99 cents a year. By 2014, the tiny com­pa­ny had almost 500 mil­lion users. It caught the atten­tion of Zucker­berg, who was look­ing to expand the social net­work over­seas. After a din­ner at Zuckerberg’s house, Zucker­berg made an offer for What­sApp that turned Acton and Koum into instant bil­lion­aires.

    But even in the ear­ly days, there were signs of a mis­match. What­sApp had less than $20 mil­lion in rev­enue at the time of the acqui­si­tion. Face­book was mak­ing bil­lions of dol­lars by sell­ing adver­tis­ers access to its users, on whom it had col­lect­ed large amounts of infor­ma­tion.

    Koum and Acton were open­ly dis­parag­ing of the tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing mod­el. In a What­sApp blog post in 2012, they wrote that “no one wakes up excit­ed to see more adver­tis­ing; no one goes to sleep think­ing about the ads they’ll see tomor­row.” They described online adver­tis­ing as “a dis­rup­tion to aes­thet­ics, an insult to your intel­li­gence, and the inter­rup­tion of your train of thought.”

    The What­sApp co-founders were also big believ­ers in pri­va­cy. They took pains to col­lect as lit­tle data as pos­si­ble from their users, requir­ing only phone num­bers and putting them at odds with data-hun­gry Face­book. At the time of the acqui­si­tion, Koum and Acton said Face­book had assured them that What­sApp could remain an inde­pen­dent ser­vice and would not share its data with Face­book.

    How and if What­sApp would make mon­ey was left an open ques­tion. “What­sApp will remain autonomous and oper­ate inde­pen­dent­ly,” the founders wrote in a blog post announc­ing the acqui­si­tion. “And you can still count on absolute­ly no ads inter­rupt­ing your com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

    Eigh­teen months lat­er, the promise not to share data evap­o­rat­ed. Face­book pushed What­sApp to change its terms of ser­vice to give the social net­work access to the phone num­bers of What­sApp users, along with ana­lyt­ics such as what devices and oper­at­ing sys­tems peo­ple were using.

    What­sApp exec­u­tives were com­fort­able shar­ing some data with Face­book to mea­sure who was using the ser­vice, accord­ing to the peo­ple. But they opposed using WhatsApp’s data to cre­ate a user pro­file that was uni­fied across Facebook’s mul­ti­ple plat­forms, which also include Insta­gram and Face­book Mes­sen­ger, and that could be used for ad-tar­get­ing or for Facebook’s data-min­ing.

    Acton and Koum acqui­esced, enabling Face­book to rec­om­mend that users’ What­sApp con­tacts become their Face­book friends and mak­ing it pos­si­ble for Face­book to col­lect more data about those rela­tion­ships. The changes also allowed adver­tis­ers to feed lists of phone num­bers into Facebook’s adver­tis­ing sys­tem, known as Cus­tom Audi­ence, and find new peo­ple to tar­get with ads.

    Last year, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, the Euro­pean Union’s reg­u­la­to­ry author­i­ty, fined Face­book $122 mil­lion for mak­ing “mis­lead­ing” state­ments when the E.U. approved the What­sApp takeover.

    Con­flicts soon arose over how What­sApp would make mon­ey. Face­book scrapped the 99-cent annu­al charge, and Koum and Acton con­tin­ued to oppose the adver­tis­ing mod­el. The ser­vice still has no ads, but What­sApp has embarked on exper­i­ments to make mon­ey: In Jan­u­ary, Face­book rolled out a tool, called What­sApp Busi­ness, to allow busi­ness­es to cre­ate a pro­file and send mes­sages to their cus­tomers on What­sApp. The founders also clashed with Face­book over build­ing a mobile pay­ments sys­tem on What­sApp in India.

    Anoth­er point of dis­agree­ment was over WhatsApp’s encryp­tion. In 2016, What­sApp added end-to-end encryp­tion, a secu­ri­ty fea­ture that scram­bles people’s mes­sages so that out­siders, includ­ing WhatsApp’s own­ers, can’t read them. Face­book exec­u­tives want­ed to make it eas­i­er for busi­ness­es to use its tools, and What­sApp exec­u­tives believed that doing so would require some weak­en­ing of its encryp­tion.

    Ulti­mate­ly, Koum was worn down by the dif­fer­ences in approach, the peo­ple said. Oth­er What­sApp employ­ees are demor­al­ized and plan to leave in Novem­ber, four years and a month after the Face­book acqui­si­tion, when they are allowed to exer­cise all their stock options under the terms of the Face­book deal, accord­ing to the peo­ple.

    Acton donat­ed $50 mil­lion of his mon­ey to Sig­nal, a rival mes­sag­ing app that is geared toward secu­ri­ty and pri­va­cy. In a recent blog post announc­ing his dona­tion and role as the exec­u­tive chair­man of the non­prof­it Sig­nal Foun­da­tion, Acton said his goal was to build “the most trust­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions expe­ri­ence on the plan­et.”

    ———-

    “What­sApp founder plans to leave after broad clash­es with par­ent Face­book” by Eliz­a­beth Dwoskin; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 04/30/2018

    “The bil­lion­aire chief exec­u­tive of What­sApp, Jan Koum, is plan­ning to leave the com­pa­ny after clash­ing with its par­ent, Face­book, over the pop­u­lar mes­sag­ing service’s strat­e­gy and Facebook’s attempts to use its per­son­al data and weak­en its encryp­tion, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with inter­nal dis­cus­sions.”

    Well, now we at least know the ratio­nale behind Face­book’s deci­sion to pay $19 bil­lion for a com­pa­ny with an anti-Face­book busi­ness mod­el: busi­ness mod­els can be qui­et­ly changed after you own a com­pa­ny. That was the ratio­nale for Face­book’s pur­chase of a com­pa­ny guid­ed by an anti-Face­book phi­los­o­phy:

    ...
    The inde­pen­dence and pro­tec­tion of its users’ data is a core tenet of What­sApp that Koum and his co-founder, Bri­an Acton, promised to pre­serve when they sold their tiny start-up to Face­book. It dou­bled down on its pledge by adding encryp­tion in 2016. The clash over data took on addi­tion­al sig­nif­i­cance in the wake of rev­e­la­tions in March that Face­book had allowed third par­ties to mis­han­dle its users’ per­son­al infor­ma­tion.

    Face­book chief exec­u­tive Mark Zucker­berg replied to Koum’s post by cred­it­ing Koum with teach­ing him “about encryp­tion and its abil­i­ty to take pow­er from cen­tral­ized sys­tems and put it back in people’s hands. Those val­ues will always be at the heart of What­sApp.”

    Face­book, though, needs to prove that its invest­ment in What­sApp — its largest acqui­si­tion ever — was worth it.

    “Part of Facebook’s suc­cess has been to digest acqui­si­tions, suc­cess­ful­ly mon­e­tize them, and inte­grate them into their adver­tis­ing machine,” said Daniel Ives, chief strat­e­gy offi­cer and head of tech­nol­o­gy research for research firm GBH Insights. But What­sApp has been more chal­leng­ing because of resis­tance from the founders, he said. “This was a mas­sive cul­ture clash.”
    ...

    As a result of this inver­sion of What­sAp­p’s cor­po­rate phi­los­o­phy we saw Bri­an Acton leave Face­book in Novem­ber and the endorse the #Delete­Face­book cam­paign in the wake of the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca:

    ...
    Acton left the com­pa­ny in Novem­ber. He has joined a cho­rus of for­mer exec­u­tives crit­i­cal of Face­book. Acton recent­ly endorsed a #Delete­Face­book social media cam­paign that has gained force in the wake of the con­tro­ver­sy over data pri­va­cy sparked by Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, a polit­i­cal mar­ket­ing firm tied to the Trump cam­paign that had inap­pro­pri­ate­ly obtained the pri­vate infor­ma­tion of 87 mil­lion Face­book users.
    ...

    And none of this shoudl be a sur­prise, because this was an obvi­ous cor­po­rate mis­match from the very begin­ning:

    ...
    But even in the ear­ly days, there were signs of a mis­match. What­sApp had less than $20 mil­lion in rev­enue at the time of the acqui­si­tion. Face­book was mak­ing bil­lions of dol­lars by sell­ing adver­tis­ers access to its users, on whom it had col­lect­ed large amounts of infor­ma­tion.

    Koum and Acton were open­ly dis­parag­ing of the tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing mod­el. In a What­sApp blog post in 2012, they wrote that “no one wakes up excit­ed to see more adver­tis­ing; no one goes to sleep think­ing about the ads they’ll see tomor­row.” They described online adver­tis­ing as “a dis­rup­tion to aes­thet­ics, an insult to your intel­li­gence, and the inter­rup­tion of your train of thought.”

    The What­sApp co-founders were also big believ­ers in pri­va­cy. They took pains to col­lect as lit­tle data as pos­si­ble from their users, requir­ing only phone num­bers and putting them at odds with data-hun­gry Face­book. At the time of the acqui­si­tion, Koum and Acton said Face­book had assured them that What­sApp could remain an inde­pen­dent ser­vice and would not share its data with Face­book.
    ...

    All it took was just 18 months after the pur­chase of What­sApp and the promise to keep What­sApp inde­pen­dent evap­o­rat­ed. Face­book got access to phone num­bers and began the process of uni­fy­ing its pro­files on What­sApp users with the rest of its Face­book pro­file infor­ma­tion. Now Face­book adver­tis­ers can use the phone num­bers from What­sApp that have been merged with the uni­fied Face­book pro­file sys­tem in the Cus­tom List ad tar­get­ing:

    ...
    How and if What­sApp would make mon­ey was left an open ques­tion. “What­sApp will remain autonomous and oper­ate inde­pen­dent­ly,” the founders wrote in a blog post announc­ing the acqui­si­tion. “And you can still count on absolute­ly no ads inter­rupt­ing your com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

    Eigh­teen months lat­er, the promise not to share data evap­o­rat­ed. Face­book pushed What­sApp to change its terms of ser­vice to give the social net­work access to the phone num­bers of What­sApp users, along with ana­lyt­ics such as what devices and oper­at­ing sys­tems peo­ple were using.

    What­sApp exec­u­tives were com­fort­able shar­ing some data with Face­book to mea­sure who was using the ser­vice, accord­ing to the peo­ple. But they opposed using WhatsApp’s data to cre­ate a user pro­file that was uni­fied across Facebook’s mul­ti­ple plat­forms, which also include Insta­gram and Face­book Mes­sen­ger, and that could be used for ad-tar­get­ing or for Facebook’s data-min­ing.

    Acton and Koum acqui­esced, enabling Face­book to rec­om­mend that users’ What­sApp con­tacts become their Face­book friends and mak­ing it pos­si­ble for Face­book to col­lect more data about those rela­tion­ships. The changes also allowed adver­tis­ers to feed lists of phone num­bers into Facebook’s adver­tis­ing sys­tem, known as Cus­tom Audi­ence, and find new peo­ple to tar­get with ads.

    ...

    Con­flicts soon arose over how What­sApp would make mon­ey. Face­book scrapped the 99-cent annu­al charge, and Koum and Acton con­tin­ued to oppose the adver­tis­ing mod­el. The ser­vice still has no ads, but What­sApp has embarked on exper­i­ments to make mon­ey: The founders also clashed with Face­book over build­ing a mobile pay­ments sys­tem on What­sApp in India.
    ...

    And then there’s Face­book’s plans for weak­en­ing What­sAp­p’s encryp­tion, the one thing cur­rent pre­vent­ing Face­book from data-min­ing all of the con­tent of your What­sApp mes­sages:

    ...
    Anoth­er point of dis­agree­ment was over WhatsApp’s encryp­tion. In 2016, What­sApp added end-to-end encryp­tion, a secu­ri­ty fea­ture that scram­bles people’s mes­sages so that out­siders, includ­ing WhatsApp’s own­ers, can’t read them. Face­book exec­u­tives want­ed to make it eas­i­er for busi­ness­es to use its tools, and What­sApp exec­u­tives believed that doing so would require some weak­en­ing of its encryp­tion.

    Ulti­mate­ly, Koum was worn down by the dif­fer­ences in approach, the peo­ple said. Oth­er What­sApp employ­ees are demor­al­ized and plan to leave in Novem­ber, four years and a month after the Face­book acqui­si­tion, when they are allowed to exer­cise all their stock options under the terms of the Face­book deal, accord­ing to the peo­ple.

    Acton donat­ed $50 mil­lion of his mon­ey to Sig­nal, a rival mes­sag­ing app that is geared toward secu­ri­ty and pri­va­cy. In a recent blog post announc­ing his dona­tion and role as the exec­u­tive chair­man of the non­prof­it Sig­nal Foun­da­tion, Acton said his goal was to build “the most trust­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tions expe­ri­ence on the plan­et.”
    ...

    “Face­book exec­u­tives want­ed to make it eas­i­er for busi­ness­es to use its tools, and What­sApp exec­u­tives believed that doing so would require some weak­en­ing of its encryp­tion.”

    LOL, yeah, they’re just going to weak­en the encryp­tion pure­ly enable some busi­ness fea­tures. Sure.

    So that’s all some­thing What­sApp users should keep in mind regard­ing the pri­va­cy of their What­sApp com­mu­ni­ca­tions: they prob­a­bly won’t have any pri­va­cy soon much like the rest of the Face­book tools they use.

    It’s a reminder that the pre­vail­ing prof­it-max­i­miza­tion mod­el of busi­ness isn’t actu­al­ly com­pat­i­ble with things this con­sumer pri­va­cy. Sure, busi­ness­es could base their busi­ness mod­els on users pay­ing for pri­va­cy, like What­sApp orig­i­nal­ly did charg­ing users and annu­al fee. But even under that mod­el there’s still going to be the temp­ta­tion to find ways to sur­rep­ti­tious­ly vio­late pri­va­cy for greater prof­its. It’s an inher­ent aspect of our prof­it-max­i­miz­ing sys­tem.

    And don’t for­get that any spy­ing made avail­able to Face­book is also quite pos­si­bly going to made avail­able to Peter Thiel’s Palan­tir giv­en Thiel’s posi­tion at Face­book.

    Of course, it’s impor­tant to keep in mind that even if Face­book made none of these changes it’s not like What­sApps ever tru­ly offered the kind of super-secure pri­va­cy peo­ple liked to believe they were get­ting. Why? Because the end-to-end encryp­tion fea­ture still did­n’t pro­tect against spy­ware on your phone. Recall how Gam­ma, the mak­er of the Fin­Fish­er hack­ing soft­ware sold to gov­ern­ments around the world, had code to hack What­sApp using spy­ware on your phone. The sto­ry about the CIA’s released hack­ing tools also being able to get around What­sAp­p’s encryp­tion. Sim­i­lar­ly, Ger­many recent­ly made it legal to plant spy­ware on smart­phones for the pur­pose of get­ting around the end-to-end encryp­tion of What­sApp. And then there’s the reports of Michael Fly­nn work­ing with a com­pa­ny, NSO, that sold spy­ware to gov­ern­ments look­ing to plant spy­ware on smart­phones in order to get around mes­sage ser­vices like What­sApp. When spy­ware is ubiq­ui­tous end-to-end encryp­tion is no guar­an­tee of pri­va­cy.

    And keep in mind that the encryp­tion tech­nol­o­gy Face­book decid­ed to imple­ment for What­sApp is the Open Whis­pers sys­tem devel­oped by the Broad­cast­ing Board of Gov­er­nors. So, you know, Face­book might not be the only enti­ty out there inter­est­ed in weak­en­ing What­sAp­p’s encryp­tion.

    But beyond the con­cerns of spy­ware and and cor­po­rate/s­tate-based attacks on What­sAp­p’s encryp­tion tech­nol­o­gy, we can’t ignore the fact that if What­sApp real­ly did deliv­er on what it promised, tru­ly unbreak­able encryp­tion that can only be bypassed by the own­er of a smart­phone, that would also pose its own set of pub­lic haz­ards. Strong encryp­tion tech­nolo­gies real­ly are potent tools for abuse, not just by rogue gov­ern­ment agen­cies, orga­nized crime, and ter­ror­ist groups, but also abuse by the pub­lic in gen­er­al. For instance, What­sApp has proven to be a potent tool for spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns that the pub­lic can’t stop or counter, as was the case in Brazil when What­sApp, which is wild­ly pop­u­lar there, was used to dis­sem­i­nate real­is­tic look­ing ‘news’ reports encour­ag­ing peo­ple NOT to get vac­ci­nat­ed. There’s also the sto­ries about high school kids in Ger­many using What­sApp to pro­mote Nazi pro­pa­gan­da. And then there’s the Face­book whistle­blow­er, Chamath Pal­i­hapi­tiya, who warned that social media is tear­ing soci­ety apart and who not­ed how hoax mes­sages over What­sApp about kid­nap­pings led to the lynch­ing of sev­en inno­cent peo­ple. There real­ly is a social cost to impreg­nable pri­va­cy and it’s a poten­tial­ly dev­as­tat­ing cost under the worst case sce­nar­ios.

    And, of course, there are going to be end­less reports of think­ing like law enforce­ment run­ning into a dig­i­tal wall when it comes to legal and total­ly valid wire­tap orders for What­sApp users. It’s an exam­ple of the meta-prob­lem with encryp­tion tech­nol­o­gy in gen­er­al: there’s no clean right/wrong path for­ward and humans are hor­ri­ble at nav­i­gat­ing these kinds of moral­ly ambigu­ous sit­u­a­tions.

    So that’s all some­thing What­sApp users should keep in mind: Just as there is a real ‘pri­va­cy vs secu­ri­ty’ dynam­ic at work here, there’s also a ‘pri­va­cy vs prof­its’ dynam­ic. And while the ‘pri­va­cy vs secu­ri­ty’ debate remains one of those issues that human­i­ty is bare­ly even acknowl­edg­ing or grap­pling with at this point and does­n’t real­ly have a clear answer — oth­er than striv­ing for a very high qual­i­ty gov­ern­ment that can appro­pri­ate­ly reg­u­late com­pa­nies like Face­book and the sur­veil­lance state — the ‘pri­va­cy vs prof­it’ debate has already been qui­et­ly resolved. Prof­its won.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 19, 2018, 2:40 pm
  15. Well, that’s one hel­lu­va twist to emerge on the one year anniver­sary of the open­ing of the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion: It turns out there’s a new Trump Tow­er meet­ing from the sum­mer of 2016 involv­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives of for­eign gov­ern­ments offer­ing the Trump cam­paign help in the elec­tion.

    But it’s not the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment mak­ing the offer this time. It was the Sau­di Ara­bia and the UAE express­ing an “eager­ness” to help Trump win the elec­tion. That’s what was expressed dur­ing this new­ly dis­cov­ered August 3rd, 2018, meet­ing in Trump Tow­er.

    Yep. These would, of course, be same coun­tries that appear to be behind the “back chan­nel” nego­ti­a­tions in the Sey­chelles, where Erik Prince (as the Trump rep­re­sen­ta­tive), George Nad­er (as the Saudi/UAE rep­re­sen­ta­tive), and Kir­ill Dmitriev (as the Krem­lin rep­re­sen­ta­tive) met at a bar in the Sey­chelles to dis­cuss a pro­pos­al from the Trump team and its Mid­dle East­ern part­ners to Rus­sia. A pro­pos­al that appeared to have as one of its major goals shift­ing Rus­sia away from its alliance with Iran and the Assad gov­ern­ment, and paving the way for regime change oper­a­tions against Iran and let­ting the Assad gov­ern­ment fall and be replaced by the Saudi/UAE-backed jihadist. And guess who was at this new August 3, 2016 Trump Tow­er meet­ing: Erik Prince and George Nad­er. It’s the same crew.

    Sau­di Ara­bia and the UAE are also the same coun­tries at the heart of the pro­posed nuclear pow­er “Mar­shall plan” for the Mid­dle East get­ting pushed by Michael Fly­nn where coun­tries like Jor­dan, Sau­di Ara­bia, and the UAE would all get nuclear pow­er plants (but not Iran or the Assad gov­ern­ment). Entic­ing Rus­sia to pull away from Iran and Syr­ia with such a lucra­tive offer (paired with a pre­sumed drop in oil prices) was also one of the goals of this nuclear Mar­shall plan.

    So Sau­di Ara­bia and the UAE were already sig­nif­i­cant play­ers in this whole sto­ry. And now we learn about an August 3rd, 2016 Trump Tow­er meet­ing along with Erik Prince and George Nad­er.

    And here’s where the whole Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca sto­ry fac­tors into all of this: one of the oth­er atten­dees of the new­ly dis­cov­ered meet­ing was Joel Zamel, the own­er of two Israeli com­pa­nies that appears to appears to offer many of the same ser­vices offered by SCL/Cambridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, Psy Group and Wik­istrat.

    As we’re going to see in the sec­ond arti­cle below, Wik­istrat claims to offer crowd­sourced analy­sis — analy­sis on geopo­lit­i­cal prob­lems using a net­work of ana­lysts — and has been work­ing with the UAE to pre­dict threats relat­ed to the war in Yemen.

    And Zamen’s Psy Group pri­vate intel­li­gence appears to be like a mix between Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and Black Cube. First, recall how Black Cube was an Israeli pri­vate intel­li­gence firm alleged­ly offer­ing ser­vices like obtain­ing hacked doc­u­ments and Cam­bridge con­tract­ed with them to do exact­ly that in 2015 for a Niger­ian client. Also recall how the Trump aides hired Black Cube to dig up dirt on two Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials (and their fam­i­lies) who were involved with pro­mot­ing the Iran nuclear deal for the pur­pose of dis­cred­it­ing them and dis­cred­it­ing the Iran deal by proxy. Also recall how Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s for­mer CEO, Alexan­der Nix, bragged to an under­cov­er reporter pos­ing as a prospec­tive client that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca offered sex­u­al hon­ey-pot ser­vices against the polit­i­cal oppo­nents of their clients. And that’s in addi­tion to Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca’s social media manip­u­la­tion and per­son­al­ized psy­cho­log­i­cal tar­get­ing ser­vices. Well, it turns out Zamel’s Psy Group offers ser­vices like psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare and social media manip­u­la­tion for the pur­pose of chang­ing pub­lic opin­ion. And ser­vices like set­ting up sex­u­al hon­ey-traps for the pur­pose of polit­i­cal black­mail and char­ac­ter assas­si­na­tion, just like Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca offered. And ser­vices like nav­i­gat­ing the Dark Web. Psy Group is in fact seen as a direct com­peti­tor for Black Cube.

    Don’t for­get the oth­er area where the Dark Web fig­ures into this: there were mul­ti­ple teams of right-wing forces scour­ing the Dark Web look­ing for some­one offer­ing Hillary Clin­ton’s hacked emails. That was the pic­ture that emerged from the sto­ry of GOP financier/opposition researcher Peter Smith who assem­bled a team that involved Steven Ban­non and Michael Fly­nn to search the Dark Web for Hillary’s emails. When they con­sult­ed Charles C. John­son, who had the same goal and referred them to Andrew Auern­hiemer, John­son indi­cat­ed he knew of mul­ti­ple Alt Right teams of peo­ple search­ing the Dark Web for hacked Hillary emails (and pre­sum­ably any hacked Demo­c­ra­t­ic emails). In addi­tion, there was the 2015 Dark Web search team assem­bled by Bar­bara Ledeen, wife of arch-neo­con Michael Ledeen who co-authored a book with Michael Fly­nn about geopol­i­tics, and includ­ed Newt Gin­grich and Judi­cial Watch. So the kinds of Dark Web ser­vices offered by Black Cube and Psy Group are prob­a­bly in pret­ty high demand.

    And Zamel already had a plan for the Trump cam­paign ready to go at the August Trump Tow­er meet­ing. Trump Jr. acknowl­edged the plan was pitched but claims he turned it down. But as the first arti­cle below notes, one source claims Trump Jr. respond­ed approv­ing­ly to the plan at the meet­ing and soon after George Nad­er was embraced as a close ally and fre­quent­ly met with Jared Kush­n­er and Michael Fly­nn. And after Trump was elect­ed, Nad­er report­ed­ly paid Zamel up to $2 mil­lion, although much of that $2 mil­lion is appar­ent­ly being attrib­uted to some sort of elab­o­rate pre­sen­ta­tion Zamel gave to the Trump cam­paign about the impor­tance of social media (that’s an expen­sive sales pitch).

    As the first arti­cle also notes, Kush­n­er, Fly­nn and Steve Ban­non appar­ent­ly con­sult­ed close­ly with George Nad­er in the final weeks of the cam­paign. Might that have been to coor­di­nate with Zamen’s group? Don’t for­get that Steve Ban­non is a co-founder and exec­u­tive offi­cer of Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca. So if Nad­er was act­ing as an inter­me­di­ary with Zamen’s Psy Group those meet­ings could have been the means of chan­nel­ing the qui­et coor­di­na­tion between the Trump cam­paign and Psy Group through Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca.

    Anoth­er thing to keep in mind regard­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was coor­di­nat­ing with Psy Group is the fact that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was hired by the UAE to run a social media cam­paign against Qatar. Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca then went bank­rupt but appears to have been reborn as an UAE-finance “Emer­da­ta” (which sounds like “Emerati-data”).

    As the fol­low­ing arti­cle notes, Nad­er was also in dis­cus­sions with Erik Prince, the for­mer head of Black­wa­ter, about a plan to get the Saud­is to pay $2 bil­lion to set up a pri­vate army to com­bat Iran­ian proxy forces in Yemen. And after the inau­gu­ra­tion, Nad­er was report­ed­ly pro­mot­ing a plan to the US, Saud­is, and UAE to eco­nom­i­cal­ly desta­bi­lize Iran and pro­mote regime-change. Nader’s plan would cost about $300 mil­lion. It’s unclear if it was tru­ly his own plan or he was pro­mot­ing it on behalf of a client, although the client sce­nario seems the like­li­est. Nad­er also tried to per­suade Jared Kush­n­er to endorse the eco­nom­ic sab­o­tage plan to Crown Prince Mohammed in per­son on a trip to Riyadh. It’s a sign Kush­n­er and the Trump team prob­a­bly backed the plan and Nad­er was prob­a­bly act­ing on behalf of the UAE.

    And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle notes, the Saud­is and UAE open­ly dis­liked the poli­cies of the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion and Hillary Clin­ton’s term as Sec­re­tary of State. They did­n’t like the Iran nuclear deal and want­ed a deep­er US involve­ment in Syr­ia. That appears to be a big part of the motive for going as far as they appear to have gone in choos­ing sides in a US elec­tion.

    So we are now learn­ing that the Saud­is and UAE were not just “eager” to help Trump win but eager for that help to come in the form of a pri­vate intel­li­gence oper­a­tion that’s like a mix between Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and Black Cube. And we also learn that Don­ald Trump Jr. was excit­ed about the offer George Nad­er became a close ally with the Trump team short­ly after this August Trump Tow­er meet­ing. The sure sounds like col­lu­sion!

    And in rela­tion to the DNC hack, it’s worth recall­ing that some of the hack­ing code used by Hack­ing Team — the Ital­ian cyber­se­cu­ri­ty firm that sold legal hack­ing tools to coun­tries like the Saud­is and UAE until it got hacked itself and had all its hack­ing tools leaked online — includ­ed code that looked like X‑Agent, one of the pieces of mal­ware said to be exclu­sive­ly Russ­ian hack­ers. It’s also worth recall­ing that the Sau­di gov­ern­ment tried to pur­chase a major­i­ty stake in Hack­ing Team in 2013. And when Hack­ing Team was fac­ing bank­rupt­cy after its 2015 hack it was a mys­te­ri­ous Sau­di investor who infused the com­pa­ny with cash in ear­ly 2016.

    And don’t for­get that Joseph Mif­sud, the mys­te­ri­ous Mal­tese pro­fes­sor with Krem­lin ties who first approached George Papadopou­los in March of 2016 talk­ing about the Rus­sians hav­ing thou­sands of Hillary’s emails, was also employed by the Saud­is and appeared to act as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Sau­di inter­ests in Rus­sia.

    The fol­low­ing arti­cle also includes anoth­er key fact in all this in terms of the time­line of events in the DNC hack of March 2016: George Nad­er began approach­ing the Trump team about offer­ing Emi­rati help to the Trump team soon after it looked like Trump had the GOP nom­i­na­tion locked up in ear­ly 2016. And Trump was already look­ing like the like­ly win­ner of the pri­ma­ry by the begin­ning of March of 2016, the same month of the ‘Fan­cy Bear’ hack con­spic­u­ous­ly filled with ‘I’m a Russ­ian Hack­er’ clues. and, real­ly, he was look­ing like the like­ly win­ner before March. So this August 2016 Trump Tow­er meet­ing was prob­a­bly a con­tin­u­a­tion of con­ver­sa­tions that began months ear­li­er, which would explain why Zamel’s team appar­ent­ly had a plan for a social media influ­ence cam­paign for the Trump team ready to go and it’s entire­ly pos­si­ble this Saudi/UAE col­lu­sion with the Trump team qui­et­ly start­ed well before the ‘Fan­cy Bear’ hack.

    It’s a reminder that the Saud­is and UAE could very well be the true cul­prits Fan­cy Bear hack that was filled with ‘I’m a Russ­ian hack­er!’ clues. They had the hack­ing means and the motive. And not just a motive to help Trump win. They had a motive to hack the DNC and leave ‘Russ­ian fin­ger­prints’ all over the hack if they were plan­ning on imple­ment­ing a ‘car­rot and stick’ strat­e­gy to get Rus­sia to change its poli­cies towards Iran and Syr­ia. Hack Hillary to help get Trump elect­ed and then use the sub­se­quent out­rage at Russ­ian and addi­tion­al sanc­tions to help incen­tivize Rus­si­a’s accep­tance of a big alliance shift deal. Might that have been part of how this all played out?

    Who knows, but it’s pret­ty remark­able that, at the one year mark into this #TrumpRus­sia inves­ti­ga­tion, we now have the most com­pelling evi­dence yet of the Trump cam­paign col­lud­ing with a for­eign gov­ern­ment. It’s not just one but two for­eign gov­ern­ments. And they are both gov­ern­ments with major prob­lems with both the for­eign pol­i­cy of the Democ­rats and the for­eign pol­i­cy of Rus­sia. And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle notes, the Mueller team is appar­ent­ly look­ing into whether or not the gov­ern­ment of Qatar was also mak­ing over­tures to the Trump cam­paign. So we don’t just have Rus­si­a’s rivals, Sau­di Ara­bia and the UAE, involved with this but their region­al rival Qatar was poten­tial­ly col­lud­ing with the Trump team too. In oth­er words, #TrumpRus­sia is quick­ly becom­ing #TrumpRus­si­aAn­dRus­sian­Ri­vals:

    The New York Times

    Trump Jr. and Oth­er Aides Met With Gulf Emis­sary Offer­ing Help to Win Elec­tion

    By Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman and David D. Kirk­patrick
    May 19, 2018

    WASHINGTON — Three months before the 2016 elec­tion, a small group gath­ered at Trump Tow­er to meet with Don­ald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son. One was an Israeli spe­cial­ist in social media manip­u­la­tion. Anoth­er was an emis­sary for two wealthy Arab princes. The third was a Repub­li­can donor with a con­tro­ver­sial past in the Mid­dle East as a pri­vate secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor.

    The meet­ing was con­vened pri­mar­i­ly to offer help to the Trump team, and it forged rela­tion­ships between the men and Trump insid­ers that would devel­op over the com­ing months — past the elec­tion and well into Pres­i­dent Trump’s first year in office, accord­ing to sev­er­al peo­ple with knowl­edge of their encoun­ters.

    Erik Prince, the pri­vate secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor and the for­mer head of Black­wa­ter, arranged the meet­ing, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emis­sary, George Nad­er, told Don­ald Trump Jr. that the princes who led Sau­di Ara­bia and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates were eager to help his father win elec­tion as pres­i­dent. The social media spe­cial­ist, Joel Zamel, extolled his company’s abil­i­ty to give an edge to a polit­i­cal cam­paign; by that time, the firm had already drawn up a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar pro­pos­al for a social media manip­u­la­tion effort to help elect Mr. Trump.

    The com­pa­ny, which employed sev­er­al Israeli for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cers, spe­cial­ized in col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion and shap­ing opin­ion through social media.

    It is unclear whether such a pro­pos­al was exe­cut­ed, and the details of who com­mis­sioned it remain in dis­pute. But Don­ald Trump Jr. respond­ed approv­ing­ly, accord­ing to a per­son with knowl­edge of the meet­ing, and after those ini­tial offers of help, Mr. Nad­er was quick­ly embraced as a close ally by Trump cam­paign advis­ers — meet­ing fre­quent­ly with Jared Kush­n­er, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Michael T. Fly­nn, who became the president’s first nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er. At the time, Mr. Nad­er was also pro­mot­ing a secret plan to use pri­vate con­trac­tors to desta­bi­lize Iran, the region­al neme­sis of Sau­di Ara­bia and the Emi­rates.

    After Mr. Trump was elect­ed, Mr. Nad­er paid Mr. Zamel a large sum of mon­ey, described by one asso­ciate as up to $2 mil­lion. There are con­flict­ing accounts of the rea­son for the pay­ment, but among oth­er things, a com­pa­ny linked to Mr. Zamel pro­vid­ed Mr. Nad­er with an elab­o­rate pre­sen­ta­tion about the sig­nif­i­cance of social media cam­paign­ing to Mr. Trump’s vic­to­ry.

    The meet­ings, which have not been report­ed pre­vi­ous­ly, are the first indi­ca­tion that coun­tries oth­er than Rus­sia may have offered assis­tance to the Trump cam­paign in the months before the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The inter­ac­tions are a focus of the inves­ti­ga­tion by Robert S. Mueller III, the spe­cial coun­sel, who was orig­i­nal­ly tasked with exam­in­ing pos­si­ble Trump cam­paign coor­di­na­tion with Rus­sia in the elec­tion.

    Mr. Nad­er is coop­er­at­ing with the inquiry, and inves­ti­ga­tors have ques­tioned numer­ous wit­ness­es in Wash­ing­ton, New York, Atlanta, Tel Aviv and else­where about what for­eign help may have been pledged or accept­ed, and about whether any such assis­tance was coor­di­nat­ed with Rus­sia, accord­ing to wit­ness­es and oth­ers with knowl­edge of the inter­views.

    The inter­views, some in recent weeks, are fur­ther evi­dence that spe­cial counsel’s inves­ti­ga­tion remains in an intense phase even as Mr. Trump’s lawyers are pub­licly call­ing for Mr. Mueller to bring it to a close.

    It is ille­gal for for­eign gov­ern­ments or indi­vid­u­als to be involved in Amer­i­can elec­tions, and it is unclear what — if any — direct assis­tance Sau­di Ara­bia and the Emi­rates may have pro­vid­ed. But two peo­ple famil­iar with the meet­ings said that Trump cam­paign offi­cials did not appear both­ered by the idea of coop­er­a­tion with for­eign­ers.

    A lawyer for Don­ald Trump Jr., Alan Futer­fas, said in a state­ment that “pri­or to the 2016 elec­tion, Don­ald Trump Jr. recalls a meet­ing with Erik Prince, George Nad­er and anoth­er indi­vid­ual who may be Joel Zamel. They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media plat­form or mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy. He was not inter­est­ed and that was the end of it.”

    The August 2016 meet­ing has echoes of anoth­er Trump Tow­er meet­ing two months ear­li­er, also under scruti­ny by the spe­cial coun­sel, when Don­ald Trump Jr. and oth­er top cam­paign aides met with a Russ­ian lawyer after being promised dam­ag­ing infor­ma­tion about Hillary Clin­ton. No evi­dence has emerged sug­gest­ing that the August meet­ing was set up with a sim­i­lar premise.

    The rev­e­la­tions about the meet­ings come in the midst of new scruti­ny about ties between Mr. Trump’s advis­ers and at least three wealthy Per­sian Gulf states. Besides his inter­est in Sau­di Ara­bia and the Emi­rates, Mr. Mueller has also been ask­ing wit­ness­es about meet­ings between White House advis­ers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Qatar, Sau­di Arabia’s bit­ter rival.

    A lawyer for Mr. Zamel denied that his client had car­ried out any cam­paign on Mr. Trump’s behalf. “Nei­ther Joel Zamel, nor any of his relat­ed enti­ties, had any involve­ment what­so­ev­er in the U.S. elec­tion cam­paign,” said the lawyer, Marc L. Mukasey.

    “The D.O.J. clar­i­fied from Day 1 that Joel and his com­pa­nies have nev­er been a tar­get of the inves­ti­ga­tion. My client pro­vid­ed full coop­er­a­tion to the gov­ern­ment to assist with their inves­ti­ga­tion,” he said.

    Kathryn Ruemm­ler, a lawyer for Mr. Nad­er, said, “Mr. Nad­er has ful­ly coop­er­at­ed with the spe­cial counsel’s inves­ti­ga­tion and will con­tin­ue to do so.” A senior offi­cial in Sau­di Ara­bia said it had nev­er employed Mr. Nad­er in any capac­i­ty or autho­rized him to speak for the crown prince.

    ...

    Advis­ers to the Court

    Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, the de fac­to ruler of the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Sau­di Ara­bia, the king’s main advis­er, had long opposed many of the Oba­ma administration’s poli­cies toward the Mid­dle East. They resent­ed Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s agree­ment with Iran over its nuclear pro­gram, his state­ments of sup­port for the Arab Spring upris­ings and his hands-off approach to the Syr­i­an civ­il war.

    News out­lets linked to Sau­di Ara­bia and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates fierce­ly crit­i­cized Mrs. Clin­ton, Mr. Trump’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nent, when she was sec­re­tary of state, and diplo­mats famil­iar with their think­ing say both princes hoped for a pres­i­dent who would take a stronger hand in the region against both Iran and groups like the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood.

    Mr. Nad­er had worked for years as a close advis­er to Crown Prince Mohammed of Abu Dhabi, and Mr. Zamel had worked for the Emi­rati roy­al court as a con­sul­tant as well. When Mr. Trump locked up the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in ear­ly 2016, Mr. Nad­er began mak­ing inquiries on behalf of the Emi­rati prince about pos­si­ble ways to direct­ly sup­port Mr. Trump, accord­ing to three peo­ple with whom Mr. Nad­er dis­cussed his efforts.

    Mr. Nad­er also vis­it­ed Moscow at least twice dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign as a con­fi­den­tial emis­sary from Crown Prince Mohammed of Abu Dhabi, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with his trav­els. After the elec­tion, he worked with the crown prince to arrange a meet­ing in the Sey­chelles between Mr. Prince and a financier close to Pres­i­dent Vladimir V. Putin of Rus­sia.

    Com­pa­nies con­nect­ed to Mr. Zamel also have ties to Rus­sia. One of his firms had pre­vi­ous­ly worked for oli­garchs linked to Mr. Putin, includ­ing Oleg V. Deri­pas­ka and Dmit­ry Rybolovlev, who hired the firm for online cam­paigns against their busi­ness rivals.

    Mr. Deri­pas­ka, an alu­minum mag­nate, was once in busi­ness with the for­mer Trump cam­paign chair­man Paul Man­afort, who has plead­ed not guilty in the spe­cial coun­sel inves­ti­ga­tion to charges of finan­cial crimes and fail­ing to dis­close the lob­by­ing work he did on behalf of a for­mer pres­i­dent of Ukraine, an ally of Mr. Putin. Mr. Rybolovlev once pur­chased a Flori­da man­sion from Mr. Trump.

    Mr. Nader’s vis­its to Rus­sia and the work Mr. Zamel’s com­pa­nies did for the Rus­sians have both been a sub­ject of inter­est to the spe­cial counsel’s inves­ti­ga­tors, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with wit­ness inter­views.

    A String of Meet­ings

    Mr. Zamel and Mr. Nad­er were togeth­er at a Mid­town Man­hat­tan hotel at about 4 p.m. on the after­noon of Aug. 3 when Mr. Nad­er received a call from Mr. Prince sum­mon­ing them to Trump Tow­er. When they arrived, Stephen Miller, a top cam­paign aide who is now a White House advis­er, was in Don­ald Trump Jr.’s office as well, accord­ing to the peo­ple famil­iar with the meet­ing.

    Mr. Prince is a long­time Repub­li­can donor and the broth­er of Bet­sy DeVos, the edu­ca­tion sec­re­tary, and Mr. Prince and Mr. Nad­er had known each oth­er since Mr. Nad­er had worked for Black­wa­ter as a busi­ness agent in Iraq in the years after the Amer­i­can inva­sion. Mr. Prince has long­stand­ing ties to the Emi­rates, and has fre­quent­ly done busi­ness with Crown Prince Mohammed.

    Mr. Prince opened the meet­ing by telling Don­ald Trump Jr. that “we are work­ing hard for your father,” in ref­er­ence to his fam­i­ly and oth­er donors, accord­ing to a per­son famil­iar with the meet­ing. He then intro­duced Mr. Nad­er as an old friend with deep ties to Arab lead­ers.

    Mr. Nad­er repeat­ed­ly referred to the Sau­di and Emi­rati princes as “my friends,” accord­ing to one per­son with knowl­edge of the con­ver­sa­tion. To under­score the point, he would open his mobile phone to show off pic­tures of him pos­ing with them, some of which The New York Times obtained.

    Mr. Nad­er explained to Don­ald Trump Jr. that the two princes saw the elder Mr. Trump as a strong leader who would fill the pow­er vac­u­um that they believed Mr. Oba­ma had left in the Mid­dle East, and Mr. Nad­er went on to say that he and his friends would be glad to sup­port Mr. Trump as much as they could, accord­ing to the per­son with knowl­edge of the con­ver­sa­tion.

    Mr. Zamel, for his part, laid out the capa­bil­i­ties of his online media com­pa­ny, although it is unclear whether he referred to the pro­pos­als his com­pa­ny had already pre­pared. One per­son famil­iar with the meet­ing said that Mr. Nad­er invit­ed Don­ald Trump Jr. to meet with a Sau­di prince — an invi­ta­tion the younger Mr. Trump declined. After about half an hour, every­one exchanged busi­ness cards.

    “There was a brief meet­ing, noth­ing con­crete was offered or pitched to any­one and noth­ing came of it,” said Mr. Mukasey, the lawyer for Mr. Zamel.

    By then, a com­pa­ny con­nect­ed to Mr. Zamel had been work­ing on a pro­pos­al for a covert mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar online manip­u­la­tion cam­paign to help elect Mr. Trump, accord­ing to three peo­ple involved and a fourth briefed on the effort. The plan involved using thou­sands of fake social media accounts to pro­mote Mr. Trump’s can­di­da­cy on plat­forms like Face­book.

    There were con­cerns inside the com­pa­ny, Psy-Group, about the plan’s legal­i­ty, accord­ing to one per­son famil­iar with the effort. The com­pa­ny, whose mot­to is “shape real­i­ty,” con­sult­ed an Amer­i­can law firm, and was told that it would be ille­gal if any non-Amer­i­cans were involved in the effort.

    Mr. Zamel, the founder of Psy-Group and one of its own­ers, has been ques­tioned about the August 2016 meet­ing by inves­ti­ga­tors for the spe­cial coun­sel, and at least two F.B.I. agents work­ing on the inquiry have trav­eled to Israel to inter­view employ­ees of the com­pa­ny who worked on the pro­pos­al. Accord­ing to one per­son, the spe­cial counsel’s team has worked with the Israeli police to seize the com­put­ers of one of Mr. Zamel’s com­pa­nies, which is cur­rent­ly in liq­ui­da­tion.

    In the hec­tic final weeks of the cam­paign and dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion, sev­er­al of Mr. Trump’s advis­ers drew Mr. Nad­er close. He met often with Mr. Kush­n­er, Mr. Fly­nn and Stephen K. Ban­non, who took over as cam­paign chair­man after Mr. Man­afort resigned amid rev­e­la­tions about his work in Ukraine.

    In Decem­ber 2016, Mr. Nad­er turned again to an inter­net com­pa­ny linked to Mr. Zamel — WhiteKnight, based in the Philip­pines — to pur­chase a pre­sen­ta­tion demon­strat­ing the impact of social media cam­paigns on Mr. Trump’s elec­toral vic­to­ry. Asked about the pur­chase, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of WhiteKnight said: “WhiteKnight deliv­ers pre­mi­um research and high-end busi­ness devel­op­ment ser­vices for pres­ti­gious clients around the world. WhiteKnight does not talk about any of its clients.”

    After the inau­gu­ra­tion, both Mr. Zamel and Mr. Nad­er vis­it­ed the White House, meet­ing with Mr. Kush­n­er and Mr. Ban­non.

    At that time, Mr. Nad­er was pro­mot­ing a plan to use pri­vate con­trac­tors to car­ry out eco­nom­ic sab­o­tage against Iran that, he hoped, might coerce it to per­ma­nent­ly aban­don its nuclear pro­gram. The plan includ­ed efforts to deter West­ern com­pa­nies from invest­ing in Iran, and oper­a­tions to sow mis­trust among Iran­ian offi­cials. He advo­cat­ed the project, which he esti­mat­ed would cost about $300 mil­lion, to Amer­i­can, Emi­rati and Sau­di offi­cials.

    Last spring, Mr. Nad­er trav­eled to Riyadh for meet­ings with senior Sau­di mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence offi­cials to pitch his Iran sab­o­tage plan. He was con­vinced, accord­ing to sev­er­al peo­ple famil­iar with his plan, that eco­nom­ic war­fare was the key to the over­throw of the gov­ern­ment in Tehran. One per­son briefed on Mr. Nader’s activ­i­ties said he tried to per­suade Mr. Kush­n­er to endorse the plan to Crown Prince Mohammed in per­son on a trip to Riyadh, although it was unclear whether the mes­sage was deliv­ered.

    Asked about Mr. Nader’s plans to attack Iran, the senior Sau­di offi­cial said Mr. Nad­er had a habit of pitch­ing pro­pos­als that went nowhere.

    Mr. Nad­er was also in dis­cus­sions with Mr. Prince, the for­mer head of Black­wa­ter, about a plan to get the Saud­is to pay $2 bil­lion to set up a pri­vate army to com­bat Iran­ian proxy forces in Yemen.

    Since enter­ing the White House, Mr. Trump has allied him­self close­ly with Sau­di Ara­bia and the Emi­rates. His first over­seas trip was to Riyadh. He strong­ly backed Sau­di and Emi­rati efforts to iso­late their neigh­bor Qatar, anoth­er Amer­i­can ally, even over appar­ent dis­agree­ment from the State and Defense Depart­ments.

    This month, Mr. Trump also with­drew from an Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion nuclear deal with Iran that both Sau­di Ara­bia and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates had cam­paigned against for years, deliv­er­ing them their biggest vic­to­ry yet from his admin­is­tra­tion.

    ———-

    “Trump Jr. and Oth­er Aides Met With Gulf Emis­sary Offer­ing Help to Win Elec­tion” by Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman and David D. Kirk­patrick; The New York Times; 05/19/2018

    Erik Prince, the pri­vate secu­ri­ty con­trac­tor and the for­mer head of Black­wa­ter, arranged the meet­ing, which took place on Aug. 3, 2016. The emis­sary, George Nad­er, told Don­ald Trump Jr. that the princes who led Sau­di Ara­bia and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates were eager to help his father win elec­tion as pres­i­dent. The social media spe­cial­ist, Joel Zamel, extolled his company’s abil­i­ty to give an edge to a polit­i­cal cam­paign; by that time, the firm had already drawn up a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar pro­pos­al for a social media manip­u­la­tion effort to help elect Mr. Trump.”

    Erik Prince arranges the meet­ing where George Nad­er express­es how eager the prince who led Sau­di Ara­bia and the UAE were to help Trump win. That sounds pret­ty collusion‑y.

    Joel Zamel is there with a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar pitch for a social media manip­u­la­tion effort. And while we don’t know pre­cise­ly what become of that pitch, George Nad­er ends up get­ting embraced as a close ally short­ly after the meet­ing and Nad­er ends up pay­ing Zamel up to $2 mil­lion after Trump was elect­ed. Although that pay­ment is being spun as mere­ly cov­er­ing the cost of an elab­o­rate pre­sen­ta­tion demon­strat­ing the impor­tance of social media to the Trump cam­paign (it’s not the best cov­er sto­ry):

    ...
    The com­pa­ny, which employed sev­er­al Israeli for­mer intel­li­gence offi­cers, spe­cial­ized in col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion and shap­ing opin­ion through social media.

    It is unclear whether such a pro­pos­al was exe­cut­ed, and the details of who com­mis­sioned it remain in dis­pute. But Don­ald Trump Jr. respond­ed approv­ing­ly, accord­ing to a per­son with knowl­edge of the meet­ing, and after those ini­tial offers of help, Mr. Nad­er was quick­ly embraced as a close ally by Trump cam­paign advis­ers — meet­ing fre­quent­ly with Jared Kush­n­er, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Michael T. Fly­nn, who became the president’s first nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er. At the time, Mr. Nad­er was also pro­mot­ing a secret plan to use pri­vate con­trac­tors to desta­bi­lize Iran, the region­al neme­sis of Sau­di Ara­bia and the Emi­rates.

    After Mr. Trump was elect­ed, Mr. Nad­er paid Mr. Zamel a large sum of mon­ey, described by one asso­ciate as up to $2 mil­lion. There are con­flict­ing accounts of the rea­son for the pay­ment, but among oth­er things, a com­pa­ny linked to Mr. Zamel pro­vid­ed Mr. Nad­er with an elab­o­rate pre­sen­ta­tion about the sig­nif­i­cance of social media cam­paign­ing to Mr. Trump’s vic­to­ry.
    ...

    So what kinds of ser­vices did Zamel offer? How about a covert mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar online manip­u­la­tion cam­paign that involved using thou­sands of fake social media accounts. In oth­er words, exact­ly what the Trump team end­ed up doing. And while it’s gen­er­al­ly assumed it was Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca who led this social media manip­u­la­tion effort, it sounds like we can add Psy Group to the list of enti­ties involved in this:

    ...
    Mr. Zamel, for his part, laid out the capa­bil­i­ties of his online media com­pa­ny, although it is unclear whether he referred to the pro­pos­als his com­pa­ny had already pre­pared. One per­son famil­iar with the meet­ing said that Mr. Nad­er invit­ed Don­ald Trump Jr. to meet with a Sau­di prince — an invi­ta­tion the younger Mr. Trump declined. After about half an hour, every­one exchanged busi­ness cards.

    “There was a brief meet­ing, noth­ing con­crete was offered or pitched to any­one and noth­ing came of it,” said Mr. Mukasey, the lawyer for Mr. Zamel.

    By then, a com­pa­ny con­nect­ed to Mr. Zamel had been work­ing on a pro­pos­al for a covert mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar online manip­u­la­tion cam­paign to help elect Mr. Trump, accord­ing to three peo­ple involved and a fourth briefed on the effort. The plan involved using thou­sands of fake social media accounts to pro­mote Mr. Trump’s can­di­da­cy on plat­forms like Face­book.

    There were con­cerns inside the com­pa­ny, Psy-Group, about the plan’s legal­i­ty, accord­ing to one per­son famil­iar with the effort. The com­pa­ny, whose mot­to is “shape real­i­ty,” con­sult­ed an Amer­i­can law firm, and was told that it would be ille­gal if any non-Amer­i­cans were involved in the effort.

    Mr. Zamel, the founder of Psy-Group and one of its own­ers, has been ques­tioned about the August 2016 meet­ing by inves­ti­ga­tors for the spe­cial coun­sel, and at least two F.B.I. agents work­ing on the inquiry have trav­eled to Israel to inter­view employ­ees of the com­pa­ny who worked on the pro­pos­al. Accord­ing to one per­son, the spe­cial counsel’s team has worked with the Israeli police to seize the com­put­ers of one of Mr. Zamel’s com­pa­nies, which is cur­rent­ly in liq­ui­da­tion.
    ...

    And while it’s unclear what work Psy Group end­ed up doing for the Trump cam­paign, it’s pret­ty clear that George Nad­er because an impor­tant fig­ure in the cam­paign up through those cru­cial final weeks:

    ...
    In the hec­tic final weeks of the cam­paign and dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion, sev­er­al of Mr. Trump’s advis­ers drew Mr. Nad­er close. He met often with Mr. Kush­n­er, Mr. Fly­nn and Stephen K. Ban­non, who took over as cam­paign chair­man after Mr. Man­afort resigned amid rev­e­la­tions about his work in Ukraine.

    In Decem­ber 2016, Mr. Nad­er turned again to an inter­net com­pa­ny linked to Mr. Zamel — WhiteKnight, based in the Philip­pines — to pur­chase a pre­sen­ta­tion demon­strat­ing the impact of social media cam­paigns on Mr. Trump’s elec­toral vic­to­ry. Asked about the pur­chase, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of WhiteKnight said: “WhiteKnight deliv­ers pre­mi­um research and high-end busi­ness devel­op­ment ser­vices for pres­ti­gious clients around the world. WhiteKnight does not talk about any of its clients.”
    ...

    Keep in mind that some of the sleazi­est stuff the Trump team did, like pro­mot­ing the #Piz­za­Gate con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry, hap­pened in the final weeks of the cam­paign. So, giv­en that Psy­Group was poten­tial­ly act­ing as a secret social media manip­u­la­tion enti­ty it seems rea­son­able to assume that the sleazi­est stuff would have been out­sourced to them.

    Also note who else was at this August 3 meet­ing rep­re­sent­ing the Trump team: Stephen Miller:

    ...
    Mr. Zamel and Mr. Nad­er were togeth­er at a Mid­town Man­hat­tan hotel at about 4 p.m. on the after­noon of Aug. 3 when Mr. Nad­er received a call from Mr. Prince sum­mon­ing them to Trump Tow­er. When they arrived, Stephen Miller, a top cam­paign aide who is now a White House advis­er, was in Don­ald Trump Jr.’s office as well, accord­ing to the peo­ple famil­iar with the meet­ing.
    ...

    So why were the Saud­is and UAE so “eager” to help Trump win. Because they hat­ed Oba­ma’s and Hillary’s poli­cies in the region. And this has been open loathing for years. It’s not a secret:

    ...
    Advis­ers to the Court

    Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, the de fac­to ruler of the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Sau­di Ara­bia, the king’s main advis­er, had long opposed many of the Oba­ma administration’s poli­cies toward the Mid­dle East. They resent­ed Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s agree­ment with Iran over its nuclear pro­gram, his state­ments of sup­port for the Arab Spring upris­ings and his hands-off approach to the Syr­i­an civ­il war.

    News out­lets linked to Sau­di Ara­bia and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates fierce­ly crit­i­cized Mrs. Clin­ton, Mr. Trump’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nent, when she was sec­re­tary of state, and diplo­mats famil­iar with their think­ing say both princes hoped for a pres­i­dent who would take a stronger hand in the region against both Iran and groups like the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood.
    ...

    And while Don­ald Trump Jr. admits to hav­ing the meet­ing but denies show­ing any inter­est in the pro­pos­al, two peo­ple famil­iar with the meet­ings indi­cate that Trump cam­paign offi­cials — not just Trump Jr. — appeared to have no prob­lem coop­er­at­ing with for­eign­ers. It was lit­er­al­ly a cul­ture of col­lu­sion on the cam­paign:

    ...
    It is ille­gal for for­eign gov­ern­ments or indi­vid­u­als to be involved in Amer­i­can elec­tions, and it is unclear what — if any — direct assis­tance Sau­di Ara­bia and the Emi­rates may have pro­vid­ed. But two peo­ple famil­iar with the meet­ings said that Trump cam­paign offi­cials did not appear both­ered by the idea of coop­er­a­tion with for­eign­ers.

    A lawyer for Don­ald Trump Jr., Alan Futer­fas, said in a state­ment that “pri­or to the 2016 elec­tion, Don­ald Trump Jr. recalls a meet­ing with Erik Prince, George Nad­er and anoth­er indi­vid­ual who may be Joel Zamel. They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media plat­form or mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy. He was not inter­est­ed and that was the end of it.”
    ...

    And that will­ing­ness to coop­er­ate with for­eign inter­ests is part of why it’s entire­ly plau­si­ble they were col­lud­ing with Qatar too:

    ...
    The rev­e­la­tions about the meet­ings come in the midst of new scruti­ny about ties between Mr. Trump’s advis­ers and at least three wealthy Per­sian Gulf states. Besides his inter­est in Sau­di Ara­bia and the Emi­rates, Mr. Mueller has also been ask­ing wit­ness­es about meet­ings between White House advis­ers and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Qatar, Sau­di Arabia’s bit­ter rival.
    ...

    But note this crit­i­cal detail in terms of the time­line: George Nader’s inquiries into how his Sau­di and UAE clients could help the Trump cam­paign did­n’t start in August. They start­ed “When Mr. Trump locked up the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in ear­ly 2016”:

    ...
    Mr. Nad­er had worked for years as a close advis­er to Crown Prince Mohammed of Abu Dhabi, and Mr. Zamel had worked for the Emi­rati roy­al court as a con­sul­tant as well. When Mr. Trump locked up the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in ear­ly 2016, Mr. Nad­er began mak­ing inquiries on behalf of the Emi­rati prince about pos­si­ble ways to direct­ly sup­port Mr. Trump, accord­ing to three peo­ple with whom Mr. Nad­er dis­cussed his efforts.
    ...

    And don’t for­get that it was look­ing like Trump locked it up by ear­ly March, before the ‘Fan­cy Bear’ DNC hack.

    And note the lan­guage that was appar­ent­ly used at this August 3rd meet­ing: Erik Prince opens the meet­ing telling Don Jr., “we are work­ing hard for your father.” And while the “we” that state­ment is inter­pret­ed as mean­ing Eric Prince and his deVos fam­i­ly mem­bers, you have to won­der if the “we” was actu­al­ly intend­ed to mean Prince and Nad­er and his Saudi/UAE clients giv­en the fact that Nad­er was appar­ent­ly work­ing on assist­ing Trump start­ing in ear­ly 2016 after Trump appeared to have locked up the nom­i­na­tion:

    ...
    Mr. Prince opened the meet­ing by telling Don­ald Trump Jr. that “we are work­ing hard for your father,” in ref­er­ence to his fam­i­ly and oth­er donors, accord­ing to a per­son famil­iar with the meet­ing. He then intro­duced Mr. Nad­er as an old friend with deep ties to Arab lead­ers.

    Mr. Nad­er repeat­ed­ly referred to the Sau­di and Emi­rati princes as “my friends,” accord­ing to one per­son with knowl­edge of the con­ver­sa­tion. To under­score the point, he would open his mobile phone to show off pic­tures of him pos­ing with them, some of which The New York Times obtained.

    Mr. Nad­er explained to Don­ald Trump Jr. that the two princes saw the elder Mr. Trump as a strong leader who would fill the pow­er vac­u­um that they believed Mr. Oba­ma had left in the Mid­dle East, and Mr. Nad­er went on to say that he and his friends would be glad to sup­port Mr. Trump as much as they could, accord­ing to the per­son with knowl­edge of the con­ver­sa­tion.
    ...

    Not sur­pris­ing­ly, both Nad­er and Zamel have ties to Rus­sia too. Nad­er trav­eled to Moscow twice dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, which should prob­a­bly be expect­ed giv­en that the Saud­is and UAE were appar­ent­ly push­ing these var­i­ous schemes to pres­sure Rus­sia into chang­ing its alliance with Iran and Syr­ia and Nad­er is one of their go-to rep­re­sen­ta­tive. And Zamel once worked for Oleg Deri­pas­ka which makes sense because his firm offer exact­ly the kinds of ser­vices an oli­garch is going to want to pur­chase:

    ...
    Mr. Nad­er also vis­it­ed Moscow at least twice dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign as a con­fi­den­tial emis­sary from Crown Prince Mohammed of Abu Dhabi, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with his trav­els. After the elec­tion, he worked with the crown prince to arrange a meet­ing in the Sey­chelles between Mr. Prince and a financier close to Pres­i­dent Vladimir V. Putin of Rus­sia.

    Com­pa­nies con­nect­ed to Mr. Zamel also have ties to Rus­sia. One of his firms had pre­vi­ous­ly worked for oli­garchs linked to Mr. Putin, includ­ing Oleg V. Deri­pas­ka and Dmit­ry Rybolovlev, who hired the firm for online cam­paigns against their busi­ness rivals.

    Mr. Deri­pas­ka, an alu­minum mag­nate, was once in busi­ness with the for­mer Trump cam­paign chair­man Paul Man­afort, who has plead­ed not guilty in the spe­cial coun­sel inves­ti­ga­tion to charges of finan­cial crimes and fail­ing to dis­close the lob­by­ing work he did on behalf of a for­mer pres­i­dent of Ukraine, an ally of Mr. Putin. Mr. Rybolovlev once pur­chased a Flori­da man­sion from Mr. Trump.

    Mr. Nader’s vis­its to Rus­sia and the work Mr. Zamel’s com­pa­nies did for the Rus­sians have both been a sub­ject of inter­est to the spe­cial counsel’s inves­ti­ga­tors, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with wit­ness inter­views.
    ...

    But, of course, the biggest rea­sons to not read too much into Nader’s and Zamel’s ties with Moscow is the fact that they have much, much stronger ties to enti­ties like the UAE with pol­i­cy objec­tives that are the exact oppo­site of Moscow’s. Like the plan Nad­er was pro­mot­ing after Trump’s inau­gu­ra­tion to use pri­vate con­trac­tors set to car­ry out eco­nom­ic sab­o­tage against Iran or a plan to get the Saud­is to pay $2 bil­lion to Erik Prince to set up a pri­vate army to fight in Yemen. Those prob­a­bly aren’t the kinds of objec­tives Moscow would back:

    ...
    After the inau­gu­ra­tion, both Mr. Zamel and Mr. Nad­er vis­it­ed the White House, meet­ing with Mr. Kush­n­er and Mr. Ban­non.

    At that time, Mr. Nad­er was pro­mot­ing a plan to use pri­vate con­trac­tors to car­ry out eco­nom­ic sab­o­tage against Iran that, he hoped, might coerce it to per­ma­nent­ly aban­don its nuclear pro­gram. The plan includ­ed efforts to deter West­ern com­pa­nies from invest­ing in Iran, and oper­a­tions to sow mis­trust among Iran­ian offi­cials. He advo­cat­ed the project, which he esti­mat­ed would cost about $300 mil­lion, to Amer­i­can, Emi­rati and Sau­di offi­cials.

    Last spring, Mr. Nad­er trav­eled to Riyadh for meet­ings with senior Sau­di mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence offi­cials to pitch his Iran sab­o­tage plan. He was con­vinced, accord­ing to sev­er­al peo­ple famil­iar with his plan, that eco­nom­ic war­fare was the key to the over­throw of the gov­ern­ment in Tehran. One per­son briefed on Mr. Nader’s activ­i­ties said he tried to per­suade Mr. Kush­n­er to endorse the plan to Crown Prince Mohammed in per­son on a trip to Riyadh, although it was unclear whether the mes­sage was deliv­ered.

    Asked about Mr. Nader’s plans to attack Iran, the senior Sau­di offi­cial said Mr. Nad­er had a habit of pitch­ing pro­pos­als that went nowhere.

    Mr. Nad­er was also in dis­cus­sions with Mr. Prince, the for­mer head of Black­wa­ter, about a plan to get the Saud­is to pay $2 bil­lion to set up a pri­vate army to com­bat Iran­ian proxy forces in Yemen.
    ...

    So that’s what we know so far about this new noto­ri­ous Trump Tow­er meet­ing. We know a sales pitch was made, we know Trump Jr. respond­ed pos­i­tive­ly, we know George Nad­er quick­ly became a close ally of the cam­paign, and we know Nad­er paid Zamel a large sum after the elec­tion. But we still don’t know what ser­vices, if any, ser­vices Zamel’s com­pa­nies actu­al­ly pro­vid­ed. And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle make clear, part of the rea­son there’s so much ambi­gu­i­ty about the ser­vices Zamel’s com­pa­nies pro­vid­ed is because they pro­vide such a wide vari­ety of ser­vices, includ­ing Dark Web search­es (pre­sum­ably for hacked mate­ri­als) and set­ting up “hon­ey pots”:

    The Wall Street Jour­nal

    Mueller Probe Expands to Israeli Entre­pre­neur With U.A.E. Ties
    Inves­ti­ga­tion has sought tes­ti­mo­ny regard­ing work of Joel Zamel, founder of sev­er­al pri­vate con­sult­ing firms

    By Byron Tau and Rebec­ca Ball­haus
    Updat­ed May 19, 2018 6:56 p.m. ET

    WASHINGTON—Special coun­sel Robert Mueller’s probe is look­ing more close­ly into Mid­dle East­ern involve­ment dur­ing Don­ald Trump’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, as it is now explor­ing the role of an Israeli entre­pre­neur with ties to a Gulf monar­chy, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter.

    Mr. Mueller has been con­duct­ing inter­views about the work of Joel Zamel, an Aus­tralia-born Israeli busi­ness­man with expe­ri­ence in social media and intel­li­gence gath­er­ing. Mr. Zamel is the founder of sev­er­al pri­vate con­sult­ing firms—including a crowd­sourced analy­sis firm called Wik­istrat as well as the Psy Group, a secre­tive pri­vate intel­li­gence firm with the mot­to “shape real­i­ty.”

    A sub­poe­na con­cern­ing Mr. Zamel’s work, but not issued to Mr. Zamel, was reviewed by The Wall Street Jour­nal.

    Mr. Zamel met with Don­ald Trump Jr. , Mr. Trump’s eldest son, at Trump Tow­er in the months before the 2016 elec­tion along with George Nad­er, a top advis­er to the crown prince of the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, to dis­cuss an offer to help boost the cam­paign. Erik Prince, a U.S. defense con­trac­tor who spe­cial­izes in the Mid­dle East and had close ties to the cam­paign, also attend­ed the meet­ing, which was first report­ed by the New York Times on Sat­ur­day.

    Fol­low­ing Mr. Trump’s elec­tion, Mr. Nad­er made a pay­ment to Mr. Zamel of $2 mil­lion, which a per­son famil­iar with the pay­ment described as unre­lat­ed to the cam­paign.

    Alan Futer­fas, a lawyer for the younger Mr. Trump, con­firmed the meet­ing in a state­ment. “Pri­or to the 2016 elec­tion, Don­ald Trump Jr. recalls a meet­ing with Eric Prince [sic], George Nad­er, and anoth­er indi­vid­ual who may be Joel Zamel. They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media plat­form or mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy,” he said. The younger Mr. Trump “was not inter­est­ed and that was the end of it.”

    Mr. Zamel has met with the spe­cial counsel’s team and was asked about his busi­ness rela­tion­ship with Mr. Nad­er, the Jour­nal has pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed. His attor­ney has pre­vi­ous­ly said he is not a tar­get of the inves­ti­ga­tion. Mr. Nad­er is also coop­er­at­ing with the inves­ti­ga­tion; his lawyer didn’t imme­di­ate­ly respond to a request for com­ment.

    Marc Mukasey, an attor­ney for Mr. Zamel, said in a state­ment that his client “offered noth­ing to the Trump cam­paign, received noth­ing from the Trump cam­paign, deliv­ered noth­ing to the Trump cam­paign and was not solicit­ed by, or asked to do any­thing for, the Trump cam­paign.” He said reports that Mr. Zamel had engaged in “social media manip­u­la­tion” were incor­rect and that his client’s com­pa­nies “har­vest pub­licly avail­able infor­ma­tion for law­ful use.”

    Mr. Mukasey said inves­ti­ga­tors have told him his client is not a tar­get of the probe. “This is much ado about noth­ing,” he said.

    The work of two of Mr. Zamel’s companies—Wikistrat and the Psy Group—has increas­ing­ly drawn the inter­est of the spe­cial coun­sel as part of the con­tin­u­ing inves­ti­ga­tion into Russ­ian inter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion.

    Lit­tle is known pub­licly about the work of the Psy Group. Accord­ing to a per­son famil­iar with the firm’s oper­a­tions, it did main­ly pri­vate intel­li­gence gath­er­ing work. One of its main rivals was Black Cube—another Israeli firm which has achieved noto­ri­ety after it used by Har­vey Wein­stein to counter probes into his alleged sex­u­al abuse.

    Sev­er­al peo­ple linked to the firm are vet­er­an Israeli intel­li­gence offi­cials, with expe­ri­ence in areas that include in psy­cho­log­i­cal oper­a­tions. Accord­ing to the firm’s mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als reviewed by the Jour­nal, Psy-Group offered clients an array of services—including “hon­ey traps,” a term used by spy agen­cies for an intel­li­gence-gath­er­ing tac­tic using roman­tic or sex­u­al rela­tion­ships to extract infor­ma­tion.

    In the same mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als, the firm also boast­ed of its “strong oper­at­ing capa­bil­i­ties with­in the ‘Deep Web’ and Dark­net (often referred to as the ‘Dark Side’ of the Inter­net.)”

    “As a meet­ing place and a mar­ket for a vari­ety of ille­gal activ­i­ties (hack­ing, coun­ter­feit­ing, ter­ror­ism), the Dark­net requires spe­cial skills to access, nav­i­gate and oper­ate with­in while main­tain­ing full legal com­pli­ance,” the firm wrote.

    Mr. Zamel’s oth­er com­pa­ny, Wik­istrat, uses a net­work of experts to ana­lyze geopo­lit­i­cal prob­lems and was con­tract­ed to con­duct war-game sce­nar­ios on Islamist polit­i­cal move­ments in Yemen for the U.A.E., the Jour­nal pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed.

    Sau­di Ara­bia and the U.A.E. both entered the Yemeni civ­il war in ear­ly 2015, aim­ing to com­bat an Islamist insur­gency. That con­flict is con­tin­u­ing. Mr. Zamel is also close to top Emi­rati offi­cials, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter.

    Wikistrat’s efforts for the Gulf state lat­er trans­formed into what one per­son close to the com­pa­ny referred to as “intel­li­gence lite”—using local on-the-ground sources to antic­i­pate threats. Mr. Zamel in recent years had built a close rela­tion­ship with top Emi­rati nation­al secu­ri­ty offi­cials and has held busi­ness meet­ings in the U.A.E., accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter.

    The com­pa­ny was based in Israel but rent­ed U.S.-office space in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to give it the appear­ance of being an Amer­i­can firm, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with Wikistrat’s oper­a­tions. Most of its employ­ees were in Tel Aviv or worked remote­ly, these peo­ple said.

    The meet­ing with Mr. Zamel wasn’t the younger Mr. Trump’s first encounter with for­eign inter­ests who said they were inter­est­ed in help­ing his father’s cam­paign. In June 2016, he and oth­er cam­paign aides—including Jared Kush­n­er, the president’s son-in-law, and then-cam­paign chair­man Paul Man­afort —met with a Russ­ian lawyer linked to the Krem­lin, after being promised dam­ag­ing infor­ma­tion about Hillary Clin­ton that he was told had been gath­ered by the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment as part of an effort to help the Trump cam­paign.

    ...

    ———-

    “Mueller Probe Expands to Israeli Entre­pre­neur With U.A.E. Ties” by Byron Tau and Rebec­ca Ball­haus; The Wall Street Jour­nal; 05/19/2018

    “Lit­tle is known pub­licly about the work of the Psy Group. Accord­ing to a per­son famil­iar with the firm’s oper­a­tions, it did main­ly pri­vate intel­li­gence gath­er­ing work. One of its main rivals was Black Cube—another Israeli firm which has achieved noto­ri­ety after it used by Har­vey Wein­stein to counter probes into his alleged sex­u­al abuse.

    A rival of Black Cube. It’s a rather dis­turb­ing rep­u­ta­tion for a com­pa­ny. But that’s Psy Group’s rep­u­ta­tion, and it appears to be a well earned one based on their mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als. Mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als that appar­ent­ly includ­ed Dark Web scans and set­ting up “hon­ey traps”:

    ...
    Sev­er­al peo­ple linked to the firm are vet­er­an Israeli intel­li­gence offi­cials, with expe­ri­ence in areas that include in psy­cho­log­i­cal oper­a­tions. Accord­ing to the firm’s mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als reviewed by the Jour­nal, Psy-Group offered clients an array of services—including “hon­ey traps,” a term used by spy agen­cies for an intel­li­gence-gath­er­ing tac­tic using roman­tic or sex­u­al rela­tion­ships to extract infor­ma­tion.

    In the same mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als, the firm also boast­ed of its “strong oper­at­ing capa­bil­i­ties with­in the ‘Deep Web’ and Dark­net (often referred to as the ‘Dark Side’ of the Inter­net.)”

    “As a meet­ing place and a mar­ket for a vari­ety of ille­gal activ­i­ties (hack­ing, coun­ter­feit­ing, ter­ror­ism), the Dark­net requires spe­cial skills to access, nav­i­gate and oper­ate with­in while main­tain­ing full legal com­pli­ance,” the firm wrote.
    ...

    And then there’s Wik­istrat, a com­pa­ny that pro­vides geopo­lit­i­cal analy­sis and appears to effec­tive­ly be a defense con­trac­tor for UAE in the Saudi/UAE war in Yemen:

    ...
    Mr. Zamel’s oth­er com­pa­ny, Wik­istrat, uses a net­work of experts to ana­lyze geopo­lit­i­cal prob­lems and was con­tract­ed to con­duct war-game sce­nar­ios on Islamist polit­i­cal move­ments in Yemen for the U.A.E., the Jour­nal pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed.

    Sau­di Ara­bia and the U.A.E. both entered the Yemeni civ­il war in ear­ly 2015, aim­ing to com­bat an Islamist insur­gency. That con­flict is con­tin­u­ing. Mr. Zamel is also close to top Emi­rati offi­cials, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter.

    Wikistrat’s efforts for the Gulf state lat­er trans­formed into what one per­son close to the com­pa­ny referred to as “intel­li­gence lite”—using local on-the-ground sources to antic­i­pate threats. Mr. Zamel in recent years had built a close rela­tion­ship with top Emi­rati nation­al secu­ri­ty offi­cials and has held busi­ness meet­ings in the U.A.E., accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter.

    The com­pa­ny was based in Israel but rent­ed U.S.-office space in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to give it the appear­ance of being an Amer­i­can firm, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with Wikistrat’s oper­a­tions. Most of its employ­ees were in Tel Aviv or worked remote­ly, these peo­ple said.
    ...

    And note the par­tic­u­lar lan­guage used by Zamel’s lawyer: that his client’s com­pa­nies “har­vest pub­licly avail­able infor­ma­tion for law­ful use”:

    ...
    Marc Mukasey, an attor­ney for Mr. Zamel, said in a state­ment that his client “offered noth­ing to the Trump cam­paign, received noth­ing from the Trump cam­paign, deliv­ered noth­ing to the Trump cam­paign and was not solicit­ed by, or asked to do any­thing for, the Trump cam­paign.” He said reports that Mr. Zamel had engaged in “social media manip­u­la­tion” were incor­rect and that his client’s com­pa­nies “har­vest pub­licly avail­able infor­ma­tion for law­ful use.”
    ...

    Part of what makes that “har­vest pub­licly avail­able infor­ma­tion” lan­guage so inter­est­ing is that the term “har­vest” has been often used to describe the kind of mass data col­lec­tion Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca engaged in with its psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­fil­ing app that ‘har­vest­ed’ mas­sive amounts of Face­book data from those app 270,000 users and their ~87 mil­lion friends. So to hear Zamel’s attor­ney use the “har­vest­ing” ter­mi­nol­o­gy rais­es the ques­tion: was Psy Group also engaged in mass social media data har­vest­ing like Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was doing?

    Keep in mind that the ser­vices offered by Wik­istrat also sound like the kind of ser­vices that would involve the the “har­vest­ing” of mas­sive amounts of pub­lic infor­ma­tion. So per­haps Zamen’s lawyers were refer­ring to that kind of “har­vest­ing”. But giv­en the nature of work of Psy Group engaged in, and the fact that a mass social media cam­paign was lit­er­al­ly part of the pitched pro­pos­al, it seems extreme­ly pos­si­ble that Psy Group was effec­tive­ly engaged in the kind of mass Face­book har­vest­ing that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was doing.

    All in all, we appear to be look­ing at a whole new chap­ter to the #TrumpRus­sia cam­paign. And yet much of this isn’t new at all. There have been signs of Saudi/UAE involve­ment for quite some time as the sto­ry of the Sey­chelles meet­ing began to unfold. But open offers from the Sau­di and UAE gov­ern­ments of help­ing the Trump team win and offers of social media manip­u­la­tion cam­paigns is indeed quite new.

    So every­thing we are see­ing strong­ly sug­gests the Trump team was active­ly col­lud­ing with the Saud­is and UAE dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign. For the pur­pose of pres­sur­ing Rus­sia to change its alliances and lay­ing the ground­work for great US involve­ment in Syr­ia and a pos­si­ble war with Iran. Will this elic­it the same lev­el of out­rage the idea of Russ­ian col­lu­sion trig­gered? We’ll see. But, again, it’s one hel­lu­va twist for the one year anniver­sary of the Mueller probe.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 21, 2018, 9:44 am
  16. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/facebook-glitch-changed-millions-of-privacy-settings-to-public/

    Face­book glitch changed mil­lions of pri­va­cy set­tings to “pub­lic”
    Jun 7, 2018 7:41 PM EDT
    Trend­ing

    By Kate Gib­son / Mon­ey­Watch

    As many as 14 mil­lion Face­book (FB) users had their posts shared with a broad­er audi­ence than they intend­ed.

    The social-media giant says a soft­ware glitch for 10 days last month switched pri­va­cy set­tings to “pub­lic” for mil­lions even if they had want­ed only friends to see their posts.

    “We have fixed this issue and start­ing today we are let­ting every­one affect­ed know and ask­ing them to review any posts they made dur­ing that time,” Erin Egan, Face­book’s chief pri­va­cy offi­cer, said in an emailed state­ment. “We’d like to apol­o­gize for this mis­take.”

    The dis­clo­sure is the most recent in a long-run­ning bout of pri­va­cy blun­ders by Face­book, still reel­ing from March rev­e­la­tions that polit­i­cal con­sul­tan­cy Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca had accessed infor­ma­tion on some 87 mil­lion Face­book users with­out their knowl­edge.

    More recent­ly, Face­book is fac­ing scruti­ny from law­mak­ers for its deals with Chi­nese com­pa­nies.

    Face­book faces con­tro­ver­sy over data shar­ing with Chi­nese com­pa­nies
    © 2018 CBS Inter­ac­tive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

    Sent from my iPhone

    Posted by Mary Benton | June 11, 2018, 7:50 pm
  17. Buz­zFeed has a recent update to a report they put out short­ly before the 2016 US elec­tion about the Mace­don­ian troll farms dis­cov­ered to be pump­ing out vol­umes of fake news tar­get­ing US con­ser­v­a­tives. Sur­prise! It turns out the main troll farm cov­ered in that report was­n’t actu­al­ly just run by a bunch of Mace­don­ian teenagers. Instead, it was found­ed by a Mace­don­ian attor­ney, Tra­jche Arsov, who describes him­self as a right-lean­ing lib­er­tar­i­an. Arsov was work­ing close­ly with a group of US con­ser­v­a­tives for the final six months of the cam­paign who pro­vid­ed the bulk of the actu­al fake news con­tent.

    Specif­i­cal­ly, Arsov end­ed up part­ner­ing with Paris Wade, who is cur­rent­ly run­ning for office in Neva­da, and Ben Gold­man. Wade and Gold­man were the peo­ple behind Lib­er­ty Writer News, one of the many right-wing ‘news’ sites that’s occu­pies the ‘fake news’ junk media ter­ri­to­ry some­where between InfoWars and News­max. Their oper­a­tion was notable enough to have a Wash­ing­ton Post arti­cle writ­ten about them in the weeks fol­low­ing the elec­tion pro­file.

    The way they describe it, Wade and Gold­man met Arsov in 2016 over Face­book. Wade went on to write over 40 arti­cles for Arsov’s sites and his broth­er Alex Wade went on to write 670 more arti­cles.
    Arsov con­tin­ued to hire hire more US con­ser­v­a­tives, John­ny Roberts and Ali­cia Powe, to pro­vide con­tent for his sites. Powe now writes from the far right dis­in­for­ma­tion out­let Gate­way Pun­dit. A a British for­mer con­tent provider for Arsov, Oliv­er Dol­limore, was also a Gate­way Pun­dit con­trib­u­tor.

    Arsov orig­i­nal­ly got into the busi­ness of pro­vid­ing click­bait con­tent to US audi­ences in the fall of 2015. The arti­cle also notes that an indi­vid­ual asso­ci­at­ed with the ‘Krem­lin troll farm’ Inter­net Research Agency also spent some time in Mace­do­nia in June of 2015. This angle is actu­al­ly be inves­ti­gat­ed by US author­i­ties in rela­tion to the #TrumpRus­sia inves­ti­ga­tion and there are appar­ent­ly 20 peo­ple in Mace­do­nia being inves­ti­gat­ed as part of that. No con­nec­tions to Arsov’s oper­a­tions have been dis­cov­ered.

    So that’s one notable instance of osten­si­bly for­eign influ­ence in the US 2016 cam­paign that turned out to actu­al­ly be the work of a bunch of US con­ser­v­a­tives:

    Buz­zFeed News

    Amer­i­can Con­ser­v­a­tives Played A Secret Role In The Mace­don­ian Fake News Boom Ahead Of 2016

    An inves­ti­ga­tion reveals that the fake news sites that flour­ished in Mace­do­nia in 2016 weren’t just the work of local teens — and that secu­ri­ty agen­cies are prob­ing pos­si­ble con­nec­tions to Rus­sia.

    Craig Sil­ver­man
    Buz­zFeed News Reporter
    J. Lester Fed­er
    Buz­zFeed News Reporter
    Sas­ka Cvetkovs­ka
    Buz­zFeed Con­trib­u­tor
    Aubrey Belford
    Buz­zFeed Con­trib­u­tor

    Post­ed on July 18, 2018, at 12:24 p.m. ET

    A joint inves­ti­ga­tion by Buz­zFeed News and part­ners has uncov­ered new infor­ma­tion that rewrites the sto­ry of the fake news boom in the Mace­don­ian town of Veles.

    A week before Elec­tion Day in 2016, Buz­zFeed News revealed that young men and teens in Veles were run­ning over a hun­dred web­sites that pumped out often false viral sto­ries that sup­port­ed Don­ald Trump.

    Media out­lets from around the world descend­ed upon Veles to tell the sto­ry of how the so-called fake news teens — many of whom had a shaky under­stand­ing of Eng­lish — made large sums of mon­ey from dig­i­tal ads shown next to their mis­lead­ing sto­ries about US pol­i­tics.

    But after review­ing social media posts, gov­ern­ment records, domain reg­istry infor­ma­tion, and archived ver­sions of fake news sites, as well as inter­view­ing key play­ers, Buz­zFeed News, the Orga­nized Crime and Cor­rup­tion Report­ing Project, and the Inves­tiga­tive Report­ing Lab Mace­do­nia can now reveal that Veles’ polit­i­cal news indus­try was not start­ed spon­ta­neous­ly by apo­lit­i­cal teens.

    Rather, it was launched by a well-known Mace­don­ian media attor­ney, Tra­jche Arsov — who worked close­ly with two high-pro­file Amer­i­can part­ners for at least six months dur­ing a peri­od that over­lapped with Elec­tion Day.

    One of those Amer­i­cans, Paris Wade, is now run­ning for office in Neva­da. Arsov also employed oth­er Amer­i­can and British writ­ers, includ­ing at least one who cur­rent­ly works for US right-wing con­spir­a­cy site the Gate­way Pun­dit.

    The inves­ti­ga­tion also reveals that at least one mem­ber of Russia’s “troll fac­to­ry,” who has been indict­ed by US spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller for alleged inter­fer­ence in the elec­tion, was in Mace­do­nia just three months before the web domain for the country’s first US-focused pol­i­tics site was reg­is­tered.

    Reporters did not find any evi­dence con­nect­ing the Russ­ian, Anna Bogache­va, to the Veles sites. Arsov denies any links to Rus­sia.

    But now Mace­don­ian secu­ri­ty agen­cies are coop­er­at­ing with law enforce­ment in the Unit­ed States and at least two West­ern Euro­pean coun­tries to probe pos­si­ble links between Rus­sians, US cit­i­zens, and the pro-Trump “fake news” web­sites, two senior Mace­don­ian offi­cials said.

    Bogache­va and Arsov are among more than 20 peo­ple being looked at in two over­lap­ping inves­ti­ga­tions in Mace­do­nia, accord­ing to the two offi­cials, who hail from dif­fer­ent agen­cies in the coun­try and were inter­viewed sep­a­rate­ly.

    The inves­ti­ga­tions are “still in a very ear­ly phase,” one of the offi­cials told reporters. As of pub­li­ca­tion, none of the Amer­i­cans involved with Arsov’s sites are known to be under inves­ti­ga­tion.

    A senior FBI agent famil­iar with the Mace­do­nia case con­firmed that the bureau is assist­ing with the inves­ti­ga­tions. The agent said that infor­ma­tion deter­mined to be of inter­est to Mueller is being shared with his office, but declined to com­ment fur­ther.

    Mace­don­ian secu­ri­ty offi­cials said it’s not clear that any­one involved in the Veles fake news oper­a­tions broke the law.

    But what is clear is that the pow­er­ful forces of Face­book, dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing rev­enue, and polit­i­cal par­ti­san­ship gave rise to an unlike­ly glob­al alliance that increased the spread of mis­lead­ing and false news in the crit­i­cal months before Elec­tion Day.

    Patient Zero

    The stereo­type of the Mace­don­ian fake news pub­lish­er is of a teenag­er in Veles who knows lit­tle Eng­lish, doesn’t care about jour­nal­ism or US pol­i­tics, and excels at using spam­my tech­niques to make pla­gia­rized mis­in­for­ma­tion go viral.

    Tra­jche Arsov is none of these things. But he is the god­fa­ther of US pol­i­tics sites in the coun­try.

    Arsov, 33, is a lawyer based in the cap­i­tal of Skop­je who comes from Veles, and com­mon­ly goes by the nick­name Tale. He is a self-described lib­er­tar­i­an who counts Repub­li­can Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz among his polit­i­cal idols.

    Dur­ing more than a decade in which Mace­do­nia was ruled by an author­i­tar­i­an con­ser­v­a­tive gov­ern­ment, he was one of only a few lawyers will­ing to defend inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists. (In a twist of fate, a coau­thor of this sto­ry was for­mer­ly one of Arsov’s clients; Arsov was dropped as coun­sel after his pub­lish­ing activ­i­ties were uncov­ered dur­ing this inves­ti­ga­tion.)

    By review­ing domain reg­is­tra­tion records of Mace­don­ian pol­i­tics sites, reporters were able to deter­mine that Arsov, along with his broth­er, Panche, reg­is­tered the domain name of the first pol­i­tics site in Veles, USAPoliticsToday.com, on Sept. 23, 2015. The site would soon set off a chain reac­tion in Veles, spawn­ing many imi­ta­tors. The Arsovs even­tu­al­ly estab­lished their own net­work of near­ly half a dozen sites and asso­ci­at­ed Face­book pages — which had a total of over 2 mil­lion fol­low­ers — that oper­at­ed until the social media site final­ly took them down this April.

    Reporters met Arsov in mid-May in a hotel lob­by in down­town Skop­je, across from a muse­um com­mem­o­rat­ing Moth­er Tere­sa. He first denied any involve­ment in the sites. But when con­front­ed with doc­u­ments, he began to open up. In a series of inter­views held in per­son and via What­sApp and tele­phone, he grad­u­al­ly revealed details behind the enter­prise, includ­ing infor­ma­tion about his col­lab­o­ra­tors in Britain and the Unit­ed States, which were lat­er ver­i­fied by reporters. He vehe­ment­ly denies any con­nec­tion to Russia’s pro­pa­gan­da oper­a­tion.

    Accord­ing to Arsov, it all began in the fall of 2015 with an approach from his broth­er, who usu­al­ly goes by Pane. For years, Veles had played host to a mul­ti­tude of sites that churned out viral arti­cles on healthy food, sup­ple­ments, mus­cle cars, motor­bikes, and oth­er niche top­ics. Some local men had made small for­tunes from online adver­tis­ing ser­vices such as Google AdSense. Pane, who was unem­ployed, want­ed in on the action, Arsov said. (In response to requests for com­ment, Pane denied any knowl­edge of any inves­ti­ga­tions into fake news sites and said, “I am pos­i­tive I’ve done noth­ing wrong.”)

    Arsov said the broth­ers briefly tried run­ning a car site, but soon dis­cov­ered that pol­i­tics — espe­cial­ly of the con­ser­v­a­tive brand — per­formed bet­ter.

    “I fol­low the Mace­don­ian pol­i­tics, the US pol­i­tics, Russ­ian pol­i­tics,” Arsov said. “My idea was, ‘OK, you can start with some­thing dif­fer­ent, not healthy food, not sport, no cars. You can start with pol­i­tics.’”

    Though Arsov con­sid­ers him­self a right-lean­ing lib­er­tar­i­an, he says he first attempt­ed to also crack the mar­ket in lib­er­al con­tent. But on Face­book, repub­lish­ing con­ser­v­a­tive arti­cles was just bet­ter busi­ness, he said.

    “We found that the names of the groups where we could stay longer, where our pro­files were not removed, were relat­ed to con­ser­v­a­tives, to Repub­li­cans, to Trump,” he said.

    “If you found 100 groups for con­ser­v­a­tives, you could only find 10 for lib­er­als.”

    In the first inter­view with reporters, Arsov claimed that his sites did not pub­lish hoax­es; rather they ini­tial­ly ripped con­tent from main­stream con­ser­v­a­tive sites, such as Fox News, Bre­it­bart, the Dai­ly Caller, and the Wash­ing­ton Exam­in­er.

    “I’m against the main­stream media [because of its] bias to Democ­rats, CNN and all oth­ers. ABC — they are also biased,” he said.

    An exam­i­na­tion of archived pages from the now-defunct site, how­ev­er, shows a raft of right-wing con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries. “Obama’s Ex-Boyfriend Reveals Shock­ing Truth That He Wants To Hide From Amer­i­ca,” reads one ear­ly head­line. “Putin to NWO Agents and Satan Wor­shipers: I’m Com­ing for You!” was anoth­er, as was HUGE Scan­dal – Chelsea isn’t Bill Clinton’s Daugh­ter?

    In at least one instance, the site repub­lished an arti­cle from the satir­i­cal web­site the Onion, pre­sent­ing it as real news. A num­ber of ear­ly sto­ries were also favor­able to Rus­sia, though Arsov repeat­ed­ly denied in inter­views that his pub­lish­ing busi­ness had any con­nec­tion to Rus­sia or any­one who might have oper­at­ed as a proxy for the coun­try. He sim­ply used such con­tent because it was read­i­ly avail­able, he said.

    The Arsovs’ first site, called USA Pol­i­tics Today, grew quick­ly. Word began to spread in Veles that the broth­ers had come up with a new top­ic that could make mon­ey. Soon, Pane’s friends began launch­ing their own pol­i­tics sites. One was Orce Stankovs­ki, who had pre­vi­ous­ly spent six months unhap­pi­ly work­ing on a pig farm, accord­ing to Arsov. Stankovs­ki launched USAPoliticsInsider.com and USADailyPolitics.com, domain reg­is­tra­tion records show. Oth­ers, most­ly young men, soon cre­at­ed their own US pol­i­tics sites in Veles.

    Stankovs­ki hung up on a reporter when con­tact­ed for com­ment.

    Inter­na­tion­al Part­ner­ships

    By the sum­mer of 2016, Veles was home to a cot­tage indus­try of US pol­i­tics sites. For young­sters in a coun­try where just under half of the youth pop­u­la­tion is unem­ployed, the oppor­tu­ni­ty to earn US dol­lars through Google AdSense and oth­er ad net­works was trans­for­ma­tive. They bought new cars and spent wild­ly at local clubs.

    Mean­while, Tale kept run­ning the web­site and built a sta­ble of new brands: Guer­ril­la News (and its mis­spelled sis­ter site, Gueril­la News), Read Con­ser­v­a­tives, New Con­ser­v­a­tives, and Con­ser­v­a­tive Army. The prof­its piled up, and the broth­ers wast­ed no time spend­ing them. In 2016, Pane and Tale each took sep­a­rate trips to Thai­land, lat­er post­ing pho­tos online pos­ing with cap­tive tigers.

    By 2016, Tale Arsov had also made an impor­tant new con­tact. He said he began exchang­ing Face­book mes­sages with Ben Gold­man, an Amer­i­can writer and pub­lish­er who, along with his part­ner, Paris Wade, had found­ed Lib­er­ty Writ­ers News, a hyper­par­ti­san con­ser­v­a­tive site based in the Unit­ed States. The pair would achieve a cer­tain lev­el of infamy after a late Novem­ber 2016 pro­file by the Wash­ing­ton Post por­trayed them as mis­in­for­ma­tion mer­chants who were get­ting rich by stok­ing fear and anger. Wade is now a Repub­li­can can­di­date for the Neva­da State Assem­bly.

    Both Arsov and the Amer­i­cans, Gold­man and Wade, ini­tial­ly down­played their rela­tion­ship, and changed their sto­ries when con­front­ed with new evi­dence.

    When first con­tact­ed by phone, Wade told a reporter that “I don’t know any­thing about” col­lab­o­rat­ing with a Mace­don­ian pub­lish­er. Gold­man, how­ev­er, even­tu­al­ly issued a writ­ten state­ment that acknowl­edged the part­ner­ship.

    Arsov ini­tial­ly said he most­ly knew about Gold­man and Wade from the Wash­ing­ton Post pro­file. He then said that their only con­nec­tion was that he had com­mis­sioned a small num­ber of arti­cles from Wade’s broth­er, Alex. Only after more than two weeks of inter­views did Arsov dis­close their exten­sive coop­er­a­tion.

    Arsov said that Gold­man had asked him to help stop oth­er Mace­don­ian pub­lish­ers from steal­ing Lib­er­ty Writ­ers con­tent, which he says he did in his capac­i­ty as a lawyer by send­ing let­ters to Veles site own­ers. Goldman’s state­ment, how­ev­er, denied this: “We nev­er uti­lized any of his legal ser­vices in any capac­i­ty, and the rela­tion­ship was strict­ly jour­nal­ist-to-jour­nal­ist.”

    Both Arsov and Gold­man said the rela­tion­ship began when they shared each other’s con­tent on their respec­tive Face­book pages, and grew from there. Wade even­tu­al­ly wrote more than 40 arti­cles for Arsov’s Mace­don­ian site, USA Pol­i­tics Today, between the sum­mer of 2016 and Jan­u­ary 2017. His broth­er, Alex Wade, also wrote for the site, author­ing at least 670 arti­cles using the pseu­do­nym Alexan­der War­ren.

    Arsov also hired oth­er Amer­i­can writ­ers to work for him. He said all of the oth­er pub­lish­ers in Veles were pla­gia­riz­ing, while he him­self want­ed to avoid run­ning afoul of Google’s rules that require its adver­tis­ing part­ners to pub­lish orig­i­nal con­tent.

    “No one, lit­er­al­ly no one, in Veles cre­at­ed his own arti­cles,” Arsov said.

    One Amer­i­can who worked for Arsov is John­ny Roberts. He said he was hired after con­tact­ing the USA Pol­i­tics Today Face­book page to offer his ser­vices as a writer.

    “Sent him a mes­sage say­ing I had yrs of expe­ri­ence blog­ging, so he gave me a shot,” Roberts wrote in a Face­book Mes­sen­ger chat with a reporter.

    He said the fact that Arsov was based in Mace­do­nia “was weird at first but I didn’t think much of it. Just thought he was smart build­ing a big page and bring­ing in the mon­ey.”

    Anoth­er Amer­i­can who worked for Arsov is Ali­cia Powe, who says she applied for a job and was able to “write as many arti­cles as I want.” She did not reply to sub­se­quent ques­tions sent via Face­book Mes­sen­ger. Powe now writes for the Gate­way Pun­dit, a site that fre­quent­ly traf­fics in false­hoods and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries. A British for­mer writer for Arsov, Oliv­er Dol­limore, also con­tributed to the Gate­way Pun­dit as recent­ly as April last year. He did not reply to ques­tions sent via Face­book and Twit­ter.

    “Accu­rate and Legit­i­mate Jour­nal­ism”

    As the 2016 elec­tion approached, Arsov and his part­ners at Lib­er­ty Writ­ers con­tin­ued pump­ing out a tor­rent of viral, often mis­lead­ing, pro-Trump news via mul­ti­ple web­sites and Face­book pages. So did the copy­cat pub­lish­ers in Mace­do­nia and the Russ­ian trolls work­ing for the Inter­net Research Agency.

    On Nov. 3 that year, Buz­zFeed News pub­lished its ini­tial sto­ry about the web­sites in Veles. Just over two weeks lat­er, after Trump won the elec­tion, the Wash­ing­ton Post pub­lished its pro­file of Gold­man and Wade.

    Both sto­ries went viral, but at the time almost no one knew that the Mace­do­nians and the Amer­i­cans had been work­ing togeth­er for months.

    Ulti­mate­ly, the influx of atten­tion would cause both groups to effec­tive­ly lose their busi­ness­es.

    Face­book, Google, and oth­er plat­forms began crack­ing down. The Veles sites were kicked out of AdSense and lat­er began los­ing their Face­book pages. Exact­ly one year to the day after Trump’s elec­tion vic­to­ry, Wade said that his and Goldman’s Face­book page and its more than 1.8 mil­lion fans were gone.

    Wade sub­se­quent­ly made a video in which he cites the removal of the Face­book page in a pitch ask­ing for dona­tions to his polit­i­cal cam­paign.

    Face­book pages linked to Arsov’s sites, with their more than 2 mil­lion fans, sur­vived longer than his Amer­i­can part­ners’ page. The ham­mer final­ly came down in ear­ly April of this year, when Face­book removed them all on the same day. A source with knowl­edge of the removals said they were tak­en down in line with Facebook’s push to have finan­cial­ly moti­vat­ed “inau­then­tic” con­tent removed from the plat­form. Just last month, Face­book unveiled new mea­sures aimed at reduc­ing the reach of pages run by for­eign-based pub­lish­ers like those in Veles.

    Now, as Face­book con­tin­ues to tar­get Eng­lish-lan­guage pub­lish­ers in Mace­do­nia, the country’s author­i­ties are pur­su­ing their own inves­ti­ga­tions into those respon­si­ble for spread­ing polit­i­cal mis­in­for­ma­tion dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion.

    Gold­man and Wade said they were unaware of any offi­cial inves­ti­ga­tions into the Mace­don­ian sites pri­or to being informed of them by reporters. In his state­ment, Gold­man said, “we believe that our activ­i­ties and report­ing were accu­rate and legit­i­mate jour­nal­ism.”

    Offi­cials say the inves­ti­ga­tion involves try­ing to deter­mine the key play­ers behind the sites and whether there was any for­eign involve­ment in their cre­ation and oper­a­tion.

    Clint Watts, a for­mer FBI agent and the author of Mess­ing With the Ene­my: Sur­viv­ing in a Social Media World of Hack­ers, Ter­ror­ists, Rus­sians, and Fake News, said that the inves­ti­ga­tors are like­ly focused on whether there is a Russ­ian con­nec­tion to the cre­ation and oper­a­tion of the sites, whether their con­tent shows any sign of coor­di­na­tion, and whether they received any out­side fund­ing.

    “The biggest for me is: Where did they get the mon­ey to start their efforts?” Watts said. “I know web­sites are rel­a­tive­ly inex­pen­sive to set up, but the basic infra­struc­ture and know-how must come from some­where. Where did they get the idea to start a click­bait site with such a delib­er­ate focus on the US elec­tion? And who gave them the resources and skills to get it off the ground?”

    “Not dis­cussing my work”

    One per­son of inter­est to inves­ti­ga­tors is Anna Bogache­va.

    Bogache­va was one of 13 Russ­ian nation­als indict­ed by Mueller in Feb­ru­ary over alleged inter­fer­ence in the US elec­tion. The indict­ment focused on the role of the St Petersburg–based Inter­net Research Agency — often referred to as a “troll fac­to­ry” — which pro­duced online pro­pa­gan­da and spread mes­sages via social media aimed at help­ing Trump and defeat­ing his rival, Hillary Clin­ton.

    Accord­ing to the indict­ment, Bogache­va at one point over­saw the “data analy­sis group” for the agency’s US oper­a­tion. Along with anoth­er agency employ­ee, Bogache­va alleged­ly trav­eled around the Unit­ed States for about three weeks in June 2014, gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion for an intel­li­gence report that was shared with her supe­ri­or at the agency.

    Exact­ly a year lat­er, she arrived in Mace­do­nia.

    Immi­gra­tion records obtained by reporters show that Bogache­va was in Mace­do­nia in mid-2015, leav­ing the coun­try by land to Greece on June 26 that year. No record could be found of her enter­ing the coun­try. Bogacheva’s posts on Russ­ian social media site VKon­tak­te show that her trip also took her to Aus­tria and pos­si­bly Italy.

    When con­tact­ed by reporters via VKon­tak­te to ask why she was in Mace­do­nia in 2015, Bogache­va said, “sor­ry, I’m not dis­cussing my work.” She did not respond to sub­se­quent mes­sages.

    Reporters found no con­nec­tion between Bogache­va and the Mace­don­ian sites.

    Arsov main­tains that the first site had been his own idea.

    ...

    Arsov still has his law prac­tice, but Facebook’s crack­down has killed off many of Veles’ pol­i­tics web­sites.

    “When [your] Face­book page is removed, you can­not work any­more,” Arsov said.

    Not long after Face­book killed his pages, Arsov tuned in to watch Mark Zucker­berg being grilled by mem­bers of the Unit­ed States Con­gress over the com­pa­ny’s data pro­tec­tion prac­tices in the wake of the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca scan­dal. He was par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in what Sen. Ted Cruz would ask Facebook’s CEO. Amid the hear­ings, Arsov sent an email to the senator’s office to decry what he described as Facebook’s unfair cen­sor­ship of con­ser­v­a­tive voic­es on its plat­form.

    “I’m the own­er of USA Pol­i­tics Today,” the email began. “The con­ser­v­a­tive media is under Face­book attack, we are look­ing for sup­port and help to spread this news every­where.”

    Cruz’s office did not reply. Arsov may be a sup­port­er, but he’s not a con­stituent.

    ———-

    “Amer­i­can Con­ser­v­a­tives Played A Secret Role In The Mace­don­ian Fake News Boom Ahead Of 2016” by Craig Sil­ver­man; J. Lester Fed­er; Sas­ka Cvetkovs­ka; and Aubrey Belford; Buz­zFeed; 07/18/2018

    “Media out­lets from around the world descend­ed upon Veles to tell the sto­ry of how the so-called fake news teens — many of whom had a shaky under­stand­ing of Eng­lish — made large sums of mon­ey from dig­i­tal ads shown next to their mis­lead­ing sto­ries about US pol­i­tics.”

    That was the sto­ry at the time when this Mace­don­ian troll farm was first uncov­ered: it was a sto­ry of a bunch of Mace­don­ian teens mak­ing mon­ey tak­ing advan­tage of gullible Amer­i­can con­ser­v­a­tives.

    But upon fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion, it turns out it it was an Mace­don­ian lawyer part­ner­ing with a bunch of US con­ser­v­a­tives mak­ing mon­ey tak­ing advan­tage of gullible Amer­i­can con­ser­v­a­tives:

    ...
    But after review­ing social media posts, gov­ern­ment records, domain reg­istry infor­ma­tion, and archived ver­sions of fake news sites, as well as inter­view­ing key play­ers, Buz­zFeed News, the Orga­nized Crime and Cor­rup­tion Report­ing Project, and the Inves­tiga­tive Report­ing Lab Mace­do­nia can now reveal that Veles’ polit­i­cal news indus­try was not start­ed spon­ta­neous­ly by apo­lit­i­cal teens.

    Rather, it was launched by a well-known Mace­don­ian media attor­ney, Tra­jche Arsov — who worked close­ly with two high-pro­file Amer­i­can part­ners for at least six months dur­ing a peri­od that over­lapped with Elec­tion Day.

    One of those Amer­i­cans, Paris Wade, is now run­ning for office in Neva­da. Arsov also employed oth­er Amer­i­can and British writ­ers, includ­ing at least one who cur­rent­ly works for US right-wing con­spir­a­cy site the Gate­way Pun­dit.
    ...

    The Mace­don­ian lawyer, Tra­jche Arsov, describes him­self as as a lib­er­tar­i­an who idol­izes Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. And as web­site domain reg­is­tra­tion records show, it was Arsov who reg­is­tered the very first of the polit­i­cal sites to sud­den­ly pop up in the Mace­don­ian town of Veles, USAPoliticsToday.com. There were many oth­er copy­cats in the town of Veles with polit­i­cal sites of their own, but it was Arsov they were copy­ing:

    ...
    Patient Zero

    The stereo­type of the Mace­don­ian fake news pub­lish­er is of a teenag­er in Veles who knows lit­tle Eng­lish, doesn’t care about jour­nal­ism or US pol­i­tics, and excels at using spam­my tech­niques to make pla­gia­rized mis­in­for­ma­tion go viral.

    Tra­jche Arsov is none of these things. But he is the god­fa­ther of US pol­i­tics sites in the coun­try.

    Arsov, 33, is a lawyer based in the cap­i­tal of Skop­je who comes from Veles, and com­mon­ly goes by the nick­name Tale. He is a self-described lib­er­tar­i­an who counts Repub­li­can Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz among his polit­i­cal idols.

    Dur­ing more than a decade in which Mace­do­nia was ruled by an author­i­tar­i­an con­ser­v­a­tive gov­ern­ment, he was one of only a few lawyers will­ing to defend inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ists. (In a twist of fate, a coau­thor of this sto­ry was for­mer­ly one of Arsov’s clients; Arsov was dropped as coun­sel after his pub­lish­ing activ­i­ties were uncov­ered dur­ing this inves­ti­ga­tion.)

    By review­ing domain reg­is­tra­tion records of Mace­don­ian pol­i­tics sites, reporters were able to deter­mine that Arsov, along with his broth­er, Panche, reg­is­tered the domain name of the first pol­i­tics site in Veles, USAPoliticsToday.com, on Sept. 23, 2015. The site would soon set off a chain reac­tion in Veles, spawn­ing many imi­ta­tors. The Arsovs even­tu­al­ly estab­lished their own net­work of near­ly half a dozen sites and asso­ci­at­ed Face­book pages — which had a total of over 2 mil­lion fol­low­ers — that oper­at­ed until the social media site final­ly took them down this April.
    ...

    And accord­ing to Arsov, it was in the fall of 2015 when it all got start­ed. Arsov and his broth­er alleged­ly tried to make mon­ey with a car site, but soon dis­cov­ered by polit­i­cal sites with a con­ser­v­a­tive bent was where the mon­ey was at:

    ...
    Reporters met Arsov in mid-May in a hotel lob­by in down­town Skop­je, across from a muse­um com­mem­o­rat­ing Moth­er Tere­sa. He first denied any involve­ment in the sites. But when con­front­ed with doc­u­ments, he began to open up. In a series of inter­views held in per­son and via What­sApp and tele­phone, he grad­u­al­ly revealed details behind the enter­prise, includ­ing infor­ma­tion about his col­lab­o­ra­tors in Britain and the Unit­ed States, which were lat­er ver­i­fied by reporters. He vehe­ment­ly denies any con­nec­tion to Russia’s pro­pa­gan­da oper­a­tion.

    Accord­ing to Arsov, it all began in the fall of 2015 with an approach from his broth­er, who usu­al­ly goes by Pane. For years, Veles had played host to a mul­ti­tude of sites that churned out viral arti­cles on healthy food, sup­ple­ments, mus­cle cars, motor­bikes, and oth­er niche top­ics. Some local men had made small for­tunes from online adver­tis­ing ser­vices such as Google AdSense. Pane, who was unem­ployed, want­ed in on the action, Arsov said. (In response to requests for com­ment, Pane denied any knowl­edge of any inves­ti­ga­tions into fake news sites and said, “I am pos­i­tive I’ve done noth­ing wrong.”)

    Arsov said the broth­ers briefly tried run­ning a car site, but soon dis­cov­ered that pol­i­tics — espe­cial­ly of the con­ser­v­a­tive brand — per­formed bet­ter.

    “I fol­low the Mace­don­ian pol­i­tics, the US pol­i­tics, Russ­ian pol­i­tics,” Arsov said. “My idea was, ‘OK, you can start with some­thing dif­fer­ent, not healthy food, not sport, no cars. You can start with pol­i­tics.’”
    ...

    And note how Arsov claims to have been inter­est­ed in left-lean­ing polit­i­cal sites, but, inter­est­ing­ly, Arsov found that when he cre­at­ed con­ser­v­a­tive con­tent for Face­book it end­ed up stay­ing online longer before Face­book removed it:

    ...
    Though Arsov con­sid­ers him­self a right-lean­ing lib­er­tar­i­an, he says he first attempt­ed to also crack the mar­ket in lib­er­al con­tent. But on Face­book, repub­lish­ing con­ser­v­a­tive arti­cles was just bet­ter busi­ness, he said.

    “We found that the names of the groups where we could stay longer, where our pro­files were not removed, were relat­ed to con­ser­v­a­tives, to Repub­li­cans, to Trump,” he said.

    “If you found 100 groups for con­ser­v­a­tives, you could only find 10 for lib­er­als.”
    ...

    “We found that the names of the groups where we could stay longer, where our pro­files were not removed, were relat­ed to con­ser­v­a­tives, to Repub­li­cans, to Trump.”

    So that’s pret­ty inter­est­ing. Face­book was appar­ent­ly much more tol­er­ant of right-wing fake news than left-wing fake news. At least that’s what Arsov’s state­ment sug­gests.

    And at one point, Arsov’s USAPoliticsToday.com site actu­al­ly pub­lished an arti­cle from satir­i­cal web­site the Onion as real news! He was lit­er­al­ly ped­dling offi­cial­ly fake news as real news:

    ...
    In the first inter­view with reporters, Arsov claimed that his sites did not pub­lish hoax­es; rather they ini­tial­ly ripped con­tent from main­stream con­ser­v­a­tive sites, such as Fox News, Bre­it­bart, the Dai­ly Caller, and the Wash­ing­ton Exam­in­er.

    “I’m against the main­stream media [because of its] bias to Democ­rats, CNN and all oth­ers. ABC — they are also biased,” he said.

    An exam­i­na­tion of archived pages from the now-defunct site, how­ev­er, shows a raft of right-wing con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries. “Obama’s Ex-Boyfriend Reveals Shock­ing Truth That He Wants To Hide From Amer­i­ca,” reads one ear­ly head­line. “Putin to NWO Agents and Satan Wor­shipers: I’m Com­ing for You!” was anoth­er, as was HUGE Scan­dal – Chelsea isn’t Bill Clinton’s Daugh­ter?

    In at least one instance, the site repub­lished an arti­cle from the satir­i­cal web­site the Onion, pre­sent­ing it as real news. A num­ber of ear­ly sto­ries were also favor­able to Rus­sia, though Arsov repeat­ed­ly denied in inter­views that his pub­lish­ing busi­ness had any con­nec­tion to Rus­sia or any­one who might have oper­at­ed as a proxy for the coun­try. He sim­ply used such con­tent because it was read­i­ly avail­able, he said.
    ...

    And as word spread in Veles about his remark­able suc­cess with USA Pol­i­tics Today more and more peo­ple cre­at­ed their own fake news sites:

    ...
    The Arsovs’ first site, called USA Pol­i­tics Today, grew quick­ly. Word began to spread in Veles that the broth­ers had come up with a new top­ic that could make mon­ey. Soon, Pane’s friends began launch­ing their own pol­i­tics sites. One was Orce Stankovs­ki, who had pre­vi­ous­ly spent six months unhap­pi­ly work­ing on a pig farm, accord­ing to Arsov. Stankovs­ki launched USAPoliticsInsider.com and USADailyPolitics.com, domain reg­is­tra­tion records show. Oth­ers, most­ly young men, soon cre­at­ed their own US pol­i­tics sites in Veles.

    Stankovs­ki hung up on a reporter when con­tact­ed for com­ment.
    ...

    So the explo­sion of Mace­don­ian fake news sites was cat­alyzed by the suc­cess of Arsov’s fake news site, which, in turn, was fueled by the con­tent pro­vid­ed by US con­ser­v­a­tive fake news provo­ca­teurs, start­ing with Paris Wade and Ben Gold­man of Lib­er­ty Writ­ers News:

    ...
    Inter­na­tion­al Part­ner­ships

    By the sum­mer of 2016, Veles was home to a cot­tage indus­try of US pol­i­tics sites. For young­sters in a coun­try where just under half of the youth pop­u­la­tion is unem­ployed, the oppor­tu­ni­ty to earn US dol­lars through Google AdSense and oth­er ad net­works was trans­for­ma­tive. They bought new cars and spent wild­ly at local clubs.

    Mean­while, Tale kept run­ning the web­site and built a sta­ble of new brands: Guer­ril­la News (and its mis­spelled sis­ter site, Gueril­la News), Read Con­ser­v­a­tives, New Con­ser­v­a­tives, and Con­ser­v­a­tive Army. The prof­its piled up, and the broth­ers wast­ed no time spend­ing them. In 2016, Pane and Tale each took sep­a­rate trips to Thai­land, lat­er post­ing pho­tos online pos­ing with cap­tive tigers.

    By 2016, Tale Arsov had also made an impor­tant new con­tact. He said he began exchang­ing Face­book mes­sages with Ben Gold­man, an Amer­i­can writer and pub­lish­er who, along with his part­ner, Paris Wade, had found­ed Lib­er­ty Writ­ers News, a hyper­par­ti­san con­ser­v­a­tive site based in the Unit­ed States. The pair would achieve a cer­tain lev­el of infamy after a late Novem­ber 2016 pro­file by the Wash­ing­ton Post por­trayed them as mis­in­for­ma­tion mer­chants who were get­ting rich by stok­ing fear and anger. Wade is now a Repub­li­can can­di­date for the Neva­da State Assem­bly.

    Both Arsov and the Amer­i­cans, Gold­man and Wade, ini­tial­ly down­played their rela­tion­ship, and changed their sto­ries when con­front­ed with new evi­dence.

    When first con­tact­ed by phone, Wade told a reporter that “I don’t know any­thing about” col­lab­o­rat­ing with a Mace­don­ian pub­lish­er. Gold­man, how­ev­er, even­tu­al­ly issued a writ­ten state­ment that acknowl­edged the part­ner­ship.

    Arsov ini­tial­ly said he most­ly knew about Gold­man and Wade from the Wash­ing­ton Post pro­file. He then said that their only con­nec­tion was that he had com­mis­sioned a small num­ber of arti­cles from Wade’s broth­er, Alex. Only after more than two weeks of inter­views did Arsov dis­close their exten­sive coop­er­a­tion.

    Arsov said that Gold­man had asked him to help stop oth­er Mace­don­ian pub­lish­ers from steal­ing Lib­er­ty Writ­ers con­tent, which he says he did in his capac­i­ty as a lawyer by send­ing let­ters to Veles site own­ers. Goldman’s state­ment, how­ev­er, denied this: “We nev­er uti­lized any of his legal ser­vices in any capac­i­ty, and the rela­tion­ship was strict­ly jour­nal­ist-to-jour­nal­ist.”

    Both Arsov and Gold­man said the rela­tion­ship began when they shared each other’s con­tent on their respec­tive Face­book pages, and grew from there. Wade even­tu­al­ly wrote more than 40 arti­cles for Arsov’s Mace­don­ian site, USA Pol­i­tics Today, between the sum­mer of 2016 and Jan­u­ary 2017. His broth­er, Alex Wade, also wrote for the site, author­ing at least 670 arti­cles using the pseu­do­nym Alexan­der War­ren.
    ...

    Arsov went on to hire more Amer­i­can con­ser­v­a­tives to pro­vide his fake news con­tent. One, Ali­cia Powe, cur­rent­ly writes for the far right dis­in­for­ma­tion out­let Gate­way Pun­dit. A British con­ser­v­a­tive hired by Arsov, Oliv­er Dol­limore, also used to write for Gate­way Pun­dit:

    ...
    Arsov also hired oth­er Amer­i­can writ­ers to work for him. He said all of the oth­er pub­lish­ers in Veles were pla­gia­riz­ing, while he him­self want­ed to avoid run­ning afoul of Google’s rules that require its adver­tis­ing part­ners to pub­lish orig­i­nal con­tent.

    “No one, lit­er­al­ly no one, in Veles cre­at­ed his own arti­cles,” Arsov said.

    One Amer­i­can who worked for Arsov is John­ny Roberts. He said he was hired after con­tact­ing the USA Pol­i­tics Today Face­book page to offer his ser­vices as a writer.

    “Sent him a mes­sage say­ing I had yrs of expe­ri­ence blog­ging, so he gave me a shot,” Roberts wrote in a Face­book Mes­sen­ger chat with a reporter.

    He said the fact that Arsov was based in Mace­do­nia “was weird at first but I didn’t think much of it. Just thought he was smart build­ing a big page and bring­ing in the mon­ey.”

    Anoth­er Amer­i­can who worked for Arsov is Ali­cia Powe, who says she applied for a job and was able to “write as many arti­cles as I want.” She did not reply to sub­se­quent ques­tions sent via Face­book Mes­sen­ger. Powe now writes for the Gate­way Pun­dit, a site that fre­quent­ly traf­fics in false­hoods and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries. A British for­mer writer for Arsov, Oliv­er Dol­limore, also con­tributed to the Gate­way Pun­dit as recent­ly as April last year. He did not reply to ques­tions sent via Face­book and Twit­ter.
    ...

    The Face­book pages for Lib­er­ty Writ­ers News and USA Pol­i­tics Today have all sub­se­quent­ly been tak­en down due to Face­book’s push to have “inau­then­tic” finan­cial­ly moti­vat­ed con­tent removed from the site:

    ...
    “Accu­rate and Legit­i­mate Jour­nal­ism”

    As the 2016 elec­tion approached, Arsov and his part­ners at Lib­er­ty Writ­ers con­tin­ued pump­ing out a tor­rent of viral, often mis­lead­ing, pro-Trump news via mul­ti­ple web­sites and Face­book pages. So did the copy­cat pub­lish­ers in Mace­do­nia and the Russ­ian trolls work­ing for the Inter­net Research Agency.

    On Nov. 3 that year, Buz­zFeed News pub­lished its ini­tial sto­ry about the web­sites in Veles. Just over two weeks lat­er, after Trump won the elec­tion, the Wash­ing­ton Post pub­lished its pro­file of Gold­man and Wade.

    Both sto­ries went viral, but at the time almost no one knew that the Mace­do­nians and the Amer­i­cans had been work­ing togeth­er for months.

    Ulti­mate­ly, the influx of atten­tion would cause both groups to effec­tive­ly lose their busi­ness­es.

    Face­book, Google, and oth­er plat­forms began crack­ing down. The Veles sites were kicked out of AdSense and lat­er began los­ing their Face­book pages. Exact­ly one year to the day after Trump’s elec­tion vic­to­ry, Wade said that his and Goldman’s Face­book page and its more than 1.8 mil­lion fans were gone.

    Wade sub­se­quent­ly made a video in which he cites the removal of the Face­book page in a pitch ask­ing for dona­tions to his polit­i­cal cam­paign.

    Face­book pages linked to Arsov’s sites, with their more than 2 mil­lion fans, sur­vived longer than his Amer­i­can part­ners’ page. The ham­mer final­ly came down in ear­ly April of this year, when Face­book removed them all on the same day. A source with knowl­edge of the removals said they were tak­en down in line with Facebook’s push to have finan­cial­ly moti­vat­ed “inau­then­tic” con­tent removed from the plat­form. Just last month, Face­book unveiled new mea­sures aimed at reduc­ing the reach of pages run by for­eign-based pub­lish­ers like those in Veles.
    ...

    But it’s not just Face­book belat­ed crack­ing down on these kinds of troll farms. The Mace­don­ian gov­ern­ment itself appears to now be inves­ti­gat­ing the spread of polit­i­cal mis­in­for­ma­tion dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion:

    ...
    Now, as Face­book con­tin­ues to tar­get Eng­lish-lan­guage pub­lish­ers in Mace­do­nia, the country’s author­i­ties are pur­su­ing their own inves­ti­ga­tions into those respon­si­ble for spread­ing polit­i­cal mis­in­for­ma­tion dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion.

    Gold­man and Wade said they were unaware of any offi­cial inves­ti­ga­tions into the Mace­don­ian sites pri­or to being informed of them by reporters. In his state­ment, Gold­man said, “we believe that our activ­i­ties and report­ing were accu­rate and legit­i­mate jour­nal­ism.”

    Offi­cials say the inves­ti­ga­tion involves try­ing to deter­mine the key play­ers behind the sites and whether there was any for­eign involve­ment in their cre­ation and oper­a­tion.

    Clint Watts, a for­mer FBI agent and the author of Mess­ing With the Ene­my: Sur­viv­ing in a Social Media World of Hack­ers, Ter­ror­ists, Rus­sians, and Fake News, said that the inves­ti­ga­tors are like­ly focused on whether there is a Russ­ian con­nec­tion to the cre­ation and oper­a­tion of the sites, whether their con­tent shows any sign of coor­di­na­tion, and whether they received any out­side fund­ing.

    “The biggest for me is: Where did they get the mon­ey to start their efforts?” Watts said. “I know web­sites are rel­a­tive­ly inex­pen­sive to set up, but the basic infra­struc­ture and know-how must come from some­where. Where did they get the idea to start a click­bait site with such a delib­er­ate focus on the US elec­tion? And who gave them the resources and skills to get it off the ground?”
    ...

    And that Mace­don­ian inves­ti­ga­tion is tak­ing place in coop­er­a­tion with US law enforce­ment, along with two oth­er West­ern Euro­pean coun­tries:

    ...
    The inves­ti­ga­tion also reveals that at least one mem­ber of Russia’s “troll fac­to­ry,” who has been indict­ed by US spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller for alleged inter­fer­ence in the elec­tion, was in Mace­do­nia just three months before the web domain for the country’s first US-focused pol­i­tics site was reg­is­tered.

    Reporters did not find any evi­dence con­nect­ing the Russ­ian, Anna Bogache­va, to the Veles sites. Arsov denies any links to Rus­sia.

    But now Mace­don­ian secu­ri­ty agen­cies are coop­er­at­ing with law enforce­ment in the Unit­ed States and at least two West­ern Euro­pean coun­tries to probe pos­si­ble links between Rus­sians, US cit­i­zens, and the pro-Trump “fake news” web­sites, two senior Mace­don­ian offi­cials said.

    Bogache­va and Arsov are among more than 20 peo­ple being looked at in two over­lap­ping inves­ti­ga­tions in Mace­do­nia, accord­ing to the two offi­cials, who hail from dif­fer­ent agen­cies in the coun­try and were inter­viewed sep­a­rate­ly.

    The inves­ti­ga­tions are “still in a very ear­ly phase,” one of the offi­cials told reporters. As of pub­li­ca­tion, none of the Amer­i­cans involved with Arsov’s sites are known to be under inves­ti­ga­tion.

    A senior FBI agent famil­iar with the Mace­do­nia case con­firmed that the bureau is assist­ing with the inves­ti­ga­tions. The agent said that infor­ma­tion deter­mined to be of inter­est to Mueller is being shared with his office, but declined to com­ment fur­ther.

    Mace­don­ian secu­ri­ty offi­cials said it’s not clear that any­one involved in the Veles fake news oper­a­tions broke the law.

    But what is clear is that the pow­er­ful forces of Face­book, dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing rev­enue, and polit­i­cal par­ti­san­ship gave rise to an unlike­ly glob­al alliance that increased the spread of mis­lead­ing and false news in the crit­i­cal months before Elec­tion Day.
    ...

    And, of course, most of the inves­tiga­tive inter­est appears to be over whether or not there was any Russ­ian involve­ment in this dis­in­for­ma­tion oper­a­tion. This has led to a focus on Anna Bogache­va, one of the 13 Russ­ian nation­als named in the Mueller probe indict­ment of the Inter­net Research Agency. Immi­gra­tion records indi­cate Bogache­va was in Mace­do­nia in June of 2015. But no con­nec­tion between Bogache­va was found:

    ...
    “Not dis­cussing my work”

    One per­son of inter­est to inves­ti­ga­tors is Anna Bogache­va.

    Bogache­va was one of 13 Russ­ian nation­als indict­ed by Mueller in Feb­ru­ary over alleged inter­fer­ence in the US elec­tion. The indict­ment focused on the role of the St Petersburg–based Inter­net Research Agency — often referred to as a “troll fac­to­ry” — which pro­duced online pro­pa­gan­da and spread mes­sages via social media aimed at help­ing Trump and defeat­ing his rival, Hillary Clin­ton.

    Accord­ing to the indict­ment, Bogache­va at one point over­saw the “data analy­sis group” for the agency’s US oper­a­tion. Along with anoth­er agency employ­ee, Bogache­va alleged­ly trav­eled around the Unit­ed States for about three weeks in June 2014, gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion for an intel­li­gence report that was shared with her supe­ri­or at the agency.

    Exact­ly a year lat­er, she arrived in Mace­do­nia.

    Immi­gra­tion records obtained by reporters show that Bogache­va was in Mace­do­nia in mid-2015, leav­ing the coun­try by land to Greece on June 26 that year. No record could be found of her enter­ing the coun­try. Bogacheva’s posts on Russ­ian social media site VKon­tak­te show that her trip also took her to Aus­tria and pos­si­bly Italy.

    When con­tact­ed by reporters via VKon­tak­te to ask why she was in Mace­do­nia in 2015, Bogache­va said, “sor­ry, I’m not dis­cussing my work.” She did not respond to sub­se­quent mes­sages.

    Reporters found no con­nec­tion between Bogache­va and the Mace­don­ian sites.

    Arsov main­tains that the first site had been his own idea.
    ...

    So, to sum­ma­rize what we learned about the Veles, Mace­do­nia fake news phe­nom­e­na:

    1. It was­n’t spon­ta­neous­ly start­ed by a bunch of Mace­don­ian teens. They may have cre­at­ed their own copy­cat sites lat­er, but the first polit­i­cal site in the town of Veles was set up by Arsov.

    2. Arsov is a self-described lib­er­tar­i­an who idol­izes Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

    3. Arsov claims he tried to dab­ble left-lean­ing web­sites ear­ly on, but found that Face­book was much bet­ter about keep­ing his con­ser­v­a­tive con­tent online before remov­ing. In oth­er words, Face­book had a bias towards right-wing lies.

    4. The actu­al con­tent for the Arsov’s USAPoliticsToday.com site (which gen­er­at­ed clicks via pro­mo­tion on Face­book), was pro­vid­ed by Amer­i­can con­ser­v­a­tive click­bait cre­ators, start­ing with Paris Wade and Ben Gold­man.

    5. Inves­ti­ga­tors are look­ing into a link to the Inter­net Research Agency, but none has been found.

    It’s also worth recall­ing that neo-Nazi hack­er Andrew ‘weev’ Auern­heimer claimed to be cur­rent­ly resid­ing in Mace­do­nia dur­ing an Octo­ber 2015 inter­view. Giv­en Auern­heimer’s appar­ent role in the Macron email hacks and his clear inter­est in dis­sem­i­nat­ing as much far right pro­pa­gan­da as pos­si­ble, he seems like an obvi­ous per­son to exam­ine in the con­text of this inves­ti­ga­tion. So hope­ful­ly inves­ti­ga­tors are look­ing into whether or not Auern­heimer spent any time in Veles. They prob­a­bly aren’t look­ing into that, but it would nice if they were.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 26, 2018, 3:53 pm
  18. The UK’s Chan­nel 4 sent an inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist under­cov­er to work for one of the third-par­ty com­pa­nies Face­book pays to mod­er­ate con­tent. And, of course, it turns out that this inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist was trained to take a hands-off approach to far right vio­lent con­tent and fake news because that kind of con­tent engages users for longer and increas­es ad rev­enues. Sur­prise!:

    The Verge

    Under­cov­er Face­book mod­er­a­tor was instruct­ed not to remove fringe groups or hate speech

    A new doc­u­men­tary details how third-par­ty Face­book mod­er­a­tors ignore the company’s rules

    By Nick Statt
    Jul 17, 2018, 5:32pm EDT

    An inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist who went under­cov­er as a Face­book mod­er­a­tor in Ire­land says the com­pa­ny lets pages from far-right fringe groups “exceed dele­tion thresh­old,” and that those pages are “sub­ject to dif­fer­ent treat­ment in the same cat­e­go­ry as pages belong­ing to gov­ern­ments and news orga­ni­za­tions.” The accu­sa­tion is a damn­ing one, under­min­ing Facebook’s claims that it is active­ly try­ing to cut down on fake news, pro­pa­gan­da, hate speech, and oth­er harm­ful con­tent that may have sig­nif­i­cant real-world impact.

    The under­cov­er jour­nal­ist detailed his find­ings in a new doc­u­men­tary titled Inside Face­book: Secrets of the Social Net­work, that just aired on the UK’s Chan­nel 4. The inves­ti­ga­tion out­lines ques­tion­able prac­tices on behalf of CPL Resources, a third-par­ty con­tent mod­er­a­tor firm based in Dublin that Face­book has worked with since 2010.

    Those ques­tion­able prac­tices pri­mar­i­ly involve a hands-off approach to flagged and report­ed con­tent like graph­ic vio­lence, hate speech, and racist and oth­er big­ot­ed rhetoric from far-right groups. The under­cov­er reporter says he was also instruct­ed to ignore users who looked as if they were under 13 years of age, which is the min­i­mum age require­ment to sign up for Face­book in accor­dance with the Child Online Pro­tec­tion Act, a 1998 pri­va­cy law passed in the US designed to pro­tect young chil­dren from exploita­tion and harm­ful and vio­lent con­tent on the inter­net. The doc­u­men­tary insin­u­ates that Face­book takes a hands-off approach to such con­tent, includ­ing bla­tant­ly false sto­ries parad­ing as truth, because it engages users for longer and dri­ves up adver­tis­ing rev­enue.

    Ear­li­er today, Face­book attempt­ed to pre­empt neg­a­tive reac­tions to the doc­u­men­tary by pub­lish­ing a blog post and writ­ing a length­i­er, more detailed let­ter in the same vein to the Scot­land-based pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny Firecrest Films, which pro­duced the doc­u­men­tary in part­ner­ship with Chan­nel 4. Face­book says it will be updat­ing its train­ing mate­r­i­al for all con­tent mod­er­a­tors, review­ing train­ing prac­tices across all teams and not just CPL, and review­ing the staff at CPL to “ensure that any­one who behaves in ways that are incon­sis­tent with Facebook’s val­ues no longer works to review con­tent on our plat­form.”

    “We take these mis­takes incred­i­bly seri­ous­ly and are grate­ful to the jour­nal­ists who brought them to our atten­tion. We have been inves­ti­gat­ing exact­ly what hap­pened so we can pre­vent these issues from hap­pen­ing again,” wrote Moni­ka Bick­ert, Facebook’s vice pres­i­dent of glob­al pol­i­cy man­age­ment, in the blog post. “For exam­ple, we imme­di­ate­ly required all train­ers in Dublin to do a re-train­ing ses­sion — and are prepar­ing to do the same glob­al­ly. We also reviewed the pol­i­cy ques­tions and enforce­ment actions that the reporter raised and fixed the mis­takes we found.”

    Notably, the doc­u­men­tary is air­ing just after a con­gres­sion­al hear­ing about the ban­ning of hyper­par­ti­san accounts on social media. The hear­ing involved a bipar­ti­san group of law­mak­ers on the House Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee who grilled mem­bers of Face­book and oth­er tech com­pa­nies over why orga­ni­za­tions like Alex Jones’ Infowars are allowed to repeat­ed­ly pub­lish false infor­ma­tion on their plat­forms. Infowars has pushed dan­ger­ous con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries like Piz­za­gate, which result­ed in a man dis­charg­ing a firearm in a Wash­ing­ton, DC piz­za par­lor, and ter­ror­ized the par­ents of ele­men­tary Sandy Hook shoot­ing vic­tims by claim­ing the shoot­ing was staged. The Infowars Face­book page has near­ly 1 mil­lion likes, while Jones repub­lish­es many of its sto­ries on his per­son­al page, which has more than 1.5 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

    “If they [InfoWars] post­ed suf­fi­cient con­tent that it vio­lat­ed our thresh­old, the page would come down,” Bick­ert, who attend­ed the hear­ing today, told Rep. Ted Deutch (D‑FL). “That thresh­old varies depend­ing on the sever­i­ty of dif­fer­ent types of vio­la­tions.” With regard to Infowars, Bick­ert says it has “not reached the thresh­old.” Facebook’s approach to fake news, it seems, is not to con­sid­er its pub­li­ca­tion a vio­la­tion of its terms of ser­vice or its con­tent poli­cies.

    And as the Chan­nel 4 doc­u­men­tary makes clear, that thresh­old appears to be an ever-chang­ing met­ric that has no con­sis­ten­cy across par­ti­san lines and from legit­i­mate media orga­ni­za­tions to ones that ped­dle in fake news, pro­pa­gan­da, and con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries. It’s also unclear how Face­book is able to enforce its pol­i­cy with third-par­ty mod­er­a­tors all around the world, espe­cial­ly when they may be incen­tivized by any num­ber of per­for­mance met­rics and per­son­al bias­es.

    ...

    Mean­while, Face­book is ramp­ing up efforts in its arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence divi­sion, with the hope that one day algo­rithms can solve these press­ing mod­er­a­tion prob­lems with­out any human input. Ear­li­er today, the com­pa­ny said it would be accel­er­at­ing its AI research efforts to include more researchers and engi­neers, as well as new acad­e­mia part­ner­ships and expan­sions of its AI research labs in eight loca­tions around the world. Ear­li­er this month, Face­book acquired a Lon­don-based AI start­up to help it with nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cess­ing, and the com­pa­ny also poached a top Google engi­neer to help it design its own chips, poten­tial­ly for AI soft­ware pur­pos­es.

    “AI has become so cen­tral to the oper­a­tions of com­pa­nies like ours, that what our lead­er­ship has been telling us is: ‘Go faster. You’re not going fast enough,’” Yann LeCun, Facebook’s chief AI sci­en­tist, told The Wash­ing­ton Post regard­ing the AI accel­er­a­tion at Face­book. The long-term goal of the company’s AI divi­sion is to cre­ate “machines that have some lev­el of com­mon sense” and that learn “how the world works by obser­va­tion, like young chil­dren do in the first few months of life.”

    ———-

    “Under­cov­er Face­book mod­er­a­tor was instruct­ed not to remove fringe groups or hate speech” by Nick Statt; The Verge; 07/17/2018

    “An inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist who went under­cov­er as a Face­book mod­er­a­tor in Ire­land says the com­pa­ny lets pages from far-right fringe groups “exceed dele­tion thresh­old,” and that those pages are “sub­ject to dif­fer­ent treat­ment in the same cat­e­go­ry as pages belong­ing to gov­ern­ments and news orga­ni­za­tions.” The accu­sa­tion is a damn­ing one, under­min­ing Facebook’s claims that it is active­ly try­ing to cut down on fake news, pro­pa­gan­da, hate speech, and oth­er harm­ful con­tent that may have sig­nif­i­cant real-world impact.”

    Oh look, it turns out Face­book’s inter­nal poli­cies were as cyn­i­cal as it gets. Shock­er. Inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism strikes again.

    So an under­cov­er jour­nal­ist gets hired at a third-par­ty con­tent mod­er­a­tor firm that Face­book hired to remove con­tent that vio­late Face­book’s terms of ser­vice, and, lo and behold, it turns out he’s told more or less ignore those poli­cies. Specif­i­cal­ly, he was told to give a hands-off approach to flagged con­tent like like graph­ic vio­lence, hate speech, and racist and oth­er big­ot­ed rhetoric from far-right groups. Oh, and he was told to ignore users who appeared to be under the age of 13. In oth­er words, this third-par­ty con­tent mod­er­a­tor help­ing to ensure far right vio­lent hate speech would be deliv­ered to pre­teens:

    ...
    The under­cov­er jour­nal­ist detailed his find­ings in a new doc­u­men­tary titled Inside Face­book: Secrets of the Social Net­work, that just aired on the UK’s Chan­nel 4. The inves­ti­ga­tion out­lines ques­tion­able prac­tices on behalf of CPL Resources, a third-par­ty con­tent mod­er­a­tor firm based in Dublin that Face­book has worked with since 2010.

    Those ques­tion­able prac­tices pri­mar­i­ly involve a hands-off approach to flagged and report­ed con­tent like graph­ic vio­lence, hate speech, and racist and oth­er big­ot­ed rhetoric from far-right groups. The under­cov­er reporter says he was also instruct­ed to ignore users who looked as if they were under 13 years of age, which is the min­i­mum age require­ment to sign up for Face­book in accor­dance with the Child Online Pro­tec­tion Act, a 1998 pri­va­cy law passed in the US designed to pro­tect young chil­dren from exploita­tion and harm­ful and vio­lent con­tent on the inter­net. The doc­u­men­tary insin­u­ates that Face­book takes a hands-off approach to such con­tent, includ­ing bla­tant­ly false sto­ries parad­ing as truth, because it engages users for longer and dri­ves up adver­tis­ing rev­enue.
    ...

    Face­book, of course, plays dumb and claims to be all sur­prised and thank­ful to the jour­nal­ist who helped uncov­er it. And note that they did­n’t assert that this was just a prob­lem with one rogue third-par­ty com­pa­ny. Instead, they assures us all that they will be retrain­ing all of their third-par­ty train­ers around the globe:

    ...
    Ear­li­er today, Face­book attempt­ed to pre­empt neg­a­tive reac­tions to the doc­u­men­tary by pub­lish­ing a blog post and writ­ing a length­i­er, more detailed let­ter in the same vein to the Scot­land-based pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny Firecrest Films, which pro­duced the doc­u­men­tary in part­ner­ship with Chan­nel 4. Face­book says it will be updat­ing its train­ing mate­r­i­al for all con­tent mod­er­a­tors, review­ing train­ing prac­tices across all teams and not just CPL, and review­ing the staff at CPL to “ensure that any­one who behaves in ways that are incon­sis­tent with Facebook’s val­ues no longer works to review con­tent on our plat­form.”

    “We take these mis­takes incred­i­bly seri­ous­ly and are grate­ful to the jour­nal­ists who brought them to our atten­tion. We have been inves­ti­gat­ing exact­ly what hap­pened so we can pre­vent these issues from hap­pen­ing again,” wrote Moni­ka Bick­ert, Facebook’s vice pres­i­dent of glob­al pol­i­cy man­age­ment, in the blog post. “For exam­ple, we imme­di­ate­ly required all train­ers in Dublin to do a re-train­ing ses­sion — and are prepar­ing to do the same glob­al­ly. We also reviewed the pol­i­cy ques­tions and enforce­ment actions that the reporter raised and fixed the mis­takes we found.”
    ...

    Adding to Face­book’s bad new is the fact that this the doc­u­men­tary of this inves­ti­ga­tion came just after a con­gres­sion­al hear­ing inves­ti­gat­ing why out­lets like InfoWars are allowed to pro­mote fake news (actu­al fake news) on social media plat­forms with­out con­se­quence:

    ...
    Notably, the doc­u­men­tary is air­ing just after a con­gres­sion­al hear­ing about the ban­ning of hyper­par­ti­san accounts on social media. The hear­ing involved a bipar­ti­san group of law­mak­ers on the House Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee who grilled mem­bers of Face­book and oth­er tech com­pa­nies over why orga­ni­za­tions like Alex Jones’ Infowars are allowed to repeat­ed­ly pub­lish false infor­ma­tion on their plat­forms. Infowars has pushed dan­ger­ous con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries like Piz­za­gate, which result­ed in a man dis­charg­ing a firearm in a Wash­ing­ton, DC piz­za par­lor, and ter­ror­ized the par­ents of ele­men­tary Sandy Hook shoot­ing vic­tims by claim­ing the shoot­ing was staged. The Infowars Face­book page has near­ly 1 mil­lion likes, while Jones repub­lish­es many of its sto­ries on his per­son­al page, which has more than 1.5 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

    “If they [InfoWars] post­ed suf­fi­cient con­tent that it vio­lat­ed our thresh­old, the page would come down,” Bick­ert, who attend­ed the hear­ing today, told Rep. Ted Deutch (D‑FL). “That thresh­old varies depend­ing on the sever­i­ty of dif­fer­ent types of vio­la­tions.” With regard to Infowars, Bick­ert says it has “not reached the thresh­old.” Facebook’s approach to fake news, it seems, is not to con­sid­er its pub­li­ca­tion a vio­la­tion of its terms of ser­vice or its con­tent poli­cies.
    ...

    So this inves­ti­ga­tion pro­vides an answer that Face­book prob­a­bly would­n’t like to admit: Alex Jones’s con­tent engaged users for longer, dri­ving up adver­tis­ing rev­enue.

    Omi­nous­ly, it sounds like Face­book is look­ing to AI-dri­ven con­tent mod­er­a­tors as the end solu­tion to this. The com­pa­ny wants to cre­ate “machines that have some lev­el of com­mon sense” and that learn “how the world works by obser­va­tion, like young chil­dren do in the first few months of life”:

    ...
    Mean­while, Face­book is ramp­ing up efforts in its arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence divi­sion, with the hope that one day algo­rithms can solve these press­ing mod­er­a­tion prob­lems with­out any human input. Ear­li­er today, the com­pa­ny said it would be accel­er­at­ing its AI research efforts to include more researchers and engi­neers, as well as new acad­e­mia part­ner­ships and expan­sions of its AI research labs in eight loca­tions around the world. Ear­li­er this month, Face­book acquired a Lon­don-based AI start­up to help it with nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cess­ing, and the com­pa­ny also poached a top Google engi­neer to help it design its own chips, poten­tial­ly for AI soft­ware pur­pos­es.

    “AI has become so cen­tral to the oper­a­tions of com­pa­nies like ours, that what our lead­er­ship has been telling us is: ‘Go faster. You’re not going fast enough,’” Yann LeCun, Facebook’s chief AI sci­en­tist, told The Wash­ing­ton Post regard­ing the AI accel­er­a­tion at Face­book. The long-term goal of the company’s AI divi­sion is to cre­ate “machines that have some lev­el of com­mon sense” and that learn “how the world works by obser­va­tion, like young chil­dren do in the first few months of life.”
    ...

    Great, an AI that learns what’s ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ by observ­ing humans. Remem­ber Tay, the AI-chat­bot Microsoft released to the inter­net and was turned into a neo-Nazi after a bunch of trolls chat­ted with it? That’s the kind of path Face­book is appar­ent­ly going down for the future of con­tent mod­er­a­tion.

    So that was just one of the new Face­book scan­dals of late: Face­book’s con­tent mod­er­a­tors like inflam­ma­to­ry far right con­tent because it’s more engag­ing and dri­ves ads. It’s worth recall­ing the recent sto­ry about how con­ser­v­a­tives in the US and UK were actu­al­ly work­ing with the Mace­don­ian Face­book fake news farms, and how the Mace­don­ian indi­vid­ual behind it claims that they tried to cre­ate fake news for lib­er­als too but it just did­n’t make near­ly as much mon­ey for them as the fake news tar­get­ing con­ser­v­a­tives.

    It’s also worth not­ing that Face­book did even­tu­al­ly ban Alex Jones from Face­book for 30 days last week. Except, of course, there’s a catch: they only banned Alex Jones him­self. Not his many admins. So Alex Jones is still stream­ing his show over Face­book despite the ban because it was­n’t a real ban because his non-banned admins are still free to stream his show live:

    CNet

    Face­book bans Infowars’ Alex Jones for 30 days — but he’s still stream­ing

    A day after the ban, Infowars is stream­ing as if noth­ing hap­pened. Here’s why.

    by Steven Musil,
    Sean Hol­lis­ter

    July 27, 2018 10:17 AM PDT

    Alex Jones, the founder and star of con­spir­a­cy site Infowars, was sus­pend­ed by Face­book on Thurs­day, and may face harsh­er con­se­quences. But as of Fri­day morn­ing, you’d be hard-pressed to tell — on Face­book, he’s still stream­ing his show live.

    The social-net­work­ing giant said late Thurs­day it had banned the right-wing con­spir­a­cy the­o­rist from using his account for the next 30 days after remov­ing four videos from the net­work it said vio­lat­ed its com­mu­ni­ty stan­dards. A Face­book spokesper­son also said if Jones or his fel­low admins con­tin­ue to break its rules, his pages face a per­ma­nent ban from the site.

    The 30-day ban affects Alex Jones per­son­al­ly, not his fel­low Infowars page admins, mean­ing his “The Alex Jones Chan­nel” and “Infowars” will stay on Face­book for now and his col­leagues can con­tin­ue to post unless they break the rules as well. That’s why you can still see new posts on his chan­nels, and still watch his show live.

    A Face­book spokesper­son said at least one of his chan­nels is close to the thresh­old that would jus­ti­fy the chan­nels’ Face­book page being per­ma­nent­ly removed, though — because each time Jones or his fel­low admins receive a strike for pub­lish­ing vio­lat­ing con­tent, his pages receive a strike as well.

    The move comes a day after YouTube removed some of Jones’ videos and sus­pend­ed his abil­i­ty to broad­cast live on YouTube for 90 days.

    Face­book point­ed out that it imme­di­ate­ly removes con­tent of a bul­ly­ing nature that encour­ages phys­i­cal harm or attacks some­one based on their reli­gious affil­i­a­tion or gen­der iden­ti­ty.

    “In this case, we received reports relat­ed to four dif­fer­ent videos on the Pages that Infowars and Alex Jones main­tain on Face­book,” a Face­book spokesper­son said in a state­ment. “We reviewed the con­tent against our Com­mu­ni­ty Stan­dards and deter­mined that it vio­lates. All four videos have been removed from Face­book.”

    It was­n’t imme­di­ate­ly clear what spe­cif­ic con­tent was con­tained in the four videos removed by Face­book, but CNET notes that sev­er­al of the exact same videos removed by YouTube are no longer up on Jones’ Face­book page either.

    How­ev­er, Face­book says it did­n’t remove the video where Jones pre­tends to shoot spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor Robert Mueller, and a spokesper­son says Face­book stands by its deci­sion that the Muel­ller video did­n’t vio­late the com­pa­ny’s stan­dards.

    Jones has been wide­ly crit­i­cized for pro­mot­ing untrue, vir­u­lent hypothe­ses about trag­ic events like the 2001 ter­ror­ist attacks on World Trade Cen­ter in New York that killed near­ly 3,000 peo­ple and the 2012 shoot­ing at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School in Con­necti­cut that killed 26 stu­dents and staff. In three sep­a­rate law­suits, eight Sandy Hook fam­i­lies and an FBI agent have sued Jones for defama­tion, The New York Times reports.

    Online plat­forms like Face­book and Google-owned YouTube have tak­en flak in recent months, as they seem­ing­ly fail to remove high-pro­file hoax­es and unfound­ed con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries about tragedies before they reach hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple.

    Ear­li­er Thurs­day, Jones appeared to be try­ing to side­step YouTube’s 90-day ban by broad­cast­ing his livestreams on anoth­er chan­nel. Livestreams were being host­ed Thurs­day after­noon by Ron Gib­son, who describes his chan­nel as part of Alex Jones’ Free Speech Sys­tems net­work.

    Though YouTube shut down a livestream at Ron Gib­son’s pri­ma­ry YouTube chan­nel, he mere­ly set up a sec­ond YouTube chan­nel and is point­ing peo­ple there.

    ...
    ———-

    “Face­book bans Infowars’ Alex Jones for 30 days — but he’s still stream­ing” by Steven Musil, Sean Hol­lis­ter; CNet; 07/27/2018

    “Alex Jones, the founder and star of con­spir­a­cy site Infowars, was sus­pend­ed by Face­book on Thurs­day, and may face harsh­er con­se­quences. But as of Fri­day morn­ing, you’d be hard-pressed to tell — on Face­book, he’s still stream­ing his show live.

    So Face­book bans Alex Jones and he’s still live because Face­book did­n’t actu­al­ly ban InfoWars. They only banned Alex Jones’s per­son­al, leav­ing all of his admin min­ions free to con­tin­ue as if noth­ing hap­pened:

    ...
    The social-net­work­ing giant said late Thurs­day it had banned the right-wing con­spir­a­cy the­o­rist from using his account for the next 30 days after remov­ing four videos from the net­work it said vio­lat­ed its com­mu­ni­ty stan­dards. A Face­book spokesper­son also said if Jones or his fel­low admins con­tin­ue to break its rules, his pages face a per­ma­nent ban from the site.

    The 30-day ban affects Alex Jones per­son­al­ly, not his fel­low Infowars page admins, mean­ing his “The Alex Jones Chan­nel” and “Infowars” will stay on Face­book for now and his col­leagues can con­tin­ue to post unless they break the rules as well. That’s why you can still see new posts on his chan­nels, and still watch his show live.
    ...

    Face­book defend­ed itself by point­ing out that it imme­di­ate­ly removes con­tent of a bul­ly­ing nature. And yet videos of Jones mak­ing pre­tend shoot­ing ges­tures towards Robert Mueller were left up (Face­book says it did­n’t con­sti­tute a real threat of vio­lence). In oth­er words, Face­book’s pol­i­cy is per­fect for any­one with a large audi­ence who wants to encour­age vio­lence towards indi­vid­u­als in a plau­si­bly deni­able man­ner:

    ...
    Face­book point­ed out that it imme­di­ate­ly removes con­tent of a bul­ly­ing nature that encour­ages phys­i­cal harm or attacks some­one based on their reli­gious affil­i­a­tion or gen­der iden­ti­ty.

    “In this case, we received reports relat­ed to four dif­fer­ent videos on the Pages that Infowars and Alex Jones main­tain on Face­book,” a Face­book spokesper­son said in a state­ment. “We reviewed the con­tent against our Com­mu­ni­ty Stan­dards and deter­mined that it vio­lates. All four videos have been removed from Face­book.”

    It was­n’t imme­di­ate­ly clear what spe­cif­ic con­tent was con­tained in the four videos removed by Face­book, but CNET notes that sev­er­al of the exact same videos removed by YouTube are no longer up on Jones’ Face­book page either.

    How­ev­er, Face­book says it did­n’t remove the video where Jones pre­tends to shoot spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor Robert Mueller, and a spokesper­son says Face­book stands by its deci­sion that the Muel­ller video did­n’t vio­late the com­pa­ny’s stan­dards.

    Jones has been wide­ly crit­i­cized for pro­mot­ing untrue, vir­u­lent hypothe­ses about trag­ic events like the 2001 ter­ror­ist attacks on World Trade Cen­ter in New York that killed near­ly 3,000 peo­ple and the 2012 shoot­ing at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School in Con­necti­cut that killed 26 stu­dents and staff. In three sep­a­rate law­suits, eight Sandy Hook fam­i­lies and an FBI agent have sued Jones for defama­tion, The New York Times reports.

    Online plat­forms like Face­book and Google-owned YouTube have tak­en flak in recent months, as they seem­ing­ly fail to remove high-pro­file hoax­es and unfound­ed con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries about tragedies before they reach hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple.
    ...

    Face­book also assures us that one of Jones chan­nels is close to being per­ma­nent­ly banned if it gets a few more strikes:

    ...
    A Face­book spokesper­son said at least one of his chan­nels is close to the thresh­old that would jus­ti­fy the chan­nels’ Face­book page being per­ma­nent­ly removed, though — because each time Jones or his fel­low admins receive a strike for pub­lish­ing vio­lat­ing con­tent, his pages receive a strike as well.

    The move comes a day after YouTube removed some of Jones’ videos and sus­pend­ed his abil­i­ty to broad­cast live on YouTube for 90 days.
    ...

    And yet, as we saw with YouTube, the 90-day ban of Jone’s InfoWars chan­nel was eas­i­ly got­ten around by switch­ing his livestreams to an InfoWars affil­i­at­ed chan­nel:

    ...
    Ear­li­er Thurs­day, Jones appeared to be try­ing to side­step YouTube’s 90-day ban by broad­cast­ing his livestreams on anoth­er chan­nel. Livestreams were being host­ed Thurs­day after­noon by Ron Gib­son, who describes his chan­nel as part of Alex Jones’ Free Speech Sys­tems net­work.

    Though YouTube shut down a livestream at Ron Gib­son’s pri­ma­ry YouTube chan­nel, he mere­ly set up a sec­ond YouTube chan­nel and is point­ing peo­ple there.
    ...

    And that’s prob­a­bly what we should expect if Face­book actu­al­ly Jones InfoWars page and not just ban Jones him­self. They’ll just switch over to a new page.

    As we can see, Face­book basi­cal­ly hand­ed Jones a giant gift: he gets to act like a banned mar­tyr with­out actu­al­ly get­ting banned.

    Might Jones get banned in the future as Face­book hint­ed could hap­pen? Well, as under­cov­er report makes abun­dant­ly clear, ban­ning InfoWars isn’t good for busi­ness. It gen­er­ate the kind of con­tent that gets clicks and sells ads. And as ALL of the oth­er sto­ries to come out in recent years amply demon­strate, Face­book is basi­cal­ly an amoral prof­it-max­i­miz­ing enti­ty with a paragon of the far right sit­ting on its board. So, sure, Alex Jones could get actu­al­ly banned in the future, but prob­a­bly only if it sig­nif­i­cant­ly helps Face­book’s bot­tom line to do. And for that to hap­pen Face­book is going to need a very dif­fer­ent busi­ness mod­el. Or shame. Or a gov­ern­ment man­date to address chron­ic ped­dlers of dis­in­for­ma­tion. But bar­ring that, it’s hard to see what it would prompt Face­book to kick off one of its cash cows.

    One this is clear: there needs to be a lot more inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists going under­cov­er at Face­book. Let’s hope they can find the funds to do so.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 3, 2018, 1:44 pm
  19. Here’s a peak at the nev­er cat­e­go­ry of per­son­al infor­ma­tion that will soon by incor­po­rat­ed in the Big Data pro­files on all of us being assem­bled by tech giants like Face­book and Google:

    Even in the Big Data inter­net age, there’s one area of per­son­al infor­ma­tion that has yet to be incor­po­rat­ed into the Big Data pro­files on every­one and it hap­pens to be one of the most data-rich cat­e­gories of infor­ma­tion in exis­tence. It’s your per­son­al bank­ing infor­ma­tion. And while indi­vid­u­als have ample rea­son to be con­cerned about enti­ties like Face­book and Google get­ting their hands on this cat­e­go­ry of infor­ma­tion, there’s anoth­er group out there that’s con­cerned too: banks.

    Specif­i­cal­ly, the banks appear to rec­og­nize that they are sit­ting on one of the most valu­able piles of infor­ma­tion about peo­ple. They also rec­og­nize that mobile bank­ing is a poten­tial growth sec­tor for the indus­try and there’s no dom­i­nant play­er yet in that realm. And that appears to be where the con­cern comes in. The bank­ing indus­try rec­og­nizes that, at some point, a dom­i­nant play­er is going to emerge for per­son-to-per­son mobile bank­ing (like send­ing mon­ey on a mes­sag­ing app), and banks are con­cern that com­pa­nies like Face­book and Google are going to be the ones to cre­at­ing that dom­i­nant play­er instead of the banks.

    And as the pres­i­dent of Black­Rock puts it in the fol­low­ing arti­cle, if tech com­pa­nies are in con­trol of pay­ment sys­tems, they’ll know “every sin­gle thing you do,” which will have obvi­ous val­ue for deliv­er­ing ads. So it sounds like the finance indus­try is get­ting increas­ing­ly anx­ious to find ways to mon­e­tize the val­ue of the infor­ma­tion they have about peo­ple, but they’re more anx­ious that Face­book or Google will fig­ure out how to mon­e­tize it first:

    Quartz

    Black­Rock is wor­ried tech­nol­o­gy firms are about to know “every sin­gle thing you do”

    By John Detrix­he
    Novem­ber 2, 2017

    The pres­i­dent of Black­Rock, the world’s biggest asset man­ag­er, is among those who think big tech­nol­o­gy firms could invade the finan­cial industry’s turf. Google and Face­book have thrived by col­lect­ing and stor­ing data about con­sumer habits—our emails, search queries, and the videos we watch. Under­stand­ing of our finan­cial lives could be an even rich­er source of data for them to sell to adver­tis­ers.

    “I wor­ry about the data,” said Black­Rock pres­i­dent Robert Kapi­to at a con­fer­ence in Lon­don today (Nov. 2). “We’re going to have some seri­ous com­peti­tors.”

    If tech com­pa­nies are in con­trol of pay­ment sys­tems, they’ll know “every sin­gle thing you do,” Kapi­to said. It’s a dif­fer­ent busi­ness mod­el from tra­di­tion­al bank­ing: Data is more valu­able for tech firms that sell a range of dif­fer­ent prod­ucts than it is for banks that only sell finan­cial ser­vices, he said.

    Kapi­to is wor­ried because the effort to win con­trol of pay­ment sys­tems is already underway—Apple will allow iMes­sage users to send cash to each oth­er, and Face­book is inte­grat­ing per­son-to-per­son Pay­Pal pay­ments into its Mes­sen­ger app.

    As more pay­ments flow through mobile phones, banks are wor­ried they could get left behind, rel­e­gat­ed to serv­ing as low-mar­gin util­i­ties. To fight back, they’ve start­ed ini­tia­tives such as Zelle to com­pete with pay­ment ser­vices like Pay­Pal.

    ...

    Bar­clays CEO Jes Sta­ley point­ed out at the con­fer­ence that banks prob­a­bly have the “rich­est data pool” of any sec­tor, and he said some 25% of the UK’s econ­o­my flows through Barl­cays’ pay­ment sys­tems. The indus­try could use that infor­ma­tion to offer bet­ter ser­vices. Com­pa­nies could alert peo­ple that they’re not sav­ing enough for retire­ment, or sug­gest ways to save mon­ey on their expens­es. The trick is access­ing that data and ana­lyz­ing it like a big tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny would.

    And banks still have one thing going for them: There’s a mas­sive fortress of rules and reg­u­la­tions sur­round­ing the indus­try. “No one wants to be reg­u­lat­ed like we are,” Sta­ley said.

    ———-

    “Black­Rock is wor­ried tech­nol­o­gy firms are about to know “every sin­gle thing you do”” by John Detrix­he; Quartz; 11/02/2017

    “The pres­i­dent of Black­Rock, the world’s biggest asset man­ag­er, is among those who think big tech­nol­o­gy firms could invade the finan­cial industry’s turf. Google and Face­book have thrived by col­lect­ing and stor­ing data about con­sumer habits—our emails, search queries, and the videos we watch. Under­stand­ing of our finan­cial lives could be an even rich­er source of data for them to sell to adver­tis­ers.

    Yep, of all the infor­ma­tion that’s cur­rent­ly col­lect­ed about it — our email con­tent, search queries, etc. — it’s the finan­cial infor­ma­tion that its poten­tial­ly the most valu­able to adver­tis­ers. So if the Big Tech adver­tis­ing man­age to get this infor­ma­tion on top of every­thing else they already know about you there’s going to be very lit­tle left they don’t know. And Big Tech is already very inter­est­ed in mov­ing into this space:

    ...
    “I wor­ry about the data,” said Black­Rock pres­i­dent Robert Kapi­to at a con­fer­ence in Lon­don today (Nov. 2). “We’re going to have some seri­ous com­peti­tors.”

    If tech com­pa­nies are in con­trol of pay­ment sys­tems, they’ll know “every sin­gle thing you do,” Kapi­to said. It’s a dif­fer­ent busi­ness mod­el from tra­di­tion­al bank­ing: Data is more valu­able for tech firms that sell a range of dif­fer­ent prod­ucts than it is for banks that only sell finan­cial ser­vices, he said.

    Kapi­to is wor­ried because the effort to win con­trol of pay­ment sys­tems is already under­way—Apple will allow iMes­sage users to send cash to each oth­er, and Face­book is inte­grat­ing per­son-to-per­son Pay­Pal pay­ments into its Mes­sen­ger app.
    ...

    So that was a warn­ing from back in Novem­ber about the unfold­ing bat­tle to cre­ate a dom­i­nant Big Tech plat­form that incor­po­rates your bank­ing data and, in turns, makes that data avail­able to the com­pa­ny run­ning that plat­form.

    Flash for­ward to today and, sur­prise!, it turns out Face­book is approach­ing a num­ber of big banks — JP Mor­gan, Wells Far­go, Cit­i­group, and US Ban­corp — request­ing finan­cial data includ­ing card trans­ac­tions and check­ing-account bal­ances. As the fol­low­ing arti­cle also notes, Face­book is joined by Google and Ama­zon who are also try­ing to get this kind of data.

    Face­book assures us that this infor­ma­tion, which will be opt-in, will be sole­ly used to offer new ser­vices on Face­book mes­sen­ger. Like a ser­vice where you get your check­ing account bal­ance. Face­book also assures us that this infor­ma­tion, which would obvi­ous­ly be invalu­able for deliv­er­ing ads, won’t be used for ads at all. It will ONLY be used for Face­book’s Mes­sen­ger ser­vice. Uh huh. Sure. So it sounds like the tech­nique Face­book is going to be using to address pri­va­cy con­cerns over Face­book get­ting their hands on deep source of per­son­al data is to give the pub­lic laugh­ably unbe­liev­able assur­ances:

    The Wall Street Jour­nal

    Face­book to Banks: Give Us Your Data, We’ll Give You Our Users
    Face­book has asked large U.S. banks to share detailed finan­cial infor­ma­tion about cus­tomers as it seeks to boost user engage­ment

    By Emi­ly Glaz­er,
    Deepa Seethara­man and
    Anna­Maria Andri­o­tis
    Updat­ed Aug. 6, 2018 7:31 p.m. ET

    Face­book Inc. wants your finan­cial data.

    The social-media giant has asked large U.S. banks to share detailed finan­cial infor­ma­tion about their cus­tomers, includ­ing card trans­ac­tions and check­ing-account bal­ances, as part of an effort to offer new ser­vices to users.

    Face­book increas­ing­ly wants to be a plat­form where peo­ple buy and sell goods and ser­vices, besides con­nect­ing with friends. The com­pa­ny over the past year asked JPMor­gan Chase & Co., Wells Far­go & Co., Cit­i­group Inc. and U.S. Ban­corp to dis­cuss poten­tial offer­ings it could host for bank cus­tomers on Face­book Mes­sen­ger, said peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter.

    Face­book has talked about a fea­ture that would show its users their check­ing-account bal­ances, the peo­ple said. It has also pitched fraud alerts, some of the peo­ple said.

    Data pri­va­cy is a stick­ing point in the banks’ con­ver­sa­tions with Face­book, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter. The talks are tak­ing place as Face­book faces sev­er­al inves­ti­ga­tions over its ties to polit­i­cal ana­lyt­ics firm Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, which accessed data on as many as 87 mil­lion Face­book users with­out their con­sent.

    One large U.S. bank pulled away from talks due to pri­va­cy con­cerns, some of the peo­ple said.

    Face­book has told banks that the addi­tion­al cus­tomer infor­ma­tion could be used to offer ser­vices that might entice users to spend more time on Mes­sen­ger, a per­son famil­iar with the dis­cus­sions said. The com­pa­ny is try­ing to deep­en user engage­ment: Investors shaved more than $120 bil­lion from its mar­ket val­ue in one day last month after it said its growth is start­ing to slow..

    Face­book said it wouldn’t use the bank data for ad-tar­get­ing pur­pos­es or share it with third par­ties.

    “We don’t use pur­chase data from banks or cred­it card com­pa­nies for ads,” said spokes­woman Elis­a­beth Diana. “We also don’t have spe­cial rela­tion­ships, part­ner­ships, or con­tracts with banks or cred­it-card com­pa­nies to use their cus­tomers’ pur­chase data for ads.”

    Face­book shares climbed sharply on the news, up 3.5% around mid­day, mark­ing the biggest gain since last month’s his­toric drop.

    Banks face pres­sure to build rela­tion­ships with big online plat­forms, which reach bil­lions of users and dri­ve a grow­ing share of com­merce. They also are try­ing to reach more users dig­i­tal­ly. Many strug­gle to gain trac­tion in mobile pay­ments.

    Yet banks are hes­i­tant to hand too much con­trol to third-par­ty plat­forms such as Face­book. They pre­fer to keep cus­tomers on their own web­sites and apps.

    As part of the pro­posed deals, Face­book asked banks for infor­ma­tion about where its users are shop­ping with their deb­it and cred­it cards out­side of pur­chas­es they make using Face­book Mes­sen­ger, the peo­ple said. Mes­sen­ger has some 1.3 bil­lion month­ly active users, Chief Oper­at­ing Offi­cer Sheryl Sand­berg said on the company’s sec­ond-quar­ter earn­ings call last month.

    Alpha­bet Inc.’s Google and Amazon.com Inc. also have asked banks to share data if they join with them, in order to pro­vide basic bank­ing ser­vices on appli­ca­tions such as Google Assis­tant and Alexa, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the con­ver­sa­tions.

    ...

    Face­book has tak­en a hard­er pub­lic line on pri­va­cy since the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca uproar. A prod­uct pri­va­cy team has announced new fea­tures such as “clear his­to­ry,” which would allow users to pre­vent the ser­vice from col­lect­ing their off-Face­book brows­ing details. It also is mak­ing efforts to alert users to its pri­va­cy set­tings.

    That hasn’t assuaged con­cerns about Facebook’s pri­va­cy prac­tices. Bank exec­u­tives are wor­ried about the breadth of infor­ma­tion being sought, even if it means not being avail­able on cer­tain plat­forms that their cus­tomers use. Bank cus­tomers would need to opt-in to the pro­posed Face­book ser­vices, the com­pa­ny said in a state­ment Mon­day.

    JPMor­gan isn’t “shar­ing our cus­tomers’ off-plat­form trans­ac­tion data with these plat­forms, and have had to say no to some things as a result,” said spokes­woman Trish Wexler.

    Banks view mobile com­merce as one of their biggest oppor­tu­ni­ties, but are still run­ning behind tech­nol­o­gy firms such as Pay­Pal Hold­ings Inc. and Square Inc. Cus­tomers have moved slow­ly, too; many Amer­i­cans still pre­fer using their cards, along with cash and checks.

    In an effort to com­pete with PayPal’s Ven­mo, a group of large banks last year con­nect­ed their smart­phone apps to mon­ey-trans­fer net­work Zelle. Results are mixed so far: While usage has risen, many banks still aren’t on the plat­form..

    In recent years, Face­book has tried to trans­form Mes­sen­ger into a hub for cus­tomer ser­vice and com­merce, in keep­ing with a broad­er trend among mobile mes­sag­ing ser­vices.

    A part­ner­ship with Amer­i­can Express Co. allows Face­book users to con­tact the card company’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Last year, Face­book struck a deal with Pay­Pal that allows users to send mon­ey through Mes­sen­ger. Mas­ter­card Inc. card­hold­ers can place online orders with cer­tain mer­chants through Mes­sen­ger using the card company’s Mas­ter­pass dig­i­tal wal­let. (A Mas­ter­card spokesman said Face­book doesn’t see card infor­ma­tion.)

    ———-

    “Face­book to Banks: Give Us Your Data, We’ll Give You Our Users” by Emi­ly Glaz­er, Deepa Seethara­man and Anna­Maria Andri­o­tis; The Wall Street Jour­nal; 08/06/2018

    “The social-media giant has asked large U.S. banks to share detailed finan­cial infor­ma­tion about their cus­tomers, includ­ing card trans­ac­tions and check­ing-account bal­ances, as part of an effort to offer new ser­vices to users.”

    Bank card and check­ing-account bal­ances. That’s the kind of data Face­book would like to get its hands on, to offer cut­ting edge ser­vices like let­ting peo­ple get their check­ing-account bal­ances online (what an inno­va­tion):

    ...
    Face­book increas­ing­ly wants to be a plat­form where peo­ple buy and sell goods and ser­vices, besides con­nect­ing with friends. The com­pa­ny over the past year asked JPMor­gan Chase & Co., Wells Far­go & Co., Cit­i­group Inc. and U.S. Ban­corp to dis­cuss poten­tial offer­ings it could host for bank cus­tomers on Face­book Mes­sen­ger, said peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter.

    Face­book has talked about a fea­ture that would show its users their check­ing-account bal­ances, the peo­ple said. It has also pitched fraud alerts, some of the peo­ple said.
    ...

    Face­book also sug­gests it would like this infor­ma­tion because it will encour­age peo­ple to spend more time on Face­book Mes­sen­ger. But it def­i­nite­ly won’t use the data for ad-tar­get­ing or shar­ing with third par­ties. That’s what we’re sup­posed to believe:

    ...
    Data pri­va­cy is a stick­ing point in the banks’ con­ver­sa­tions with Face­book, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter. The talks are tak­ing place as Face­book faces sev­er­al inves­ti­ga­tions over its ties to polit­i­cal ana­lyt­ics firm Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca, which accessed data on as many as 87 mil­lion Face­book users with­out their con­sent.

    One large U.S. bank pulled away from talks due to pri­va­cy con­cerns, some of the peo­ple said.

    Face­book has told banks that the addi­tion­al cus­tomer infor­ma­tion could be used to offer ser­vices that might entice users to spend more time on Mes­sen­ger, a per­son famil­iar with the dis­cus­sions said. The com­pa­ny is try­ing to deep­en user engage­ment: Investors shaved more than $120 bil­lion from its mar­ket val­ue in one day last month after it said its growth is start­ing to slow..

    Face­book said it wouldn’t use the bank data for ad-tar­get­ing pur­pos­es or share it with third par­ties.

    “We don’t use pur­chase data from banks or cred­it card com­pa­nies for ads,” said spokes­woman Elis­a­beth Diana. “We also don’t have spe­cial rela­tion­ships, part­ner­ships, or con­tracts with banks or cred­it-card com­pa­nies to use their cus­tomers’ pur­chase data for ads.”
    ...

    And this finan­cial trans­ac­tion data will, of course, include all sorts of geo­graph­ic data about a per­son because it’s going to include infor­ma­tion about where a pur­chase took place. But, again, this kind of data that would be invalu­able for serv­ing ads won’t be used for serv­ing ads:

    ...
    As part of the pro­posed deals, Face­book asked banks for infor­ma­tion about where its users are shop­ping with their deb­it and cred­it cards out­side of pur­chas­es they make using Face­book Mes­sen­ger, the peo­ple said. Mes­sen­ger has some 1.3 bil­lion month­ly active users, Chief Oper­at­ing Offi­cer Sheryl Sand­berg said on the company’s sec­ond-quar­ter earn­ings call last month.
    ...

    It also sounds like the banks are con­cerned about the scope of the infor­ma­tion Face­book is ask­ing for. Con­cerned enough that they’re will­ing to stay off of a plat­form used by so many of their cus­tomers:

    ...
    Face­book has tak­en a hard­er pub­lic line on pri­va­cy since the Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca uproar. A prod­uct pri­va­cy team has announced new fea­tures such as “clear his­to­ry,” which would allow users to pre­vent the ser­vice from col­lect­ing their off-Face­book brows­ing details. It also is mak­ing efforts to alert users to its pri­va­cy set­tings.

    That hasn’t assuaged con­cerns about Facebook’s pri­va­cy prac­tices. Bank exec­u­tives are wor­ried about the breadth of infor­ma­tion being sought, even if it means not being avail­able on cer­tain plat­forms that their cus­tomers use. Bank cus­tomers would need to opt-in to the pro­posed Face­book ser­vices, the com­pa­ny said in a state­ment Mon­day.

    JPMor­gan isn’t “shar­ing our cus­tomers’ off-plat­form trans­ac­tion data with these plat­forms, and have had to say no to some things as a result,” said spokes­woman Trish Wexler.
    ...

    And it’s not just Face­book. Google and Ama­zon are also try­ing to get their hands on this data (also, appar­ent­ly NOT for adver­tis­ing pur­pos­es but just to offer new ser­vices):

    ...
    Alpha­bet Inc.’s Google and Amazon.com Inc. also have asked banks to share data if they join with them, in order to pro­vide basic bank­ing ser­vices on appli­ca­tions such as Google Assis­tant and Alexa, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the con­ver­sa­tions.
    ...

    They just want the data for pro­vide basic bank­ing ser­vices on their appli­ca­tions. That’s all. Don’t wor­ry about this data get­ting throw­ing into the giant pools of data about you and used for ad serv­ing algo­rithms even though this data would be per­fect for that.

    So that going to be a sto­ry to watch: the sto­ry about the grow­ing attempts by Big Tech to watch your bank account and their laugh­ably implau­si­ble cov­er sto­ries for why they want to do that.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 7, 2018, 3:20 pm
  20. The New York Times has an inter­est­ing new report on Psy-Group. That’s Israeli-owned firm that offers Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca-style social media manip­u­la­tion cam­paigns that micro-tar­get indi­vid­u­als based on their psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­files. Recall how we already learned about a del­e­ga­tion of Sau­di and UAE rep­re­sen­ta­tives mak­ing a trip to Trump Tow­er in ear­ly August of 2016 to make a sales pitch to the Trump Team of using Psy-Group to help Trump win. The fol­low­ing report makes it clear that the Trump Team was get­ting sales pitch­es from Psy-Group months ear­li­er, start­ing in March of 2016, when Trump was still in a pri­ma­ry fight with Ted Cruz.

    The ini­tial ser­vices pitched to the Trump Team were as fol­lows:

    1. A Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca-style micro-tar­get­ing cam­paign focused on Repub­li­can del­e­gate. This would include social media and offline influ­ence oper­a­tions (like phone calls to del­e­gates)

    2. An oppo­si­tion research plan on Hillary Clin­ton and “com­ple­men­tary intel­li­gence activ­i­ties” about Clin­ton and peo­ple close to her.

    3. A Cam­brdi­ge Ana­lyt­i­ca-style micro-tar­get­ing social media oper­a­tion tar­get­ing bat­tle­ground states. In par­tic­u­lar, women, minori­ties, and unde­cid­ed vot­ers were be tar­get­ed using fake online per­sonas that would deliv­er mes­sages designed to exac­er­bate “rifts and rival­ries with­in the oppo­si­tion.”

    Also recall how we already learned that Psy-Group does­n’t just offer Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca-style social media manip­u­la­tion cam­paigns. It also offers ser­vices like set­ting up sex­u­al hon­ey-traps for the pur­pose of polit­i­cal black­mail and char­ac­ter assas­si­na­tion and ser­vices like nav­i­gat­ing the Dark Web to search for hacked doc­u­ments. And when a com­pa­ny offers to ‘look for hacked doc­u­ments on the Dark Web’, that would real­ly be seen as a cov­er for offer­ing ser­vices to out­right hack a tar­get.

    So back in March of 2016, which hap­pens to be the month when the hack of the DNC serv­er and John Podes­ta began (alleged­ly by ‘Fan­cy Bear’), we have Psy-Group mak­ing a pitch to the Trump team to offer the kinds of ser­vices that were even­tu­al­ly deployed.

    It sounds like the pitch­es by Psy-Group to the Trump team start­ed with George Birn­baum, a Repub­li­can con­sul­tant with close ties to cur­rent and for­mer Israeli gov­ern­ment offi­cials. Birn­baum was a pro­tégé of Arthur J. Finkel­stein, a leg­endary Repub­li­can polit­i­cal oper­a­tive, and helped Ben­jamin Netanyahu’s defeat Shi­mon Peres in 1996. Birn­baum approached Rick Gates in March of 2016. Gates and Man­afort had just joined to the Trump team and one of stat­ed rea­sons for bring­ing Man­afort on board was for the pur­pose of wran­gling Repub­li­can del­e­gates, which high­lights how Man­afort was seen as a per­son in very good stand­ing with­in the GOP at this point. Birn­baum was going to help Trump win that nom­i­na­tion.

    Recall that one of facts we pre­vi­ous­ly learned about Psy-Group was that George Nad­er, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Saud­is and the UAE, admit­ted that he was approach­ing the Trump Team on the behalf of the Saud­is and UAE start­ing in March of 2016 to offer­ing Trump their assis­tance soon after Trump appeared to have locked up the nom­i­na­tion. But as we’re learn­ing now, the ser­vices they were actu­al­ly offer­ing at that point was to help Trump lock up the nom­i­na­tion.

    Accord­ing to the report there’s no indi­ca­tion that the Trump team actu­al­ly took them up on their offers. But let’s keep in one of the biggest WTF moments of this sto­ry: we already learned that George Nad­er appar­ent­ly paid the own­er of Psy-Group $2 mil­lion after Trump’s elec­tion and the expla­na­tion they gave was that the $2 mil­lion was pay­ment for a very elab­o­rate sales pitch made to the Trump Team. Which was, of course, a bla­tant lie of some sort. And as we learn in the fol­low­ing arti­cle, the price tag Psy-Group had for the ser­vices they offered was around $3 mil­lion. So Psy-Group asked for $3 mil­lion and got paid by the Saud­is and UAE $2 mil­lion after the elec­tion. They were clear­ly paid from some sort of ser­vice and it clear­ly was­n’t just for an obscene­ly expen­sive sales pitch.

    In addi­tion, as the fol­low­ing arti­cle notes, one of the indi­vid­u­als involved with the wit­ness tam­per­ing that Paul Man­afort was charged over was, Eckart Sager, a polit­i­cal con­sul­tant who worked with both Rick Gates and George Birn­baum. It was Sager who gave Birn­baum the ini­tial con­tact infor­ma­tion of Rick Gates. So Paul Man­afort did­n’t sim­ply engage with wit­ness tam­per­ing over the ‘Hapb­s­burg Group’ episode, he was also try­ing to tam­per with wit­ness­es involved with this Psy-Group sto­ry.

    So there’s no indi­ca­tion that the Trump team hired Psy-Group’s ser­vices in the sense that it does­n’t appear that any­one involved is admit­ting to it. But there’s plen­ty of cir­cum­stan­tial evi­dence that indi­cates that the Psy-Group was indeed oper­at­ing in the US elec­tion, whether or not they were for­mal­ly hired by the Trump team. Don’t for­get, if George Nad­er paid Psy-Group $2 mil­lion, that strong­ly sug­gests it was the Saud­is and UAE who were doing the hir­ing instead of the Trump team:

    The New York Times

    Rick Gates Sought Online Manip­u­la­tion Plans From Israeli Intel­li­gence Firm for Trump Cam­paign

    By Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman, David D. Kirk­patrick and Mag­gie Haber­man

    Oct. 8, 2018

    WASHINGTON — A top Trump cam­paign offi­cial request­ed pro­pos­als in 2016 from an Israeli com­pa­ny to cre­ate fake online iden­ti­ties, to use social media manip­u­la­tion and to gath­er intel­li­gence to help defeat Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry race oppo­nents and Hillary Clin­ton, accord­ing to inter­views and copies of the pro­pos­als.

    The Trump campaign’s inter­est in the work began as Rus­sians were esca­lat­ing their effort to aid Don­ald J. Trump. Though the Israeli company’s pitch­es were nar­row­er than Moscow’s inter­fer­ence cam­paign and appear uncon­nect­ed, the doc­u­ments show that a senior Trump aide saw the promise of a dis­rup­tion effort to swing vot­ers in Mr. Trump’s favor.

    The cam­paign offi­cial, Rick Gates, sought one pro­pos­al to use bogus per­sonas to tar­get and sway 5,000 del­e­gates to the 2016 Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion by attack­ing Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz of Texas, Mr. Trump’s main oppo­nent at the time. Anoth­er pro­pos­al describes oppo­si­tion research and “com­ple­men­tary intel­li­gence activ­i­ties” about Mrs. Clin­ton and peo­ple close to her, accord­ing to copies of the pro­pos­als obtained by The New York Times and inter­views with four peo­ple involved in cre­at­ing the doc­u­ments.

    [see image of Psy-Group pitch]

    A third pro­pos­al by the com­pa­ny, Psy-Group, which is staffed by for­mer Israeli intel­li­gence oper­a­tives, sketched out a month­s­long plan to help Mr. Trump by using social media to help expose or ampli­fy divi­sion among rival cam­paigns and fac­tions. The pro­pos­als, part of what Psy-Group called “Project Rome,” used code names to iden­ti­fy the play­ers — Mr. Trump was “Lion” and Mrs. Clin­ton was “For­est.” Mr. Cruz, who Trump cam­paign offi­cials feared might lead a revolt over the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, was “Bear.”

    There is no evi­dence that the Trump cam­paign act­ed on the pro­pos­als, and Mr. Gates ulti­mate­ly was unin­ter­est­ed in Psy-Group’s work, a per­son with knowl­edge of the dis­cus­sions said, in part because oth­er cam­paign aides were devel­op­ing a social media strat­e­gy. Psy-Group’s own­er, Joel Zamel, did meet in August 2016 with Don­ald Trump Jr., Mr. Trump’s eldest son.

    Inves­ti­ga­tors work­ing for Robert S. Mueller III, the spe­cial coun­sel inves­ti­gat­ing Russia’s cam­paign to dis­rupt the 2016 elec­tion and whether any Trump asso­ciates con­spired, have obtained copies of the pro­pos­als and ques­tioned Psy-Group employ­ees, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with those inter­views.

    The scope of the social media cam­paigns, essen­tial­ly a broad effort to sow dis­in­for­ma­tion among Repub­li­can del­e­gates and gen­er­al elec­tion vot­ers, was more exten­sive than the work typ­i­cal­ly done by cam­paign oper­a­tives to spread the candidate’s mes­sage on dig­i­tal plat­forms. The pro­pos­al to gath­er infor­ma­tion about Mrs. Clin­ton and her aides has ele­ments of tra­di­tion­al oppo­si­tion research, but it also con­tains cryp­tic lan­guage that sug­gests using clan­des­tine means to build “intel­li­gence dossiers.”.

    [see image of Psy-Group pitch]

    Mr. Gates first heard about Psy-Group’s work dur­ing a March 2016 meet­ing at the Man­darin Ori­en­tal hotel along the Wash­ing­ton water­front with George Birn­baum, a Repub­li­can con­sul­tant with close ties to cur­rent and for­mer Israeli gov­ern­ment offi­cials. Mr. Gates had joined the Trump cam­paign days ear­li­er with Paul Man­afort, his long­time busi­ness part­ner, to try to pre­vent a revolt of Repub­li­can del­e­gates from Mr. Trump toward Mr. Cruz, who was the favored can­di­date among the party’s estab­lish­ment.

    Accord­ing to Mr. Birn­baum, Mr. Gates expressed inter­est dur­ing that meet­ing in using social media influ­ence and manip­u­la­tion as a cam­paign tool, most imme­di­ate­ly to try to sway Repub­li­can del­e­gates toward Mr. Trump.

    “He was inter­est­ed in find­ing the tech­nol­o­gy to achieve what they were look­ing for,” Mr. Birn­baum said in an inter­view. Through a lawyer, Mr. Gates declined to com­ment. A per­son famil­iar with Mr. Gates’s account of the meet­ing said that Mr. Birn­baum first raised the top­ic of hir­ing an out­side firm to con­duct the social media cam­paign.

    ...

    It is unclear whether the Project Rome pro­pos­als describe work that would vio­late laws reg­u­lat­ing for­eign par­tic­i­pa­tion in Amer­i­can elec­tions. Psy-Group hired Cov­ing­ton & Burl­ing, a Wash­ing­ton-based law firm, to con­duct a legal review. Stu­art Eizen­stat, a for­mer Amer­i­can diplo­mat and a part­ner at the firm who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the legal review, declined to com­ment on its con­clu­sions.

    Mr. Birn­baum was a pro­tégé of Arthur J. Finkel­stein, the leg­endary Repub­li­can polit­i­cal oper­a­tive, and has spent years as a con­sul­tant work­ing on behalf of can­di­dates in for­eign elec­tions. In 1996, he helped Mr. Finkel­stein engi­neer Ben­jamin Netanyahu’s vic­to­ry over Shi­mon Peres to become the prime min­is­ter of Israel.

    Since then, Mr. Birn­baum has worked exten­sive­ly as a cam­paign con­sul­tant for Israeli politi­cians and has devel­oped a net­work of con­tacts with cur­rent and for­mer Israeli secu­ri­ty offi­cials. He served as a for­eign pol­i­cy advis­er to the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Ben Car­son, the neu­ro­sur­geon who is now the sec­re­tary of hous­ing and urban devel­op­ment.

    Mr. Birn­baum appeared to ini­ti­ate the con­tact with Mr. Gates, ask­ing for his email address from Eckart Sager, a polit­i­cal con­sul­tant who had worked with both men, to pitch Mr. Gates on a tech­nol­o­gy that could be used by Mr. Gates’s and Mr. Manafort’s clients in East­ern Europe. Mr. Sager’s name emerged this year in a fil­ing by Mr. Mueller’s team, which claimed that Mr. Man­afort had tried to influ­ence Mr. Sager’s court tes­ti­mo­ny in the spe­cial counsel’s case against Mr. Man­afort.

    After the hotel meet­ing with Mr. Gates in March 2016, Mr. Birn­baum worked direct­ly with Psy-Group employ­ees to refine the pro­pos­als for the Trump cam­paign, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the work.

    The pro­pos­als all promise the utmost secre­cy, includ­ing the use of code names and pass­word-pro­tect­ed doc­u­ments. Filled with jar­gon and buzz­words, they sketch out a vig­or­ous cam­paign where Psy-Group employ­ees would con­duct the tedious work of cre­at­ing mes­sages that could influ­ence del­e­gates based on their per­son­al­i­ties.

    [see image of Psy-Group pitch]

    The first doc­u­ment, dat­ed April 2016, said that the com­pa­ny “was asked to pro­vide a pro­pos­al” for “cam­paign intel­li­gence and influ­ence ser­vices.” Psy-Group promised that “vet­er­an intel­li­gence offi­cers” would use var­i­ous meth­ods to assess the lean­ings of the rough­ly 5,000 del­e­gates to the Repub­li­can nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tion.

    After scour­ing social media accounts and all oth­er avail­able infor­ma­tion to com­pile a dossier on the psy­chol­o­gy of any per­suad­able del­e­gate, more than 40 Psy-Group employ­ees would use “authen­tic look­ing” fake online iden­ti­ties to bom­bard up to 2,500 tar­gets with spe­cial­ly tai­lored mes­sages meant to win them over to Mr. Trump.

    The mes­sages would describe Mr. Cruz’s “ulte­ri­or motives or hid­den plans,” or they would appear to come from for­mer Cruz sup­port­ers or from influ­en­tial indi­vid­u­als with the same back­ground or ide­ol­o­gy as a tar­get. The bar­rage of mes­sages would con­tin­ue for months and include “both online and offline” approach­es, even tele­phone calls.

    Psy-Group also said that it would obtain “unique intel” by dif­fer­ent means, includ­ing “covert sources” and “tai­lored avatars.”

    Each approach would “look authen­tic and not part of the paid cam­paign,” the pro­pos­al promised. The price tag for the work was more than $3 mil­lion. To car­ry out the plan, Psy-Group intend­ed to dou­ble its size, hir­ing an addi­tion­al 50 employ­ees — some of them Amer­i­can cit­i­zens — and rent­ing new office space, accord­ing to for­mer employ­ees of the com­pa­ny.

    A sec­ond pro­pos­al focused on gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion about Mrs. Clin­ton and 10 of her asso­ciates through pub­licly avail­able data as well as unspec­i­fied “com­ple­men­tary intel­li­gence activ­i­ties.” Psy-Group promised to pre­pare a com­pre­hen­sive dossier on each of the tar­gets, includ­ing “any action­able intel­li­gence.”

    A third doc­u­ment empha­sized “tai­lored third-par­ty mes­sag­ing” aimed at minor­i­ty, sub­ur­ban female and unde­cid­ed vot­ers in bat­tle­ground states. It promised to cre­ate and main­tain fake online per­sonas that would deliv­er mes­sages high­light­ing Mr. Trump’s mer­its and Mrs. Clinton’s weak­ness­es or reveal­ing “rifts and rival­ries with­in the oppo­si­tion.”

    [see image of Psy-Group pitch]

    Though it appears that Trump cam­paign offi­cials declined to accept any of the pro­pos­als, Mr. Zamel pitched the company’s ser­vices in at least gen­er­al terms dur­ing a meet­ing on Aug. 3, 2016, at Trump Tow­er with Don­ald Trump Jr. That meet­ing, revealed in May by The Times, was also attend­ed by George Nad­er, an emis­sary from the ruler of the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, and by Erik Prince, a Repub­li­can donor and the founder of the pri­vate secu­ri­ty com­pa­ny for­mer­ly known as Black­wa­ter.

    For­mer Psy-Group employ­ees said that, in antic­i­pa­tion of the Trump Tow­er meet­ing, Mr. Zamel asked them to pre­pare an updat­ed ver­sion of the third pro­pos­al. A lawyer for Mr. Zamel said that Mr. Zamel had not per­son­al­ly dis­cussed spe­cif­ic pro­pos­als with Don­ald Trump Jr. or any­one else from the Trump cam­paign.

    “Mr. Zamel nev­er pitched, or oth­er­wise dis­cussed, any of Psy-Group’s pro­pos­als relat­ing to the U.S. elec­tions with any­one relat­ed to the Trump cam­paign, includ­ing not with Don­ald Trump Jr., except for out­lin­ing the capa­bil­i­ties of some of his com­pa­nies in gen­er­al terms,” said the lawyer, Marc Mukasey.

    Mr. Nad­er and Mr. Zamel have giv­en dif­fer­ing accounts over whether Mr. Zamel ulti­mate­ly car­ried out the social media effort to help the Trump cam­paign and why Mr. Nad­er paid him $2 mil­lion after the elec­tion, accord­ing to peo­ple who have dis­cussed the mat­ter with the two men.

    The rea­son for the pay­ment has been of keen inter­est to Mr. Mueller, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter.

    It is unclear how and when the spe­cial counsel’s office began its inves­ti­ga­tion into Psy-Group’s work, but F.B.I. agents have spent hours inter­view­ing the firm’s employ­ees. This year, fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tors pre­sent­ed a court order to the Israel Police and the Israeli Min­istry of Jus­tice to con­fis­cate com­put­ers in Psy-Group’s for­mer offices in Petah Tik­va, east of Tel Aviv.

    The com­pa­ny is now in liq­ui­da­tion.

    ———-

    “Rick Gates Sought Online Manip­u­la­tion Plans From Israeli Intel­li­gence Firm for Trump Cam­paign” by Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman, David D. Kirk­patrick and Mag­gie Haber­man; The New York Times; 10/08/2018

    “A top Trump cam­paign offi­cial request­ed pro­pos­als in 2016 from an Israeli com­pa­ny to cre­ate fake online iden­ti­ties, to use social media manip­u­la­tion and to gath­er intel­li­gence to help defeat Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry race oppo­nents and Hillary Clin­ton, accord­ing to inter­views and copies of the pro­pos­als.”

    They mere­ly heard a sales pitch. That’s was all that hap­pened. That’s the spin that’s still being put on this sto­ry. But we’re learn­ing a lot more about the details of that sales pitch and wow does it all sound eeri­ly famil­iar: micro-tar­get­ing manip­u­la­tion ser­vices, oppo­si­tion research, and even “intel­li­gence activ­i­ties”:

    ...
    The cam­paign offi­cial, Rick Gates, sought one pro­pos­al to use bogus per­sonas to tar­get and sway 5,000 del­e­gates to the 2016 Repub­li­can Nation­al Con­ven­tion by attack­ing Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz of Texas, Mr. Trump’s main oppo­nent at the time. Anoth­er pro­pos­al describes oppo­si­tion research and “com­ple­men­tary intel­li­gence activ­i­ties” about Mrs. Clin­ton and peo­ple close to her, accord­ing to copies of the pro­pos­als obtained by The New York Times and inter­views with four peo­ple involved in cre­at­ing the doc­u­ments.

    [see image of Psy-Group pitch]

    A third pro­pos­al by the com­pa­ny, Psy-Group, which is staffed by for­mer Israeli intel­li­gence oper­a­tives, sketched out a month­s­long plan to help Mr. Trump by using social media to help expose or ampli­fy divi­sion among rival cam­paigns and fac­tions. The pro­pos­als, part of what Psy-Group called “Project Rome,” used code names to iden­ti­fy the play­ers — Mr. Trump was “Lion” and Mrs. Clin­ton was “For­est.” Mr. Cruz, who Trump cam­paign offi­cials feared might lead a revolt over the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, was “Bear.”

    ...

    The scope of the social media cam­paigns, essen­tial­ly a broad effort to sow dis­in­for­ma­tion among Repub­li­can del­e­gates and gen­er­al elec­tion vot­ers, was more exten­sive than the work typ­i­cal­ly done by cam­paign oper­a­tives to spread the candidate’s mes­sage on dig­i­tal plat­forms. The pro­pos­al to gath­er infor­ma­tion about Mrs. Clin­ton and her aides has ele­ments of tra­di­tion­al oppo­si­tion research, but it also con­tains cryp­tic lan­guage that sug­gests using clan­des­tine means to build “intel­li­gence dossiers.”.
    ...

    “The pro­pos­al to gath­er infor­ma­tion about Mrs. Clin­ton and her aides has ele­ments of tra­di­tion­al oppo­si­tion research, but it also con­tains cryp­tic lan­guage that sug­gests using clan­des­tine means to build “intel­li­gence dossiers.”

    Cryp­tic lan­guage about using clan­des­tine means to build “intel­li­gence dossiers” on Hillary. Hmmmm....might that involve the offer of “Dark Web” ser­vices to find hacked emails? And might those “Dark Web” offers be euphemisms for actu­al hack­ing oper­a­tions? Again, let’s not for­get that the sec­ond hack of the DNC serv­er, the ‘Fan­cy Bear’ hack that was filled with “I’m a Russ­ian hack­er!” clues left behind, hap­pened in March of 2016.

    Let’s also recall the report that some­one was pass­ing the FBI doc­u­ments in March of 2016 alleged­ly from Russ­ian intel­li­gence claim­ing that the Rus­sians had hacked the Democ­rats and it was dis­cov­ered that these doc­u­ments con­tained mis­in­for­ma­tion and it was sus­pect­ed by some that the doc­u­ments were intend­ed to con­fuse the FBI. So the same month that some­one hacked the DNC serv­er we also had some­one send­ing the FBI faked Russ­ian intel­li­gence doc­u­ments say­ing the Rus­sians had the hacked DNC doc­u­ments. That’s worth keep­ing in mind with this Psy-Group sto­ry because the forces behind Psy-Group (pre­sum­ably Saudi/UAE/Israeli forces) were clear­ly ready to go with their big dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign as of March 2016.

    It’s also inter­est­ing that the pitch was made to Rick Gates just days after he and Paul Man­afort joined the Trump Team. One of Man­afort’s spe­cial­ties was sup­posed to be get­ting del­e­gates. So we can say, unam­bigu­ous­ly at this point, that the forces behind Psy-Group were very will­ing to pick sides and get very involved in the GOP pri­ma­ry fight. Because while Trump was clear­ly in the lead in the GOP pri­maries as of March 2016, there was no guar­an­tee at that point that there would­n’t be a big pri­ma­ry fight:

    ...
    Mr. Gates first heard about Psy-Group’s work dur­ing a March 2016 meet­ing at the Man­darin Ori­en­tal hotel along the Wash­ing­ton water­front with George Birn­baum, a Repub­li­can con­sul­tant with close ties to cur­rent and for­mer Israeli gov­ern­ment offi­cials. Mr. Gates had joined the Trump cam­paign days ear­li­er with Paul Man­afort, his long­time busi­ness part­ner, to try to pre­vent a revolt of Repub­li­can del­e­gates from Mr. Trump toward Mr. Cruz, who was the favored can­di­date among the party’s estab­lish­ment.

    Accord­ing to Mr. Birn­baum, Mr. Gates expressed inter­est dur­ing that meet­ing in using social media influ­ence and manip­u­la­tion as a cam­paign tool, most imme­di­ate­ly to try to sway Repub­li­can del­e­gates toward Mr. Trump.

    “He was inter­est­ed in find­ing the tech­nol­o­gy to achieve what they were look­ing for,” Mr. Birn­baum said in an inter­view. Through a lawyer, Mr. Gates declined to com­ment. A per­son famil­iar with Mr. Gates’s account of the meet­ing said that Mr. Birn­baum first raised the top­ic of hir­ing an out­side firm to con­duct the social media cam­paign.
    ...

    Isn’t is kind of remark­able that we’re learn­ing about mul­ti­ple for­eign coun­tries get­ting involved in the GOP pri­ma­ry and there does­n’t appear to be any­one in the GOP upset or even bat­ting an eye in response to this. It rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not for­eign inter­fer­ence in US elec­tions is just assumed to be a giv­en by polit­i­cal oper­a­tives at this point.

    It’s inter­est­ing to note that the per­son act­ing on behalf of Psy-Group to make the con­tact with Rick Gates was George Birn­baum, him­self a long-time polit­i­cal GOP oper­a­tive and a pro­tege of leg­endary GOP oper­a­tive Arthur J. Finkel­stein. So maybe this is part of why no one cares about the for­eign inter­fer­ence: Amer­i­can polit­i­cal oper­a­tives rou­tine­ly work for for­eign clients, which makes those polit­i­cal oper­a­tives nat­ur­al con­duits for bring­ing for­eign influ­ence back to the US. So maybe the inter­na­tion­al nature of polit­i­cal con­sult­ing these days makes for­eign influ­ence the norm and no one wants to pub­licly admit it:

    ...
    It is unclear whether the Project Rome pro­pos­als describe work that would vio­late laws reg­u­lat­ing for­eign par­tic­i­pa­tion in Amer­i­can elec­tions. Psy-Group hired Cov­ing­ton & Burl­ing, a Wash­ing­ton-based law firm, to con­duct a legal review. Stu­art Eizen­stat, a for­mer Amer­i­can diplo­mat and a part­ner at the firm who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the legal review, declined to com­ment on its con­clu­sions.

    Mr. Birn­baum was a pro­tégé of Arthur J. Finkel­stein, the leg­endary Repub­li­can polit­i­cal oper­a­tive, and has spent years as a con­sul­tant work­ing on behalf of can­di­dates in for­eign elec­tions. In 1996, he helped Mr. Finkel­stein engi­neer Ben­jamin Netanyahu’s vic­to­ry over Shi­mon Peres to become the prime min­is­ter of Israel.

    Since then, Mr. Birn­baum has worked exten­sive­ly as a cam­paign con­sul­tant for Israeli politi­cians and has devel­oped a net­work of con­tacts with cur­rent and for­mer Israeli secu­ri­ty offi­cials. He served as a for­eign pol­i­cy advis­er to the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Ben Car­son, the neu­ro­sur­geon who is now the sec­re­tary of hous­ing and urban devel­op­ment.
    ...

    And here’s one of the points that sug­gests some­thing big is being cov­ered up here: the guy who put Birn­baum in touch with Gates, Eckart Sager, is one of the peo­ple Paul Man­afort ille­gal­ly reached out to an his attempts at wit­ness tam­per­ing. So Man­afort too a big risk — an got burned — try­ing to say some­thing to this guy:

    ...
    Mr. Birn­baum appeared to ini­ti­ate the con­tact with Mr. Gates, ask­ing for his email address from Eckart Sager, a polit­i­cal con­sul­tant who had worked with both men, to pitch Mr. Gates on a tech­nol­o­gy that could be used by Mr. Gates’s and Mr. Manafort’s clients in East­ern Europe. Mr. Sager’s name emerged this year in a fil­ing by Mr. Mueller’s team, which claimed that Mr. Man­afort had tried to influ­ence Mr. Sager’s court tes­ti­mo­ny in the spe­cial counsel’s case against Mr. Man­afort.
    ...

    And note how that intial March 2016 meet­ing appar­ent­ly result­ing in Birn­baum work­ing direct­ly with Psy-Group to refine that pro­pos­als. That sure sounds like the Trump team was recep­tive to the ini­tial pitch. And giv­en how will­ing the Trump team was to accept the help of for­eign agents (the June 9th 2016, Trump Tow­er meet­ing made that will­ing­ness abun­dant­ly clear) why would­n’t they be recep­tive to the pitch? Psy-Group was offer­ing some very sophis­ti­cat­ed ser­vices. And don’t for­get that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca was still work­ing for Ted Cruz at this point and did­n’t join the Trump Team until Steve Ban­non replaced Man­afort in August of 2016. So Psy-Group was offer­ing a very use­ful ser­vice that the Trump team may not have been able to get else­where at that point:

    ...
    After the hotel meet­ing with Mr. Gates in March 2016, Mr. Birn­baum worked direct­ly with Psy-Group employ­ees to refine the pro­pos­als for the Trump cam­paign, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the work.

    The pro­pos­als all promise the utmost secre­cy, includ­ing the use of code names and pass­word-pro­tect­ed doc­u­ments. Filled with jar­gon and buzz­words, they sketch out a vig­or­ous cam­paign where Psy-Group employ­ees would con­duct the tedious work of cre­at­ing mes­sages that could influ­ence del­e­gates based on their per­son­al­i­ties.

    [see image of Psy-Group pitch]

    The first doc­u­ment, dat­ed April 2016, said that the com­pa­ny “was asked to pro­vide a pro­pos­al” for “cam­paign intel­li­gence and influ­ence ser­vices.” Psy-Group promised that “vet­er­an intel­li­gence offi­cers” would use var­i­ous meth­ods to assess the lean­ings of the rough­ly 5,000 del­e­gates to the Repub­li­can nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tion.

    After scour­ing social media accounts and all oth­er avail­able infor­ma­tion to com­pile a dossier on the psy­chol­o­gy of any per­suad­able del­e­gate, more than 40 Psy-Group employ­ees would use “authen­tic look­ing” fake online iden­ti­ties to bom­bard up to 2,500 tar­gets with spe­cial­ly tai­lored mes­sages meant to win them over to Mr. Trump.

    The mes­sages would describe Mr. Cruz’s “ulte­ri­or motives or hid­den plans,” or they would appear to come from for­mer Cruz sup­port­ers or from influ­en­tial indi­vid­u­als with the same back­ground or ide­ol­o­gy as a tar­get. The bar­rage of mes­sages would con­tin­ue for months and include “both online and offline” approach­es, even tele­phone calls.
    ...

    And then there’s the Psy-Group pitch that it would obtain “unique intel” using “covert sources” to per­suade del­e­gates. Is that an offer of hack­ing ser­vices? Or send­ing in spies into rival orga­ni­za­tions?

    ...
    Psy-Group also said that it would obtain “unique intel” by dif­fer­ent means, includ­ing “covert sources” and “tai­lored avatars.”
    ...

    In all, the price tag Psy-Group was ask­ing for was more thant $3 mil­lion. This includ­ed the oppo­si­tion research on Hillary’s cam­paign that also includ­ed “com­ple­men­tary intel­li­gence activ­i­ties” and the cre­ation of com­pre­hen­sive dossiers on tar­gets that includ­ed “any action­able intel­li­gence”. That’s all quite vague sound­ing, which is kind of the point. They were offer­ing intel­li­gence ser­vices they did­n’t want to describe on paper:

    ...
    Each approach would “look authen­tic and not part of the paid cam­paign,” the pro­pos­al promised. The price tag for the work was more than $3 mil­lion. To car­ry out the plan, Psy-Group intend­ed to dou­ble its size, hir­ing an addi­tion­al 50 employ­ees — some of them Amer­i­can cit­i­zens — and rent­ing new office space, accord­ing to for­mer employ­ees of the com­pa­ny.

    A sec­ond pro­pos­al focused on gath­er­ing infor­ma­tion about Mrs. Clin­ton and 10 of her asso­ciates through pub­licly avail­able data as well as unspec­i­fied “com­ple­men­tary intel­li­gence activ­i­ties.” Psy-Group promised to pre­pare a com­pre­hen­sive dossier on each of the tar­gets, includ­ing “any action­able intel­li­gence.”
    ...

    And then there’s the offer of social media manip­u­la­tion ser­vices that would tar­get “minor­i­ty, sub­ur­ban female and unde­cid­ed vot­ers in bat­tle­ground states,” a strat­e­gy that Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca and the Trump dig­i­tal cam­paign aggres­sive­ly pur­sued, along with what appears to be a much small­er and large­ly incon­se­quen­tial sim­i­lar oper­a­tion run out of the Inter­net Research Agency in Rus­sia. Was Psy-Group also part of that mael­strom of manip­u­la­tion?

    ...
    A third doc­u­ment empha­sized “tai­lored third-par­ty mes­sag­ing” aimed at minor­i­ty, sub­ur­ban female and unde­cid­ed vot­ers in bat­tle­ground states. It promised to cre­ate and main­tain fake online per­sonas that would deliv­er mes­sages high­light­ing Mr. Trump’s mer­its and Mrs. Clinton’s weak­ness­es or reveal­ing “rifts and rival­ries with­in the oppo­si­tion.”

    [see image of Psy-Group pitch]
    ...

    So we have the ini­tial pitch in March of 2016, anoth­er pitch in April of 2016. And then, short­ly after the Repub­li­can con­ven­tion, we have the August 3, 2016, meet­ing with George Nad­er and Erik Prince offer­ing these ser­vices for the gen­er­al elec­tion. And don’t for­get that when this meet­ing was ini­tial­ly report­ed it was described as the Saud­is and UAE offer­ing to help Trump which implies that the peo­ple pay­ing Psy-Group would be the Saud­is and UAE:

    ...
    Though it appears that Trump cam­paign offi­cials declined to accept any of the pro­pos­als, Mr. Zamel pitched the company’s ser­vices in at least gen­er­al terms dur­ing a meet­ing on Aug. 3, 2016, at Trump Tow­er with Don­ald Trump Jr. That meet­ing, revealed in May by The Times, was also attend­ed by George Nad­er, an emis­sary from the ruler of the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, and by Erik Prince, a Repub­li­can donor and the founder of the pri­vate secu­ri­ty com­pa­ny for­mer­ly known as Black­wa­ter.

    For­mer Psy-Group employ­ees said that, in antic­i­pa­tion of the Trump Tow­er meet­ing, Mr. Zamel asked them to pre­pare an updat­ed ver­sion of the third pro­pos­al. A lawyer for Mr. Zamel said that Mr. Zamel had not per­son­al­ly dis­cussed spe­cif­ic pro­pos­als with Don­ald Trump Jr. or any­one else from the Trump cam­paign.

    “Mr. Zamel nev­er pitched, or oth­er­wise dis­cussed, any of Psy-Group’s pro­pos­als relat­ing to the U.S. elec­tions with any­one relat­ed to the Trump cam­paign, includ­ing not with Don­ald Trump Jr., except for out­lin­ing the capa­bil­i­ties of some of his com­pa­nies in gen­er­al terms,” said the lawyer, Marc Mukasey.
    ...

    And yet, we are told that there is no evi­dence that the Trump team act­ed on any of the pro­pos­als and Rick Gates was ulti­mate­ly unin­ter­est­ed in Psy-Group. We’re told that this lack of inter­est was in part because the Trump cam­paign was already work­ing on its own social media strat­e­gy:

    ...
    The Trump campaign’s inter­est in the work began as Rus­sians were esca­lat­ing their effort to aid Don­ald J. Trump. Though the Israeli company’s pitch­es were nar­row­er than Moscow’s inter­fer­ence cam­paign and appear uncon­nect­ed, the doc­u­ments show that a senior Trump aide saw the promise of a dis­rup­tion effort to swing vot­ers in Mr. Trump’s favor.

    ...

    There is no evi­dence that the Trump cam­paign act­ed on the pro­pos­als, and Mr. Gates ulti­mate­ly was unin­ter­est­ed in Psy-Group’s work, a per­son with knowl­edge of the dis­cus­sions said, in part because oth­er cam­paign aides were devel­op­ing a social media strat­e­gy. Psy-Group’s own­er, Joel Zamel, did meet in August 2016 with Don­ald Trump Jr., Mr. Trump’s eldest son.
    ...

    And yet, despite those claims that the Trump team did­n’t take the Psy-Group offer, there’s still the pesky fun fact that George Nad­er paid Psy-Group $2 mil­lion fol­low­ing the elec­tions. Also, both George Nad­er and Psy-Group chief Joel Zamel gave dif­fer­ent accounts on whether or not Psy-Group ulti­mate­ly car­ried out a social media manip­u­la­tion effort. So they are clear­ly lying about Psy-Group not doing any work for the Trump team:

    ...
    Mr. Nad­er and Mr. Zamel have giv­en dif­fer­ing accounts over whether Mr. Zamel ulti­mate­ly car­ried out the social media effort to help the Trump cam­paign and why Mr. Nad­er paid him $2 mil­lion after the elec­tion, accord­ing to peo­ple who have dis­cussed the mat­ter with the two men.

    The rea­son for the pay­ment has been of keen inter­est to Mr. Mueller, accord­ing to peo­ple famil­iar with the mat­ter.
    ...

    So we now know more about this Psy-Group effort. We know that Psy-Group want­ed to help Trump defeat Cruz in the pri­ma­ry and we know that George Birn­baum, a promi­nent GOP oper­a­tive, was the per­son work­ing on behalf of Psy-Group to get in touch with Trump team. We also know that this out­reach appar­ent­ly hap­pened just days after Man­afort and Gates joined the Trump team. And this all start­ed in March of 2016, the same month when the sec­ond hack of the DNC, the alleged ‘Fan­cy Bear’ hack, took place. Giv­en the grow­ing evi­dence of that a Saudi/UAE/Israeli team was clear­ly involved in the 2016 cam­paign and clear­ly will­ing to engage in all sorts of dig­i­tal dirty tricks that are cur­rent­ly blamed on the Rus­sians, we have to ask the ques­tion: so if a Saudi/UAE/Israeli team was indeed going to pull off a series of high-pro­file hacks that would cap­ti­vate the Amer­i­can audi­ence, who would they try to pin the blame on? Would they try to make it look like ran­dom hack­ers? Chi­nese hack­ers? Russ­ian hack­ers, per­haps?

    And giv­en that the same fig­ures behind this Psy-Group ini­tia­tives are the same peo­ple behind the whole ‘Sey­chelles meet­ing’ mys­tery, you also have to won­der if one of the top­ics of that Sey­chelles meet­ing was some­thing like “hey, sor­ry we total­ly framed you guys, but we’ll make it up to you...”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 9, 2018, 4:38 pm
  21. Here’s an inter­est­ing recent report on the Trump team’s work with Psy Group, the Israeli Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca-style dig­i­tal psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare firm that was pitched at the Trump cam­paign in 2016 by the Saud­is and UAE try­ing to help Trump win. Recall the rev­e­la­tion of a secret August 3, 2016, Trump Tow­er meet­ing involv­ing Erik Prince, George Nad­er, and Joel Zamel where they pitched the use of Psy Group and Wik­istrat to run a social media cam­paign and was all going to be backed by the crown princes of Sau­di Ara­bia and the UAE. And Psy Group was indeed paid $2 mil­lion by Nad­er after the 2016 elec­tions for mys­te­ri­ous rea­sons. And recall how we’ve since learned that the out­reach efforts start­ed back in March of 2016, with Rick Gates reach­ing out to Psy Group ini­tial­ly for assis­tance in Trump’s pri­ma­ry fight against Ted Cruz. In that report we learned that, while Joel Zamel remains adamant that Psy Group nev­er did any work for the Trump cam­paign but Nad­er gives a “dif­fer­ing account” from Zamel over whether or not work was ulti­mate­ly done.

    So accord­ing to the fol­low­ing arti­cle, in addi­tion to Gates’s out­reach to Psy Group, there were at least two oth­er indi­vid­u­als from the Trump cam­paign who reached out to Psy Group dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign. Both rep­re­sent­ed them­selves as part of Trump’s inner cir­cle. The iden­ti­ties of these Trump-asso­ci­at­ed indi­vid­u­als remains unknown, along with the sources for this report although it sounds like the sources are for­mer Psy Group employ­ees.

    And much like how Zamel and Nad­er pre­vi­ous­ly gave con­flict­ing accounts of whether or not Psy Group end­ed up doing work for the Trump cam­paign, sev­er­al of these for­mer Psy Group employ­ees claim the firm nev­er went foward with any plans to help the Trump cam­paign, but oth­ers dis­pute that claim:

    The Dai­ly Beast

    Team Trump Had Many Ties to Israeli Intel Firm in Mueller’s Crosshairs

    The com­pa­ny promised to use social-media manip­u­la­tion to get Trump elect­ed. And sev­er­al mem­bers of Trump’s inner cir­cle were very, very inter­est­ed.

    Erin Ban­co
    11.28.18 10:02 PM ET

    At least three mem­bers of Don­ald Trump’s 2016 cam­paign staff reached out to a social media manip­u­la­tion and intel­li­gence-gath­er­ing firm now under scruti­ny from Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller.

    The New York Times report­ed in Octo­ber that a senior Trump cam­paign offi­cial, Rick Gates, sought plans from Psy Group, a firm con­nect­ed to Israeli intel­li­gence, in the hopes the com­pa­ny could help Trump become the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee and beat Hillary Clin­ton.

    But The Dai­ly Beast has learned that the over­tures from Trump world to Psy Group in 2016 were more exten­sive than pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed. For­mer employ­ees said there were at least two oth­er indi­vid­u­als who reached out to the firm dur­ing the cam­paign. Both rep­re­sent­ed them­selves as mem­bers of Trump’s inner cir­cle, for­mer employ­ees said.

    The iden­ti­ties of those indi­vid­u­als are still unclear. For­mer employ­ees were reluc­tant to tell The Dai­ly Beast their names in fear they would face ret­ri­bu­tion from their col­leagues and addi­tion­al scruti­ny from the spe­cial counsel’s office.

    Mueller’s team has inter­viewed a host of employ­ees from Psy Group because of its con­nec­tion to the Trump camp—another sign that Mueller’s probe has expand­ed beyond Russ­ian inter­fer­ence in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Sev­er­al for­mer employ­ees said the firm nev­er went for­ward with its plan to help the cam­paign. Oth­ers dis­put­ed that claim.

    Psy Group’s own­er is Joel Zamel, an Aus­tralian who also owns the pri­vate intel­li­gence group Wik­istrat. The spe­cial counsel’s office inter­viewed Zamel sev­er­al months ago.

    The entre­pre­neur was deeply con­nect­ed to mem­bers of the Trump team both dur­ing the cam­paign and after the elec­tion. The Dai­ly Beast pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed that Zamel had led con­ver­sa­tions with Trump tran­si­tion offi­cials about his com­pa­ny help­ing assist oth­er Mid­dle East­ern play­ers, such as Sau­di Ara­bia, with regime change in Iran.

    Zamel pitched Psy Group’s ser­vices in a meet­ing in August 2016 which includ­ed for­mer Black­wa­ter founder Erik Prince, Don­ald Trump Jr., and George Nad­er, a Lebanese-Amer­i­can polit­i­cal oper­a­tive and emis­sary for the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates.

    ...

    ———-

    “Team Trump Had Many Ties to Israeli Intel Firm in Mueller’s Crosshairs” by Erin Ban­co; The Dai­ly Beast; 11/28/2018

    “But The Dai­ly Beast has learned that the over­tures from Trump world to Psy Group in 2016 were more exten­sive than pre­vi­ous­ly report­ed. For­mer employ­ees said there were at least two oth­er indi­vid­u­als who reached out to the firm dur­ing the cam­paign. Both rep­re­sent­ed them­selves as mem­bers of Trump’s inner cir­cle, for­mer employ­ees said.

    So we don’t know who these Trump inner cir­cle asso­ciates were or when exact­ly they reached out to the firm, but we are told it hap­pened by these anony­mous Psy Group employ­ees. Inter­est­ing­ly, the for­mer employ­ees com­ment­ing on the arti­cle did­n’t agree on whether or not Psy Group actu­al­ly did work for the cam­paign:

    ...
    The iden­ti­ties of those indi­vid­u­als are still unclear. For­mer employ­ees were reluc­tant to tell The Dai­ly Beast their names in fear they would face ret­ri­bu­tion from their col­leagues and addi­tion­al scruti­ny from the spe­cial counsel’s office.

    Mueller’s team has inter­viewed a host of employ­ees from Psy Group because of its con­nec­tion to the Trump camp—another sign that Mueller’s probe has expand­ed beyond Russ­ian inter­fer­ence in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Sev­er­al for­mer employ­ees said the firm nev­er went for­ward with its plan to help the cam­paign. Oth­ers dis­put­ed that claim.
    ...

    And that incon­sis­tent answer to the ques­tion of whether or not Psy Group did work for the Trump cam­paign rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not Psy Group’s work for the Trump cam­paign was so secret that even some of Psy Group’s own employ­ees did­n’t know it was hap­pen­ing. Is that pos­si­ble? Well, accord­ing to the fol­low­ing Dai­ly Beast arti­cle about Joel Zamel’s open-source intel­li­gence firm, Wik­istrat, it sounds like Zamel was run­ning Wik­istrat was staffed by a large num­ber of peo­ple from the intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty. It also has ties to some senior US intel­li­gence offi­cials like for­mer NSA/CIA direc­tor Michael Hay­den. Michael Fly­nn also report­ed­ly has close ties to Zamel and at one point Zamel was try­ing to recruit Fly­nn to the com­pa­ny. Recall how the ser­vices of both Psy Group and Wik­istrat were being offered to the Trump cam­paign as part of that August 3, 2016, Trump Tow­er pitch.

    And while Wik­istrat billed itself as being a “crowd­sourced” geopo­lit­i­cal analy­sis firm that relied on the insights from its broad array of hired experts work­ing togeth­er, insid­ers claim it was often effec­tive­ly being run as an intel­li­gence oper­a­tion that relied heav­i­ly on on-the-ground reports from its net­work of experts. In oth­er words, its main ser­vice was­n’t crowd­sourced analy­sis. It was crowd­sourced intel­li­gence. And the vast major­i­ty of its clients were for­eign gov­ern­ments.

    Not sur­pris­ing­ly, we also learn that Zamel ran Wik­istrat in a high­ly com­part­men­tal­ized man­ner, where even its exec­u­tives did­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly know what the com­pa­ny was work­ing on. So if Wik­istrat was run on it does­n’t seem like much of a stretch that Psy Group was also run in a high­ly com­part­men­tal­ized man­ner:

    The Dai­ly Beast

    Inside the Mys­te­ri­ous Intel­li­gence Firm Now in Mueller’s Sights

    Wik­istrat bills itself as a ‘crowd­sourced’ analy­sis agency based in Wash­ing­ton. But inter­views with cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees and doc­u­ments tell a very dif­fer­ent sto­ry.

    Ken Klip­pen­stein
    06.04.18 7:55 PM ET

    In the fall of 2016, Don­ald Trump Jr. and oth­er key aides to the future pres­i­dent report­ed­ly met in Trump Tow­er with Joel Zamel, the founder of a com­pa­ny called Wik­istrat.

    Wik­istrat bills itself as a “crowd­sourced” geopo­lit­i­cal analy­sis firm based in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. But inter­views with cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees and doc­u­ments reviewed by The Dai­ly Beast tell a dif­fer­ent sto­ry: that the vast major­i­ty of Wikistrat’s clients were for­eign gov­ern­ments; that Wik­istrat is, for all intents and pur­pos­es, an Israeli firm; and that the company’s work was not just lim­it­ed to analy­sis. It also engaged in intel­li­gence col­lec­tion.

    Robert Mueller’s office is inves­ti­gat­ing Wik­istrat and Zamel, accord­ing to The Wall Street Jour­nal, as the spe­cial counsel’s probe expands into Mid­dle East­ern gov­ern­ments’ attempts to influ­ence Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

    Pub­licly, Wik­istrat touts its crowd­sourc­ing inter­face it has described as “Wikipedia meets Face­book” to devel­op reports for clients. The doc­u­ments also high­light Wikistrat’s heavy reliance on “gamification”—applying game design fea­tures to encour­age user engagement—to solic­it infor­ma­tion from sources. For­mer Wik­istrat employ­ees say its founder viewed him­self as the Mark Zucker­berg of the nation­al-secu­ri­ty world.

    But despite the firm’s pur­port­ed com­mit­ment to “trans­par­ent, open-source method­olo­gies,” the doc­u­ments pro­vid­ed to The Dai­ly Beast show some­thing dif­fer­ent: that the com­pa­ny exploits “in coun­try… infor­mants” as sources.

    Wikistrat’s “About” page includes men­tion of “on-the-ground col­lec­tion.”

    And accord­ing to inter­nal Wik­istrat doc­u­ments marked “high­ly con­fi­den­tial and sen­si­tive mate­r­i­al,” 74 per­cent of the firm’s rev­enue came from clients that were for­eign gov­ern­ments.

    Although Wikistrat’s clients were over­whelm­ing­ly for­eign gov­ern­ments, the com­pa­ny boast­ed incred­i­ble access to top U.S. mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence offi­cials. The firm’s advi­so­ry coun­cil lists for­mer CIA and Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency direc­tor Michael Hay­den, for­mer nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er James L. Jones, for­mer deputy direc­tor of the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Elliott Abrams, and for­mer act­ing direc­tor of the Defense Intel­li­gence Agency David Shedd, among oth­ers.

    Per­haps it’s no sur­prise, then, that the company’s web­site is adorned with the insignias of U.S. mil­i­tary agen­cies and that it claims D.C. as its head­quar­ters.

    But exact­ly how much of a con­nec­tion these advis­ers have with the com­pa­ny isn’t total­ly clear. “I have always been infor­mal… but I sup­port the con­cept of their work (as my quote [on Wikistrat’s web­site] points out),” Hay­den told The Dai­ly Beast in an email. “There is no paper­work between us and I have nev­er been to a board meet­ing.”

    A for­mer senior ana­lyst for Wik­istrat, James Kadtke, described his expe­ri­ence with the com­pa­ny to The Dai­ly Beast. A physi­cist by train­ing, Kadtke worked as a defense and tech­nol­o­gy advis­er to Sen. John Warn­er from 2002-05 and as a senior fel­low at the Nation­al Defense Uni­ver­si­ty before join­ing Wik­istrat in 2016.

    When Kadtke first inter­viewed with a cou­ple of Wik­istrat exec­u­tives to dis­cuss work­ing for them, he said it became obvi­ous to him that there was more to this com­pa­ny than meets the eye.

    “It was clear to me that both of these guys had intel­li­gence back­grounds, intel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als, not aca­d­e­mics or ana­lysts,” Kadtke told The Dai­ly Beast. “They were using their experts for tac­it infor­ma­tion going on in var­i­ous parts of the world. I got the impres­sion they were doing things out­side of Wik­istrat. It seemed mys­te­ri­ous.”

    Work­ing for Wik­istrat didn’t seem to clear up Kadtke’s ques­tions. Kadtke said that, in ret­ro­spect, Wik­istrat appeared to be more about intel­li­gence col­lec­tion than any­thing else.

    Elad Schaf­fer, the Wik­istrat CEO who suc­ceed­ed Zamel this year, did not respond to a request for com­ment.

    Asked about Kadtke’s remarks about intel­li­gence col­lec­tion, one for­mer high-rank­ing employ­ee said, “Could he [Wikistrat’s founder] have done this? Yes, by all means,” adding that Wikistrat’s work “was not lim­it­ed to geopol­i­tics.”

    HUSH HUSH

    The doc­u­ments pro­vide rare insight into a com­pa­ny that Wik­istrat employ­ees repeat­ed­ly described as extra­or­di­nar­i­ly secre­tive.

    “Joel ran a very com­part­men­tal­ized orga­ni­za­tion,” one for­mer high-rank­ing staffer said.

    “I felt like I had no real vis­i­bil­i­ty into what the com­pa­ny was real­ly doing,” anoth­er for­mer senior employ­ee said.

    “He was very secre­tive, every­thing was high­ly com­part­men­tal­ized… It was clear that he kept the entire com­pa­ny in the dark. Even [com­pa­ny exec­u­tives] didn’t have the whole pic­ture,” a for­mer employ­ee said, adding that if some­one took a pho­to at a com­pa­ny gath­er­ing, Zamel would leave the room.

    “He nev­er allowed any­one to get near his phone, his lap­top, stuff like that.”

    Even in the inter­nal com­pa­ny doc­u­ments, which include a page about the company’s lead­er­ship, pho­tos of each of the exec­u­tives are included—except Zamel’s.

    “I sus­pect­ed he was involved in oth­er stuff sim­ply because a man with­out secrets doesn’t need to be secre­tive. If he had noth­ing to hide, he would’ve been much more open. I thought he was involved in oth­er oper­a­tions.”

    THE ISRAEL CONNECTION

    If Wik­istrat was engaged in intel­li­gence col­lec­tion, an obvi­ous ques­tion aris­es: For whom?

    Much of the report­ing so far has focused on Wikistrat’s rela­tion­ship with the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates. For instance, The New York Times recent­ly report­ed a secre­tive Trump Tow­er meet­ing three months before the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, between Don­ald Trump Jr., Zamel, and George Nad­er, an emis­sary for the UAE. The meet­ing drew com­par­i­son to the infa­mous Trump Tow­er meet­ing between Trump Jr., Jared Kush­n­er, Paul Man­afort, and a Russ­ian lawyer with ties to the Krem­lin.

    Zamel is report­ed to have pitched Trump Jr. on a social-media manip­u­la­tion strat­e­gy to help his father win the elec­tion. After Trump was elect­ed, Nad­er is said to have paid Zamel a large sum of money—as much as $2 mil­lion.

    In light of the scruti­ny of Zamel’s ties to the UAE, it’s nat­ur­al that news cov­er­age would focus on that coun­try. But Wik­istrat may, in fact, have stronger ties to Israel.

    Zamel is a cit­i­zen of Israel and master’s grad­u­ate of IDC Herzliya—a small, elite col­lege that’s often com­pared to U.S. Ivy League schools—where he stud­ied gov­ern­ment, diplo­ma­cy, and strat­e­gy, spe­cial­iz­ing in coun­tert­er­ror­ism and home­land secu­ri­ty.

    (The inter­nal doc­u­ments reviewed by The Dai­ly Beast con­firm that Zamel also owned the lion’s share—86 percent—of Wik­istrat, with the next biggest share­hold­er pos­sess­ing less than 6 per­cent of the com­pa­ny.)

    Though Wikistrat’s web­site lists its loca­tion as Wash­ing­ton, Kadtke said the com­pa­ny was run out of Israel the entire time he worked there.

    A for­mer Wik­istrat employ­ee con­firmed the com­pa­ny was run out of Tel Aviv, with the D.C. office only han­dling sales and busi­ness devel­op­ment, he said.

    “He knew a whole lot of peo­ple there [in Israel]. One of his con­nec­tions was the for­mer head of the [Israeli] intel­li­gence direc­torate, Amos Yadlin.”

    In fact, each of Wikistrat’s prin­ci­pals list­ed Tel Aviv as their address in a 2015 copy of Wikistrat’s Vir­ginia busi­ness license.

    For­mer employ­ees say that at the core of Wikistrat’s lead­er­ship were three Israelis: Daniel Green, the CTO, Elad Schaf­fer, for­mer­ly the COO and now the CEO, and Zamel, the founder and, until this year, its CEO.

    “Those peo­ple were very close, and it wasn’t just pro­fes­sion­al,” one for­mer employ­ee said.

    That for­mer employ­ee added, “I had an ini­tial con­ver­sa­tion with Joel where I said, ‘One of the issues you’re going to run into, if you want to be focused on [U.S.] gov­ern­ment work, you’re going to run into prob­lems every day because of the Israeli con­nec­tion.’ He said, ‘Well, why is that? They’re amaz­ing allies?’”

    “There were many con­ver­sa­tions inter­nal­ly [about this]... Israel is one of the top coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence con­cerns for the U.S.”

    One of the inter­nal doc­u­ments reviewed by The Dai­ly Beast lists a for­mer “major in [an] elite Israeli intel­li­gence-analy­sis unit,” Shay Her­shkovitz, as its chief secu­ri­ty offi­cer and direc­tor of ana­lyt­ic com­mu­ni­ty. That doc­u­ment also describes Schaf­fer as a for­mer “coun­tert­er­ror­ism offi­cer for Israeli intel­li­gence.”

    “Elad was involved in a very elite, select group of indi­vid­u­als per­form­ing a very impor­tant mis­sion… deal­ing with the height of the glob­al war on ter­ror­ism,” one for­mer employ­ee said. “He did some col­lab­o­ra­tive work with U.S. spe­cial-oper­a­tions coun­ter­parts who were work­ing in the Mid­dle East to deal with threats com­ing from al Qae­da.”

    “Elad kept a very low pro­file.”

    ...

    ‘FLYNN TOOK A REAL SHINING TO JOEL’

    Zamel appar­ent­ly want­ed for­mer nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er Michael Fly­nn to be a mem­ber of the firm’s advi­so­ry board; Zamel spoke with him about it on mul­ti­ple occa­sions around the time Fly­nn was form­ing his ill-fat­ed Fly­nn Intel Group, a for­mer high-rank­ing Wik­istrat employ­ee told The Dai­ly Beast.

    “Fly­nn took a real shin­ing to Joel,” the source said.

    Anoth­er for­mer Wik­istrat employ­ee appeared to con­firm Zamel’s links to Fly­nn, say­ing a mutu­al con­tact, Adam Lovinger, helped intro­duce Zamel to numer­ous Pen­ta­gon offi­cials. Lovinger, a Pen­ta­gon strate­gist and for­mer Trump NSC ana­lyst, had been named to the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil by Fly­nn and was report­ed­ly asso­ci­at­ed with Fly­nn Intel Group.

    Fly­nn Intel Group would lat­er be inves­ti­gat­ed by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller in con­nec­tion to a $530,000 pay­ment it received from a com­pa­ny owned by a Turk­ish busi­ness­man close to Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan.

    Lovinger told The Dai­ly Beast that he had intro­duced Zamel to Pen­ta­gon offi­cials after a Navy com­man­der brought him to the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assess­ment.

    “I know both Joel and Mike Fly­nn, but I don’t know the extent of their rela­tion­ship,” Lovinger added.

    Zamel had appar­ent­ly been intro­duced to Fly­nn by Bijan Kian, Fly­nn Intel Group’s for­mer vice chair­man of its board of direc­tors, accord­ing to one source. Kian had been a part­ner at Fly­nn Intel Group and served as point man on Flynn’s dis­cus­sions with Zamel.

    Nei­ther Fly­nn nor Kian respond­ed to requests for com­ment.

    “Joel Zamel has nev­er met Michael Fly­nn,” Zamel’s attor­ney, Marc Mukasey, told The Dai­ly Beast via tele­phone. Asked about Zamel’s rela­tion­ship with Kian, Mukasey hung up.

    How­ev­er, short­ly after this report’s pub­li­ca­tion, Mukasey con­firmed via email that Zamel had indeed com­mu­ni­cat­ed with Fly­nn. In an email to The Dai­ly Beast, Mukasey wrote: “Regard­ing Joel and Wik­istrat, your infor­ma­tion and your sta­tis­tics and your num­bers and your descrip­tions are flat-out wrong. You’ve been fed mis­in­for­ma­tion (like­ly by a dis­grun­tled ex-employ­ee) or you’re sim­ply mak­ing things up. By way of exam­ple, there was one—and only one—conversation with Fly­nn.”

    BUT WHY?

    The appeal of work­ing with a high-pro­file intel­li­gence offi­cer like Fly­nn is easy to see. What’s more opaque is why Zamel moved away from har­vest­ing “crowd­sourced” intel to mak­ing for­eign deals.

    The allure of quick and easy mon­ey from extrav­a­gant­ly wealthy Mid­dle East lead­er­ship fig­ures, cou­pled with an increas­ing­ly per­son­al rela­tion­ship with them, rep­re­sent­ed a “shiny object” that lured Zamel away from Wikistrat’s orig­i­nal mis­sion, a for­mer senior Wik­istrat employ­ee said.

    And although Zamel was rich, he might not have been wealthy enough to float Wik­istrat on his own.

    “It was nev­er clear to me how much Joel was actu­al­ly pay­ing out of pock­et to sub­si­dize the com­pa­ny vs. what was brought in,” anoth­er for­mer employ­ee said. “Clients paid decent­ly but not enough to sus­tain the com­pa­ny. So Joel was either sub­stan­tial­ly fund­ing the com­pa­ny or we were get­ting mon­ey from some­where else. That nat­u­ral­ly leads you to focus on non‑U.S. sources of income.”

    The doc­u­ments appear to cor­rob­o­rate this, show­ing that Wik­istrat had been los­ing large amounts of mon­ey. For exam­ple, an income state­ment sum­ma­ry shows Wikistrat’s income as -$603,000 in 2013, -$110,000 in 2014, and a pro­ject­ed -$773,000 for 2016.

    Kadtke said that, toward the end of 2017, Wikistrat’s ordi­nary oper­a­tions (i.e., war games and analy­sis) went “way down.”

    “Around the begin­ning of 2017, the three peo­ple I knew there left very abrupt­ly… The last study on the web­site was Jan­u­ary 2017 (they used to do a lot). They seemed to have ceased oper­a­tions,” Kadtke said. “It was very strange to me that they just sort of col­lapsed. It was prob­a­bly a three-month peri­od after which every­one I knew there left.”

    ———

    “Inside the Mys­te­ri­ous Intel­li­gence Firm Now in Mueller’s Sights” by Ken Klip­pen­stein; The Dai­ly Beast; 06/04/2018

    “Wik­istrat bills itself as a “crowd­sourced” geopo­lit­i­cal analy­sis firm based in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. But inter­views with cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees and doc­u­ments reviewed by The Dai­ly Beast tell a dif­fer­ent sto­ry: that the vast major­i­ty of Wikistrat’s clients were for­eign gov­ern­ments; that Wik­istrat is, for all intents and pur­pos­es, an Israeli firm; and that the company’s work was not just lim­it­ed to analy­sis. It also engaged in intel­li­gence col­lec­tion.”

    So Wik­istrat was, in real­i­ty, focused on pro­vid­ing the ser­vice of intel­li­gence col­lec­tion. And the vast major­i­ty of its clients were for­eign gov­ern­ments. That’s a pret­ty big diver­gence from the com­pa­ny’s stat­ed com­mit­ment to “trans­par­ent, open-source method­olo­gies”:

    ...
    Pub­licly, Wik­istrat touts its crowd­sourc­ing inter­face it has described as “Wikipedia meets Face­book” to devel­op reports for clients. The doc­u­ments also high­light Wikistrat’s heavy reliance on “gamification”—applying game design fea­tures to encour­age user engagement—to solic­it infor­ma­tion from sources. For­mer Wik­istrat employ­ees say its founder viewed him­self as the Mark Zucker­berg of the nation­al-secu­ri­ty world.

    But despite the firm’s pur­port­ed com­mit­ment to “trans­par­ent, open-source method­olo­gies,” the doc­u­ments pro­vid­ed to The Dai­ly Beast show some­thing dif­fer­ent: that the com­pa­ny exploits “in coun­try… infor­mants” as sources.

    Wikistrat’s “About” page includes men­tion of “on-the-ground col­lec­tion.”

    And accord­ing to inter­nal Wik­istrat doc­u­ments marked “high­ly con­fi­den­tial and sen­si­tive mate­r­i­al,” 74 per­cent of the firm’s rev­enue came from clients that were for­eign gov­ern­ments.
    ...

    And yet, despite Wik­istrat’s clients being over­whelm­ing­ly for­eign gov­ern­ments, the firm has remark­able ties to the US mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty:

    ...
    Although Wikistrat’s clients were over­whelm­ing­ly for­eign gov­ern­ments, the com­pa­ny boast­ed incred­i­ble access to top U.S. mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence offi­cials. The firm’s advi­so­ry coun­cil lists for­mer CIA and Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency direc­tor Michael Hay­den, for­mer nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er James L. Jones, for­mer deputy direc­tor of the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil Elliott Abrams, and for­mer act­ing direc­tor of the Defense Intel­li­gence Agency David Shedd, among oth­ers.

    Per­haps it’s no sur­prise, then, that the company’s web­site is adorned with the insignias of U.S. mil­i­tary agen­cies and that it claims D.C. as its head­quar­ters.

    But exact­ly how much of a con­nec­tion these advis­ers have with the com­pa­ny isn’t total­ly clear. “I have always been infor­mal… but I sup­port the con­cept of their work (as my quote [on Wikistrat’s web­site] points out),” Hay­den told The Dai­ly Beast in an email. “There is no paper­work between us and I have nev­er been to a board meet­ing.”

    A for­mer senior ana­lyst for Wik­istrat, James Kadtke, described his expe­ri­ence with the com­pa­ny to The Dai­ly Beast. A physi­cist by train­ing, Kadtke worked as a defense and tech­nol­o­gy advis­er to Sen. John Warn­er from 2002-05 and as a senior fel­low at the Nation­al Defense Uni­ver­si­ty before join­ing Wik­istrat in 2016.

    When Kadtke first inter­viewed with a cou­ple of Wik­istrat exec­u­tives to dis­cuss work­ing for them, he said it became obvi­ous to him that there was more to this com­pa­ny than meets the eye.

    “It was clear to me that both of these guys had intel­li­gence back­grounds, intel­li­gence pro­fes­sion­als, not aca­d­e­mics or ana­lysts,” Kadtke told The Dai­ly Beast. “They were using their experts for tac­it infor­ma­tion going on in var­i­ous parts of the world. I got the impres­sion they were doing things out­side of Wik­istrat. It seemed mys­te­ri­ous.”

    Work­ing for Wik­istrat didn’t seem to clear up Kadtke’s ques­tions. Kadtke said that, in ret­ro­spect, Wik­istrat appeared to be more about intel­li­gence col­lec­tion than any­thing else.

    Elad Schaf­fer, the Wik­istrat CEO who suc­ceed­ed Zamel this year, did not respond to a request for com­ment.

    Asked about Kadtke’s remarks about intel­li­gence col­lec­tion, one for­mer high-rank­ing employ­ee said, “Could he [Wikistrat’s founder] have done this? Yes, by all means,” adding that Wikistrat’s work “was not lim­it­ed to geopol­i­tics.”
    ...

    The firm also tried to hired Michael Fly­nn as one of its advi­sors, although Fly­n­n’s lawyer tried to down­play this. And note how Zamel was appar­ent­ly try­ing to recruit Fly­nn around the time Fly­nn was form­ing the Fly­nn Intel Group. Keep in mind that the Fly­nn Intel Group was ini­tial­ly formed in the fall of 2014, so it’s pos­si­ble Fly­n­n’s ties to Zamel go back to around that peri­od:

    ...
    ‘FLYNN TOOK A REAL SHINING TO JOEL’

    Zamel appar­ent­ly want­ed for­mer nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er Michael Fly­nn to be a mem­ber of the firm’s advi­so­ry board; Zamel spoke with him about it on mul­ti­ple occa­sions around the time Fly­nn was form­ing his ill-fat­ed Fly­nn Intel Group, a for­mer high-rank­ing Wik­istrat employ­ee told The Dai­ly Beast.

    “Fly­nn took a real shin­ing to Joel,” the source said.

    Anoth­er for­mer Wik­istrat employ­ee appeared to con­firm Zamel’s links to Fly­nn, say­ing a mutu­al con­tact, Adam Lovinger, helped intro­duce Zamel to numer­ous Pen­ta­gon offi­cials. Lovinger, a Pen­ta­gon strate­gist and for­mer Trump NSC ana­lyst, had been named to the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil by Fly­nn and was report­ed­ly asso­ci­at­ed with Fly­nn Intel Group.

    ...

    Lovinger told The Dai­ly Beast that he had intro­duced Zamel to Pen­ta­gon offi­cials after a Navy com­man­der brought him to the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assess­ment.

    “I know both Joel and Mike Fly­nn, but I don’t know the extent of their rela­tion­ship,” Lovinger added.

    Zamel had appar­ent­ly been intro­duced to Fly­nn by Bijan Kian, Fly­nn Intel Group’s for­mer vice chair­man of its board of direc­tors, accord­ing to one source. Kian had been a part­ner at Fly­nn Intel Group and served as point man on Flynn’s dis­cus­sions with Zamel.

    Nei­ther Fly­nn nor Kian respond­ed to requests for com­ment.

    “Joel Zamel has nev­er met Michael Fly­nn,” Zamel’s attor­ney, Marc Mukasey, told The Dai­ly Beast via tele­phone. Asked about Zamel’s rela­tion­ship with Kian, Mukasey hung up.

    How­ev­er, short­ly after this report’s pub­li­ca­tion, Mukasey con­firmed via email that Zamel had indeed com­mu­ni­cat­ed with Fly­nn. In an email to The Dai­ly Beast, Mukasey wrote: “Regard­ing Joel and Wik­istrat, your infor­ma­tion and your sta­tis­tics and your num­bers and your descrip­tions are flat-out wrong. You’ve been fed mis­in­for­ma­tion (like­ly by a dis­grun­tled ex-employ­ee) or you’re sim­ply mak­ing things up. By way of exam­ple, there was one—and only one—conversation with Fly­nn.”
    ...

    But despite run­ning what appears to be a pri­vate intel­li­gence col­lec­tion ser­vice for for­eign gov­ern­ments, it sounds like Wik­istrats still was­n’t mak­ing a prof­it, rais­ing the ques­tion of whether or not the com­pa­ny had a secret bene­fac­tor or of Zamel was pay­ing out of his own pock­et:

    ...
    BUT WHY?

    The appeal of work­ing with a high-pro­file intel­li­gence offi­cer like Fly­nn is easy to see. What’s more opaque is why Zamel moved away from har­vest­ing “crowd­sourced” intel to mak­ing for­eign deals.

    The allure of quick and easy mon­ey from extrav­a­gant­ly wealthy Mid­dle East lead­er­ship fig­ures, cou­pled with an increas­ing­ly per­son­al rela­tion­ship with them, rep­re­sent­ed a “shiny object” that lured Zamel away from Wikistrat’s orig­i­nal mis­sion, a for­mer senior Wik­istrat employ­ee said.

    And although Zamel was rich, he might not have been wealthy enough to float Wik­istrat on his own.

    “It was nev­er clear to me how much Joel was actu­al­ly pay­ing out of pock­et to sub­si­dize the com­pa­ny vs. what was brought in,” anoth­er for­mer employ­ee said. “Clients paid decent­ly but not enough to sus­tain the com­pa­ny. So Joel was either sub­stan­tial­ly fund­ing the com­pa­ny or we were get­ting mon­ey from some­where else. That nat­u­ral­ly leads you to focus on non‑U.S. sources of income.

    The doc­u­ments appear to cor­rob­o­rate this, show­ing that Wik­istrat had been los­ing large amounts of mon­ey. For exam­ple, an income state­ment sum­ma­ry shows Wikistrat’s income as -$603,000 in 2013, -$110,000 in 2014, and a pro­ject­ed -$773,000 for 2016.

    Kadtke said that, toward the end of 2017, Wikistrat’s ordi­nary oper­a­tions (i.e., war games and analy­sis) went “way down.”

    “Around the begin­ning of 2017, the three peo­ple I knew there left very abrupt­ly… The last study on the web­site was Jan­u­ary 2017 (they used to do a lot). They seemed to have ceased oper­a­tions,” Kadtke said. “It was very strange to me that they just sort of col­lapsed. It was prob­a­bly a three-month peri­od after which every­one I knew there left.”
    ...

    And that’s all par­ty of why it’s so intrigu­ing to learn that Wik­istrat was also run in a high­ly com­part­men­tal­ized man­ner, were even com­pa­ny exec­u­tives did­n’t have the whole pic­ture of what was going on:

    ...
    HUSH HUSH

    The doc­u­ments pro­vide rare insight into a com­pa­ny that Wik­istrat employ­ees repeat­ed­ly described as extra­or­di­nar­i­ly secre­tive.

    “Joel ran a very com­part­men­tal­ized orga­ni­za­tion,” one for­mer high-rank­ing staffer said.

    “I felt like I had no real vis­i­bil­i­ty into what the com­pa­ny was real­ly doing,” anoth­er for­mer senior employ­ee said.

    “He was very secre­tive, every­thing was high­ly com­part­men­tal­ized… It was clear that he kept the entire com­pa­ny in the dark. Even [com­pa­ny exec­u­tives] didn’t have the whole pic­ture,” a for­mer employ­ee said, adding that if some­one took a pho­to at a com­pa­ny gath­er­ing, Zamel would leave the room.

    “He nev­er allowed any­one to get near his phone, his lap­top, stuff like that.”

    Even in the inter­nal com­pa­ny doc­u­ments, which include a page about the company’s lead­er­ship, pho­tos of each of the exec­u­tives are included—except Zamel’s.

    “I sus­pect­ed he was involved in oth­er stuff sim­ply because a man with­out secrets doesn’t need to be secre­tive. If he had noth­ing to hide, he would’ve been much more open. I thought he was involved in oth­er oper­a­tions.”
    ...

    So, return­ing the ques­tion of whether or not Psy Group and Wik­istrat did any work for the Trump cam­paign and the con­flict­ing accounts from the var­i­ous Psy Group insid­ers, it’s worth keep­ing in mind the pos­si­bil­i­ty that if Psy Group and/or Wik­istrats was indeed work­ing for Trump’s cam­paign it was some high­ly com­part­men­tal­ized work that was being kept a secret from Psy Group’s and Wik­istrat’s own employ­ee. It was, after all, high­ly scan­dalous work involv­ing the inter­fer­ence in the US elec­tions on behalf of the crown princes of the UAE and Sau­di Ara­bia. That seems like the kind of work a com­pa­ny might want to hide from its own employ­ees.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 11, 2018, 4:01 pm
  22. The Dai­ly Beast has a new report point­ing towards Psy Group and Wik­istrat play­ing an active role in the 2016 US elec­tion on behalf of Sau­di Ara­bia and the UAE: First, recall the pre­vi­ous reports about how, con­trary to the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Wik­istrat as sim­ply a crowd-sourced think-tank, it was actu­al­ly run as a pri­vate intel­li­gence firm that relied heav­i­ly on on-the-ground intel­li­gence and oper­at­ed in a high­ly-com­part­men­tal­ized man­ner and had deep con­nec­tions to the US mil­i­tary and intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty, includ­ing Michael Fly­nn. Also recall how, while some Psy Group employ­ees assert that Psy Group nev­er end­ed up doing any work for the Trump cam­paign, oth­er Psy Group employ­ees say work was actu­al­ly done.

    So now we have this new report about how Wik­istrat was run­ning elec­tion inter­fer­ence sim­u­la­tions in 2015 that just hap­pened to be remark­ably sim­i­lar to the ‘Russ­ian’ inter­fer­ence in 2016. And this sim­u­la­tion was run days after Trump first announced in June of 2015. Accord­ing to five cur­rent and for­mer Wik­istrat employ­ees, the sim­u­la­tion project last­ed more than a week and includ­ed mul­ti­ple sce­nar­ios includ­ing includ­ing hack­ing groups tar­get­ing Amer­i­can polling sta­tions, Russ­ian trolls, sources of rev­enue for cyber-mer­ce­nar­ies, and hacked cor­po­rate records. So the Wik­istrat sim­u­la­tions of for­eign inter­fer­ence lit­er­al­ly involved hack­ing groups and Russ­ian trolls and this was done just days after Trump announced. Isn’t that inter­est­ing.

    It also turns out that the pro­pos­als that Psy Group made to the Trump cam­paign in ear­ly 2016 for elec­tion assis­tance just hap­pened to be remark­ably sim­i­lar to the inter­fer­ence sim­u­la­tions Wik­istrats was work­ing on months ear­li­er. The Wik­istrat sim­u­la­tions talked about for­eign gov­ern­ments hir­ing cyber-mer­ce­nar­ies to car­ry out social media trolling oper­a­tions designed to influ­ence elec­tion out­comes. And accord­ing to a for­mer senior Psy Group employ­ee, the lan­guage used in the Wik­istrat sim­u­la­tion mir­rored the lan­guage used in the pitch Psy Group even­tu­al­ly made to Rick Gates offer­ing Psy Group’s ser­vices to the Trump cam­paign in April of 2016 to help Trump win the GOP pri­ma­ry. “All jar­gon across all mate­ri­als is more or less the same,” accord­ing to this senior Psy Group employ­ee:

    The Dai­ly Beast

    Mueller Wit­ness’ Team Gamed Out Russ­ian Med­dling … in 2015
    One for­mer ana­lyst at the Wik­istrat con­sult­ing firm called it ‘dis­turb­ing.’

    Bet­sy Woodruff,
    Erin Ban­co
    01.30.19 5:05 AM ET

    Days after Don­ald Trump rode down an esca­la­tor at Trump Tow­er and announced he’d run for pres­i­dent, a lit­tle-known con­sult­ing firm with links to Israeli intel­li­gence start­ed gam­ing out how a for­eign gov­ern­ment could med­dle in the U.S. polit­i­cal process. Inter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions, which The Dai­ly Beast reviewed, show that the firm con­duct­ed an analy­sis of how illic­it efforts might shape Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Months lat­er, the Trump cam­paign reviewed a pitch from a com­pa­ny owned by that firm’s founder—a pitch to car­ry out sim­i­lar efforts.

    ...

    In April 2016, senior Trump cam­paign offi­cial Rick Gates reviewed a pitch pro­duced by a com­pa­ny called Psy Group, which Zamel report­ed­ly owns. The pitch laid out a three-pronged elec­tion influ­ence cam­paign that includ­ed cre­at­ing thou­sands of fake social media accounts to sup­port then-can­di­date Trump and dis­par­age his oppo­nents, accord­ing to The New York Times.

    After Trump became the party’s offi­cial nom­i­nee, Zamel met with Don­ald Trump Jr. and dis­cussed the plan, which echoed both the real elec­tion inter­fer­ence already under­way by the Krem­lin and the sce­nario Wik­istrat gamed out the year before.

    Zamel took part in at least two meet­ings in Wash­ing­ton in 2016 and 2017. And his staff at Psy Group made sev­er­al con­nec­tions about their social media manip­u­la­tion plan with indi­vid­u­als who rep­re­sent­ed them­selves as close to the Trump team.

    It’s unclear if the Psy Group plans ever went for­ward. Some for­mer employ­ees of the firm who pre­vi­ous­ly spoke to The Dai­ly Beast said Gates nev­er pur­sued the cam­paign. Oth­ers said part of the plan was car­ried out.

    To be clear, Wikistrat’s manip­u­la­tion sim was just one of hun­dreds the firm has con­duct­ed. And at the time, many firms in the pri­vate intel­li­gence sec­tor were look­ing for ways to explore the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the grow­ing threat of online pro­pa­gan­da and polit­i­cal inter­fer­ence.

    Marc Mukasey, a lawyer for Zamel and Wik­istrat, said the firm’s pre­dic­tions were the result of good work.

    “Wik­istrat has con­duct­ed hun­dreds of sim­u­la­tions with thou­sands of sce­nar­ios of the past few years,” he told The Dai­ly Beast. “They deal with a wide vari­ety of top­ics relat­ed to tech­nol­o­gy, cyber­se­cu­ri­ty, nation­al secu­ri­ty, eco­nom­ic issues. Wik­istrat and Psy Group are com­plete­ly sep­a­rate com­pa­nies. Any­thing Wik­istrat suc­cess­ful­ly pre­dict­ed was pure­ly a cred­it to the firm’s crowd­sourced pre­dic­tion capa­bil­i­ties and com­plete­ly unre­lat­ed to the non­sense reports or events to occur years lat­er.”

    But Peter Mari­no, one of the Wik­istrat ana­lysts who helped cre­ate the report in 2015, told The Dai­ly Beast that, look­ing back, he finds the firm’s pre­science quite strange.

    “At the time we were dis­cussing the sub­ject of cyber-inter­fer­ence in demo­c­ra­t­ic process­es, it seemed and felt like just anoth­er idle intel­lec­tu­al exer­cise and sce­nario plan­ning project for polit­i­cal sci­en­tists,” said Mari­no, who is cur­rent­ly pur­su­ing a PhD in Chi­nese pol­i­tics and his­to­ry. “But ret­ro­spec­tive­ly, it feels a bit too on-the-nose not to be dis­turb­ing.”

    Wik­istrat is essen­tial­ly a think tank for rent. The firm, which only has a few full-time employ­ees, con­tracts with for­eign pol­i­cy and nation­al secu­ri­ty experts to pro­duce reports for cor­po­rate and gov­ern­ment clients about spe­cif­ic geopo­lit­i­cal issues. The firm’s ana­lysts also some­times pro­duce reports that aren’t for clients, accord­ing to peo­ple close to the firm; the firm then dis­plays those reports on its web­site to demon­strate the qual­i­ty of its work, or mar­kets them to poten­tial buy­ers.

    The report The Dai­ly Beast reviewed includes sev­er­al dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tion threads, like a high-end ver­sion of Red­dit. It was titled “The Rise of the Cyber Mer­ce­nary.”

    In a dis­cus­sion of how a hos­tile for­eign gov­ern­ment could weaponize social media against an adver­sary, one Wik­istrat ana­lyst put it this way:

    “Cyber-mer­ce­nar­ies are main­ly hired by gov­ern­ments as online counter-infor­ma­tion and counter-counter-infor­ma­tion offi­cers. Dis­guised as ordi­nary cit­i­zens, these cyber-mer­ce­nar­ies are experts at sen­sa­tion­al­iz­ing and dis­tort­ing polit­i­cal issues in a man­ner that appeals to com­mon sense. Their objec­tives are not to con­vince explic­it­ly, but rather sub­con­scious­ly, by insert­ing a seed of doubt that leads to con­fu­sion and encour­ages fact-skep­ti­cism. Their ulti­mate tar­gets are for­eign gov­ern­ments, but their attacks are launched on proxy tar­gets, ordi­nary cit­i­zens, chiefly igno­rant, vul­ner­a­ble, and une­d­u­cat­ed pop­u­laces of a par­tic­u­lar nation-state.”

    The ana­lyst then not­ed that enti­ties like “Russia’s ‘Inter­net Research Group’”—likely a mis­nomer for the country’s Inter­net Research Agency, which Mueller indict­ed in Feb. 2018—already weaponize social media to shape their coun­tries’ domes­tic pol­i­tics.

    “As a for­eign pol­i­cy tool, mis­in­for­ma­tion can be used to spread fear, uncer­tain­ty and doubt among the pop­u­la­tion of antag­o­nist coun­tries, there­fore fur­ther­ing the instigator’s own agen­da,” the ana­lyst added. “Instead of direct gov­ern­ment involve­ment, using cyber-mer­ce­nar­ies to enact these oper­a­tions would cre­ate a degree of indi­rec­tion and a veneer of plau­si­ble deni­a­bil­i­ty that would make it hard­er to clear­ly sep­a­rate pro­pa­gan­da from facts.”

    Anoth­er ana­lyst then sound­ed off on what makes trolling effec­tive.

    “[T]hese ‘cyber-trolls’ are trained con­tro­ver­sial­ists: they open­ly engage in pub­lic controversy…People are drawn to the excite­ment of con­tro­ver­sy and these cyber-trolls are experts in sen­sa­tion­al­iz­ing a polit­i­cal issue. The objec­tive of cyber-trolls is not to con­vince explic­it­ly, but rather sub­con­scious­ly, by insert­ing a seed of doubt that leads to con­fu­sion and encour­ages fact-skep­ti­cism. They are not afraid to use provoca­tive and con­fronta­tion­al lan­guage, as it is to their advan­tage if it leads to an emo­tion­al rise in the read­er because the read­er is then more like­ly to engage in debate, which in-turn, cre­ates more buzz and attracts a greater audi­ence, increas­ing the poten­tial num­ber of peo­ple exposed to this mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign.”

    The analy­sis was writ­ten after the St. Peters­burg-based Inter­net Research Agency had begun its U.S. elec­tion inter­fer­ence cam­paign, but well before the Amer­i­can pub­lic knew about it. In the end the troll fac­to­ry con­trolled thou­sands of fake orga­ni­za­tions and per­sonas on Face­book, Twit­ter and Insta­gram, which it used to push out divi­sive rhetoric and fake news—overwhelmingly in sup­port of Don­ald Trump’s can­di­da­cy.

    In anoth­er dis­cus­sion thread that was part of the Cyber Mer­ce­nar­ies project, ana­lysts scru­ti­nized the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a hos­tile for­eign gov­ern­ment tar­get­ing the U.S. elec­tions.

    “The tar­gets for these attacks are either the Democ­rats or the Repub­li­cans,” an ana­lyst the­o­rized. “The coun­tries which sense that their [sic] is a diver­gence in their strate­gic objec­tives or for­eign pol­i­cy and there­fore har­bor a pref­er­ence for one par­ty or the oth­er.”

    “For­eign gov­ern­ments with a high stake in U.S. elec­tions might be will­ing to hire cyber-mer­ce­nar­ies to influ­ence elec­tion results,” the ana­lyst added.

    One ana­lyst then chimed in, point­ing out that “Ukraine and Rus­sia already have the sit­u­a­tion.”

    Anoth­er then replied, “I feel this has the poten­tial to be devel­oped into a more stan­dard­ised oper­a­tional pro­ce­dure.”

    One for­mer senior employ­ee of Psy Group said the lan­guage in the sim­u­la­tions echoed that of mate­ri­als the intel­li­gence firm draft­ed in a sim­i­lar time peri­od. At the time, Psy Group, Wik­istrat, and dozens of oth­er intel­li­gence com­pa­nies were look­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on elec­tion-relat­ed cyber­se­cu­ri­ty con­cerns. It was a bur­geon­ing mar­ket, the employ­ee said.

    “All jar­gon across all mate­ri­als is more or less the same,” the employ­ee said about Wik­istrat and Psy Group’s reports.

    The employ­ee spoke to The Dai­ly Beast anony­mous­ly because he was not autho­rized to speak pub­licly about Psy Group work, even though the com­pa­ny is now defunct. The FBI has ques­tioned employ­ees of Psy Group about its work dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion. Zamel, the own­er of the firm, has been ques­tioned by the Spe­cial Counsel’s Office.

    The Wik­istrat sim­u­la­tions, accord­ing to the for­mer Psy Group employ­ee, mir­ror mate­r­i­al in a pre­sen­ta­tion that Rick Gates sought from Psy Group in 2016. The pre­sen­ta­tion, detailed by The New York Times, shows how the firm would have used avatars to obtain intel­li­gence on Amer­i­can vot­ers.

    The Wik­istrat “Cyber Mer­ce­nary” project last­ed for more than a week and touched on mul­ti­ple sce­nar­ios includ­ing hack­ing groups tar­get­ing Amer­i­can polling sta­tions, Russ­ian trolls, sources of rev­enue for cyber-mer­ce­nar­ies, and hacked cor­po­rate records, accord­ing to five cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees who spoke to The Dai­ly Beast on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty because they were not autho­rized to speak pub­licly about inter­nal data. Four worked on the sim­u­la­tions.

    It’s unclear if the Wik­istrat sim­u­la­tions were con­duct­ed for a par­tic­u­lar client. Ana­lysts who spoke to The Dai­ly Beast said most of the projects they worked on were for gov­ern­ments or pri­vate com­pa­nies, though they didn’t learn their iden­ti­ties. That infor­ma­tion was held by a few full-time staff at the top of Wik­istrat, they said.

    “We nev­er heard from any­one at the top,” one for­mer employ­ee said. “Some­times we would get pump-up emails from Joel but that is about it.”

    Employ­ees said Wik­istrat was look­ing to expand its expert and ana­lyst base in 2015 but has since scaled back its oper­a­tions. Sev­er­al for­mer top ana­lysts have been laid off.

    A source who worked at Wik­istrat while the sim­u­la­tion was being con­duct­ed told The Dai­ly Beast that, in ret­ro­spect, it’s wor­ri­some. He point­ed to Zamel’s report­ed work with George Nad­er, a Lebanese-Amer­i­can emis­sary for the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates and Sau­di Ara­bia, who is coop­er­at­ing with Mueller’s inves­ti­ga­tion of the 2016 elec­tion. Nad­er attend­ed the Sey­chelles meet­ing where Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire Erik Prince and the head of a Russ­ian sov­er­eign wealth fund report­ed­ly dis­cussed set­ting up a back-chan­nel between their two gov­ern­ments.

    “The prob­lem is when you com­bine that with the fact of all the oth­er alle­ga­tions against Mr. Zamel, includ­ing the alle­ga­tions that he received pay­ment from George Nad­er, that Psy Group was alleged­ly involved with a social media manip­u­la­tion cam­paign first dur­ing the pri­ma­ry and then dur­ing the general—you com­bine all of that with the fact that at anoth­er com­pa­ny he owns, Wik­istrat, his ana­lysts came up with a sce­nario that’s eeri­ly sim­i­lar to what wound up hap­pen­ing,” that per­son said. “It’s cir­cum­stan­tial, cer­tain­ly, but it is very con­cern­ing.”

    ———-

    “Mueller Wit­ness’ Team Gamed Out Russ­ian Med­dling … in 2015” by Bet­sy Woodruff, Erin Ban­co; The Dai­ly Beast; 01/30/2019

    Days after Don­ald Trump rode down an esca­la­tor at Trump Tow­er and announced he’d run for pres­i­dent, a lit­tle-known con­sult­ing firm with links to Israeli intel­li­gence start­ed gam­ing out how a for­eign gov­ern­ment could med­dle in the U.S. polit­i­cal process. Inter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions, which The Dai­ly Beast reviewed, show that the firm con­duct­ed an analy­sis of how illic­it efforts might shape Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Months lat­er, the Trump cam­paign reviewed a pitch from a com­pa­ny owned by that firm’s founder—a pitch to car­ry out sim­i­lar efforts.

    Yep, just days after Trump announced his can­di­da­cy, this remark­ably pre­scient sim­u­la­tion is run by Wik­istrat that basi­cal­ly pre­dicts what hap­pened. It’s quite a coin­ci­dence!

    And don’t for­get that we now know of two points in 2016 when Psy Group was mak­ing pitch­es to the Trump cam­paign for exact­ly these kinds of online tar­get­ed manip­u­la­tion ser­vices: In April of 2016 when Trump was still in the pri­maries and in August of 2016 when Joel Zamel him­self met with the Trump team in Trump Tow­er and informed them that the Crown princes of Sau­di Ara­bia and the UAE want­ed to help him win. So Psy Group was clear­ly very inter­est­ed in offer­ing these ser­vices to the Trump team and very inter­est­ed in help­ing a Repub­li­can win:

    ...
    In April 2016, senior Trump cam­paign offi­cial Rick Gates reviewed a pitch pro­duced by a com­pa­ny called Psy Group, which Zamel report­ed­ly owns. The pitch laid out a three-pronged elec­tion influ­ence cam­paign that includ­ed cre­at­ing thou­sands of fake social media accounts to sup­port then-can­di­date Trump and dis­par­age his oppo­nents, accord­ing to The New York Times.

    ...

    Zamel took part in at least two meet­ings in Wash­ing­ton in 2016 and 2017. And his staff at Psy Group made sev­er­al con­nec­tions about their social media manip­u­la­tion plan with indi­vid­u­als who rep­re­sent­ed them­selves as close to the Trump team.

    It’s unclear if the Psy Group plans ever went for­ward. Some for­mer employ­ees of the firm who pre­vi­ous­ly spoke to The Dai­ly Beast said Gates nev­er pur­sued the cam­paign. Oth­ers said part of the plan was car­ried out.
    ...

    It’s also inter­est­ing to note that the title of the Wik­istrat report was “The Rise of the Cyber Mer­ce­nary.” Because there’s hard­ly a bet­ter way to describe an enti­ty like Psy Group than “Cyber Mer­ce­nary”. That’s lit­er­al­ly what they do:

    ...
    Wik­istrat is essen­tial­ly a think tank for rent. The firm, which only has a few full-time employ­ees, con­tracts with for­eign pol­i­cy and nation­al secu­ri­ty experts to pro­duce reports for cor­po­rate and gov­ern­ment clients about spe­cif­ic geopo­lit­i­cal issues. The firm’s ana­lysts also some­times pro­duce reports that aren’t for clients, accord­ing to peo­ple close to the firm; the firm then dis­plays those reports on its web­site to demon­strate the qual­i­ty of its work, or mar­kets them to poten­tial buy­ers.

    The report The Dai­ly Beast reviewed includes sev­er­al dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tion threads, like a high-end ver­sion of Red­dit. It was titled “The Rise of the Cyber Mer­ce­nary.”

    In a dis­cus­sion of how a hos­tile for­eign gov­ern­ment could weaponize social media against an adver­sary, one Wik­istrat ana­lyst put it this way:

    “Cyber-mer­ce­nar­ies are main­ly hired by gov­ern­ments as online counter-infor­ma­tion and counter-counter-infor­ma­tion offi­cers. Dis­guised as ordi­nary cit­i­zens, these cyber-mer­ce­nar­ies are experts at sen­sa­tion­al­iz­ing and dis­tort­ing polit­i­cal issues in a man­ner that appeals to com­mon sense. Their objec­tives are not to con­vince explic­it­ly, but rather sub­con­scious­ly, by insert­ing a seed of doubt that leads to con­fu­sion and encour­ages fact-skep­ti­cism. Their ulti­mate tar­gets are for­eign gov­ern­ments, but their attacks are launched on proxy tar­gets, ordi­nary cit­i­zens, chiefly igno­rant, vul­ner­a­ble, and une­d­u­cat­ed pop­u­laces of a par­tic­u­lar nation-state.”

    The ana­lyst then not­ed that enti­ties like “Russia’s ‘Inter­net Research Group’”—likely a mis­nomer for the country’s Inter­net Research Agency, which Mueller indict­ed in Feb. 2018—already weaponize social media to shape their coun­tries’ domes­tic pol­i­tics.

    “As a for­eign pol­i­cy tool, mis­in­for­ma­tion can be used to spread fear, uncer­tain­ty and doubt among the pop­u­la­tion of antag­o­nist coun­tries, there­fore fur­ther­ing the instigator’s own agen­da,” the ana­lyst added. “Instead of direct gov­ern­ment involve­ment, using cyber-mer­ce­nar­ies to enact these oper­a­tions would cre­ate a degree of indi­rec­tion and a veneer of plau­si­ble deni­a­bil­i­ty that would make it hard­er to clear­ly sep­a­rate pro­pa­gan­da from facts.”

    Anoth­er ana­lyst then sound­ed off on what makes trolling effec­tive.

    “[T]hese ‘cyber-trolls’ are trained con­tro­ver­sial­ists: they open­ly engage in pub­lic controversy…People are drawn to the excite­ment of con­tro­ver­sy and these cyber-trolls are experts in sen­sa­tion­al­iz­ing a polit­i­cal issue. The objec­tive of cyber-trolls is not to con­vince explic­it­ly, but rather sub­con­scious­ly, by insert­ing a seed of doubt that leads to con­fu­sion and encour­ages fact-skep­ti­cism. They are not afraid to use provoca­tive and con­fronta­tion­al lan­guage, as it is to their advan­tage if it leads to an emo­tion­al rise in the read­er because the read­er is then more like­ly to engage in debate, which in-turn, cre­ates more buzz and attracts a greater audi­ence, increas­ing the poten­tial num­ber of peo­ple exposed to this mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign.”

    The analy­sis was writ­ten after the St. Peters­burg-based Inter­net Research Agency had begun its U.S. elec­tion inter­fer­ence cam­paign, but well before the Amer­i­can pub­lic knew about it. In the end the troll fac­to­ry con­trolled thou­sands of fake orga­ni­za­tions and per­sonas on Face­book, Twit­ter and Insta­gram, which it used to push out divi­sive rhetoric and fake news—overwhelmingly in sup­port of Don­ald Trump’s can­di­da­cy.

    ...

    The Wik­istrat “Cyber Mer­ce­nary” project last­ed for more than a week and touched on mul­ti­ple sce­nar­ios includ­ing hack­ing groups tar­get­ing Amer­i­can polling sta­tions, Russ­ian trolls, sources of rev­enue for cyber-mer­ce­nar­ies, and hacked cor­po­rate records, accord­ing to five cur­rent and for­mer employ­ees who spoke to The Dai­ly Beast on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty because they were not autho­rized to speak pub­licly about inter­nal data. Four worked on the sim­u­la­tions.
    ...

    And recall that, when you read about how this Wik­istrat sim­u­la­tion was done after the Inter­net Research Agency had begun its US elec­tion inter­fer­ence cam­paign, that’s actu­al­ly a reflec­tion of the fact that the Inter­net Research Agen­cy’s alleged US elec­tion inter­fer­ence cam­paign did­n’t actu­al­ly appear to be very sophis­ti­cat­ed or even focused on the US elec­tion based on what we know about their Face­book ad pur­chas­es and looks more like a for-prof­it click-bait oper­a­tion, with almost half of their ads tak­ing place after the 2016 elec­tion. But the fact that the Inter­net Research Agency was rec­og­nized as one of the cyber-mer­ce­nary enti­ties already oper­at­ing at that point and the fact that the Wik­istrat analy­sis explic­it­ly sim­u­lat­ed “Russ­ian trolls” high­lights how spoof­ing a cyber-cam­paign to make it look like it was being done by the Krem­lin would have been some­thing very much on the mind of Wik­istrat and Psy­Group.

    But the fact that makes this Wik­istrat sim­u­la­tion in 2015 so con­spic­u­ous is that Psy Group’s pitch to the Trump cam­paign in April of 2016 mir­rored the Wik­istrat report:

    ...
    In anoth­er dis­cus­sion thread that was part of the Cyber Mer­ce­nar­ies project, ana­lysts scru­ti­nized the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a hos­tile for­eign gov­ern­ment tar­get­ing the U.S. elec­tions.

    “The tar­gets for these attacks are either the Democ­rats or the Repub­li­cans,” an ana­lyst the­o­rized. “The coun­tries which sense that their [sic] is a diver­gence in their strate­gic objec­tives or for­eign pol­i­cy and there­fore har­bor a pref­er­ence for one par­ty or the oth­er.”

    “For­eign gov­ern­ments with a high stake in U.S. elec­tions might be will­ing to hire cyber-mer­ce­nar­ies to influ­ence elec­tion results,” the ana­lyst added.

    One ana­lyst then chimed in, point­ing out that “Ukraine and Rus­sia already have the sit­u­a­tion.”

    Anoth­er then replied, “I feel this has the poten­tial to be devel­oped into a more stan­dard­ised oper­a­tional pro­ce­dure.”

    One for­mer senior employ­ee of Psy Group said the lan­guage in the sim­u­la­tions echoed that of mate­ri­als the intel­li­gence firm draft­ed in a sim­i­lar time peri­od. At the time, Psy Group, Wik­istrat, and dozens of oth­er intel­li­gence com­pa­nies were look­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on elec­tion-relat­ed cyber­se­cu­ri­ty con­cerns. It was a bur­geon­ing mar­ket, the employ­ee said.

    “All jar­gon across all mate­ri­als is more or less the same,” the employ­ee said about Wik­istrat and Psy Group’s reports.

    The employ­ee spoke to The Dai­ly Beast anony­mous­ly because he was not autho­rized to speak pub­licly about Psy Group work, even though the com­pa­ny is now defunct. The FBI has ques­tioned employ­ees of Psy Group about its work dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion. Zamel, the own­er of the firm, has been ques­tioned by the Spe­cial Counsel’s Office.

    The Wik­istrat sim­u­la­tions, accord­ing to the for­mer Psy Group employ­ee, mir­ror mate­r­i­al in a pre­sen­ta­tion that Rick Gates sought from Psy Group in 2016. The pre­sen­ta­tion, detailed by The New York Times, shows how the firm would have used avatars to obtain intel­li­gence on Amer­i­can vot­ers.
    ...

    It’s also note­wor­thy that the ana­lysts who worked on this sim­u­la­tion appar­ent­ly did­n’t know if this was being done for a par­tic­u­lar client because they did­n’t know if most of their projects were for a client of not. Only a few full-time staff at the top of Wik­istrat knew which projects were for clients and who those clients were, under­scor­ing the high­ly com­part­men­tal­ized nature of the com­pa­ny. It also under­scores why a num­ber of these employ­ees are now com­ing for­ward: they had no idea at the time their work would be used for what tran­spired and are prob­a­bly feel­ing some degree of regret:

    ...
    It’s unclear if the Wik­istrat sim­u­la­tions were con­duct­ed for a par­tic­u­lar client. Ana­lysts who spoke to The Dai­ly Beast said most of the projects they worked on were for gov­ern­ments or pri­vate com­pa­nies, though they didn’t learn their iden­ti­ties. That infor­ma­tion was held by a few full-time staff at the top of Wik­istrat, they said.

    “We nev­er heard from any­one at the top,” one for­mer employ­ee said. “Some­times we would get pump-up emails from Joel but that is about it.”
    ...

    Final­ly, it’s worth not­ing a key point the arti­cle makes: that Wik­istrat and Psy Group are mere­ly two enti­ties in a much larg­er uni­verse of pri­vate intel­li­gence firms that were ‘explore’ the grow­ing threat of online pro­pa­gan­da and polit­i­cal inter­fer­ence. And as the Wikistrat/Psy Group expe­ri­ence makes clear, those firms that ‘explore’ the grow­ing threat of online pro­pa­gan­da just might offer those ser­vices too. So while there should be intense inter­est in what Wikistrat/Psy Group did in the 2016 cam­paign, we should­n’t assume they were the only actors in this area:

    ...
    To be clear, Wikistrat’s manip­u­la­tion sim was just one of hun­dreds the firm has con­duct­ed. And at the time, many firms in the pri­vate intel­li­gence sec­tor were look­ing for ways to explore the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the grow­ing threat of online pro­pa­gan­da and polit­i­cal inter­fer­ence.
    ...

    So that’s the lat­est rev­e­la­tion about the whole Psy Group/Wikistrat chap­ter of this sto­ry. But keep in mind the ties Wik­istrat has to the US intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty and how that poten­tial­ly relates to the tim­ing of this and the strange ‘I’m a Russ­ian hack­er’ nature of the 2016 ‘Fan­cy Bear’ hack of the Democ­rats: The first hack of the DNC serv­er appears to have tak­en place around May of 2015 and the US intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty was aware of this. But the FBI report­ed­ly was­n’t informed about this hack by the NSA until Sep­tem­ber 2015, lead­ing to the bizarre six month peri­od when the FBI was appar­ent­ly try­ing to inform the DNC that it was hacked but to no avail. And now we learn that Wik­istrat start­ed this sim­u­la­tion just days after Trump announced his can­di­da­cy in June of 2015 and these sim­u­la­tions involved Russ­ian trolls and inter­fer­ence by a hos­tile for­eign pow­er. So giv­en the Wik­istrat con­nec­tions to the US intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty (Michael Hay­den sits on its advi­so­ry board), we have to won­der if Wik­istrat was already aware of the ini­tial 2015 DNC hack by the time these sim­u­la­tions were car­ried out. Because if Wik­istrat knew about that 2015 DNC hack, that would make plans for a big 2016 for­eign inter­fer­ence cam­paign with bla­tant ‘Russ­ian fin­ger­prints’ all over it a much more tempt­ing sce­nario for an enti­ty like Psy Group and its Saudi/UAE clients.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 31, 2019, 12:40 pm
  23. There’s been a lot of sud­den new inter­est in secret rela­tion­ships between the Trump team and Ukraine fol­low­ing the CIA whistle­blow­er who filed a com­plaint over Pres­i­dent Trump secret­ly pres­sur­ing the new­ly elect­ed pres­i­dent of Ukraine — Volody­mur Zelen­sky — into car­ry­ing out inves­ti­ga­tions relat­ed to events in 2016 that hap­pen to be high­ly polit­i­cal­ly con­ve­nient for Trump in 2020. Inves­ti­ga­tions with par­tic­u­lar con­clu­sions Ukraine knows Trump would appre­ci­ate. Polit­i­cal­ly con­ve­nient inves­ti­ga­tions like the Joe Biden/Burisma fias­co. Or whether or not Ukraine’s gov­ern­ment played a played in the con­clu­sion of the US gov­ern­ment that Rus­sia was behind the hacks of the Democ­rats and incrim­i­nat­ing evi­dence against Paul Man­afort.

    So it’s worth not­ing anoth­er sto­ry about inter­fer­ence in US pol­i­tics that also appears to be ema­nat­ing out of Ukraine with pos­si­ble impli­ca­tions in 2020 and, per­haps, 2016: Ear­li­er this week, ThinkProgress founder Judd Legum pub­lished a piece in his “Pop­u­lar Infor­ma­tion” polit­i­cal newslet­ter on a mas­sive pro-Trump Face­book pro­pa­gan­da oper­a­tion work­ing out of Ukraine.

    This isn’t the first sto­ry about a mas­sive for­eign Face­book oper­a­tion pump­ing out pro-Trump pro­pa­gan­da. Recall the recent sto­ry about how the media com­plex close­ly behind the Epoch Times — which is close­ly asso­ci­at­ed with Falun Gong — is spend­ing mil­lions of dol­lars on pro-Trump Face­book ads.

    Part of what makes this new sto­ry about the Ukrain­ian oper­a­tion poten­tial­ly so explo­sive is that the descrip­tion of this net­work sounds remark­ably sim­i­lar to the descrip­tion of the Face­book oper­a­tion in 2015–2017 that were attrib­uted to the Krem­lin-con­nect­ed Inter­net Research Agen­cy’s (IRA) Face­book oper­a­tions. But this Ukrain­ian oper­a­tion is much, much larg­er than what had been attrib­uted to the IRA. It also appears to be reusing many of the same pro-Trump memes attrib­uted to the IRA.

    But we are also told there is no indi­ca­tion that this Ukrain­ian Face­book net­work is asso­ci­at­ed with a nation-state actor. It appears to just be a click-bait oper­a­tion. A click-bait oper­a­tion with remark­able sim­i­lar­i­ties to the IRA’s net­work but much larg­er. Recall how the Face­book net­works attrib­uted to the IRA in 2016 also appeared to large­ly be click-bait oper­a­tions and only of a frac­tion of the activ­i­ty in the pages attrib­uted to the IRA were relat­ed to pol­i­tics. So the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of this new Ukrain­ian out­fit as being sim­i­lar to the IRA out­fit includes the fact that both oper­a­tions appear to have been large­ly focused on just non-polit­i­cal click-bait. In oth­er words, they both appear to be focused on mak­ing mon­ey.

    The infor­ma­tion that allowed Judd Legum to attribute the Face­book pages to Urkaini­ans came from a web­site reg­is­tered to an online strate­gist from the Ukrain­ian city of Odessa, Andriy Zyuzikov, that was linked to in the “About” sec­tion of the “I Love Amer­i­ca” Face­book page. The “I Love Amer­i­ca” appears to be the largest of the Face­book groups iden­ti­fied in this net­work. It was cre­at­ed in March of 2017, about five months before Face­book took down all of the pages iden­ti­fied as IRA-run pages. The page report­ed­ly has the kind of traf­fic that dwarfs the traf­fic of near­ly all US media com­pa­nies’ Face­book traf­fic. Over the last 90 days the page has more engage­ments (likes, shares, etc) than even USA Today’s Face­book page.

    But it’s only in recent weeks that “I Love Amer­i­ca” has start­ed aggres­sive­ly pump­ing out pro-Trump mes­sag­ing. Before that, the page focused on click-bait con­tent like pic­tures of pup­pies and Jesus along with patri­ot­ic themes with lots of ref­er­ences to “our coun­try” and “our mil­i­tary.” So recent switch to pro-Trump con­tent does­n’t appear to be a very big leap in terms of the tar­get click-bait audi­ence. Oth­er pages iden­ti­fied in this net­work, like “I Love Jesus For­ev­er” and “Cute or Not?”, that pre­vi­ous­ly focused on click-bait have also start­ed inject­ing pro-Trump memes into their con­tent.

    We’re also told that the “I Love Amer­i­ca” page is recy­cling many of the pro-Trump memes and videos that were archived from the “Being Patri­ot­ic” page that was oper­at­ed by the IRA and tak­en down by Face­book in 2017. The Being Patri­ot­ic page was one of the pages tak­en down by Face­book in August 2017.

    So we have a Ukrain­ian click-bait oper­a­tion that sounds remark­ably sim­i­lar to the oper­a­tion attrib­uted to the IRA and even recy­cles the exact same memes and con­tent, but on a much larg­er. The biggest page in this net­work, “I Love Amer­i­ca” was appar­ent­ly start­ed in March of 2017, but we don’t yet have an idea of when this net­work was orig­i­nal­ly start­ed. And that rais­es the obvi­ous ques­tion: So was this Ukrain­ian net­work actu­al­ly respon­si­ble for some of the con­tent in 2015–2017 that has been attrib­uted to the IRA?

    Keep in mind one of the pri­mar­i­ly absur­di­ties in the entire fix­a­tion on nation-state troll bots over the past few years: there’s basi­cal­ly no stan­dard for the attri­bu­tion of who is behind a Face­book page. Researchers look for ‘signs’ that a page ‘might’ be an IRA oper­a­tion. For instance, when the US Sen­ate Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee’s released its Decem­ber 2018 report on 2016 Russ­ian social media oper­a­tions, some of the clues for a Face­book account being traced back to the IRA was signs like a Russ­ian IP address, tech­ni­cal evi­dence trac­ing the account back to the St. Peters­burg area, or pay­ing for ads in rubles. It was por­trayed as a damn­ing sign of the IRA’s incom­pe­tence at cov­er­ing its tracks, despite the fact that all of that is eas­i­ly spoofa­ble forms of evi­dence.

    Also recall how that same Sen­ate report was put togeth­er by New Knowl­edge, the same firm that was found to be run­ning its own fake ‘Russ­ian twit­ter bot’ net­work in the Alaba­ma 2017 elec­tion. So the ques­tion of who was actu­al­ly behind the Face­book posts wide­ly attrib­uted to the IRA remains an open ques­tion based on the pub­licly avail­able evi­dence because the pub­licly avail­able evi­dence has been high­ly sus­pect all along

    Might it be that this IRA-like Ukrain­ian Face­book net­work that Judd Legum stum­bled upon is actu­al­ly the source of at least some of those 2016 ‘IRA’ Face­book posts? If so, that rais­es the ques­tion of whether or not this Ukrain­ian oper­a­tion has any ties to the many Ukrain­ian fig­ures who were inter­act­ing with the Trump cam­paign in 2016. Because it’s entire­ly pos­si­ble an exist­ing click-bait oper­a­tion owned by some­one try­ing to cozy up to Trump team could have been par­tial­ly retooled that click-bait oper­a­tion to pump out pro-Trump pro­pa­gan­da, which is basi­cal­ly the sce­nario we’re told hap­pened with the IRA:

    Pop­u­lar Infor­ma­tion

    Mas­sive “I Love Amer­i­ca” Face­book page, push­ing pro-Trump pro­pa­gan­da, is run by Ukraini­ans

    Judd Legum
    Sep­tem­ber 23, 2019

    The “I Love Amer­i­ca” Face­book page boasts 1.1 mil­lion fans, with viral con­tent that reach­es more Face­book users than some of the largest media out­lets in the Unit­ed States. A typ­i­cal post is a cel­e­bra­tion of the U.S. mil­i­tary and patri­o­tism.

    There are lots of ref­er­ences to “our coun­try” and “our mil­i­tary.” Not men­tioned is that the page is man­aged by ten peo­ple based in Ukraine. (There is also one man­ag­er from Kaza­khstan, one from France, and one from the Unit­ed States.) A web­site that was pre­vi­ous­ly linked in the “About” sec­tion of the “I Love Amer­i­ca” page is reg­is­tered to Andriy Zyuzikov, an online strate­gist from the Ukrain­ian city of Odessa.

    The “I Love Amer­i­ca” page reg­u­lar­ly recy­cles memes used by the Inter­net Research Agency, the Russ­ian enti­ty that set up pho­ny Face­book pages to ben­e­fit Trump in advance of the 2016 elec­tion.

    While “I Love Amer­i­ca,” which was estab­lished in March 2017, focus­es on patri­o­tism, in recent weeks it has used its extra­or­di­nary reach to push pro-Trump pro­pa­gan­da.

    These pro-Trump memes are cross-post­ed from sev­er­al explic­it­ly pro-Trump pages, with names like “God bless Don­ald and Mela­nia Trump and God bless Amer­i­ca.” All of these pages, which were cre­at­ed in the last few months, are man­aged exclu­sive­ly by peo­ple based out of Ukraine.

    But the “I Love Amer­i­ca” page is only the tip of the ice­berg. There is a com­plex net­work of Face­book pages, all man­aged by peo­ple in Ukraine, that col­lect large audi­ences by post­ing memes about patri­o­tism, Jesus, and cute dogs. These pages are now being used to fun­nel large audi­ences to pro-Trump pro­pa­gan­da. The pages have also joined polit­i­cal Face­book groups and are active on Insta­gram, which is owned by Face­book.

    Face­book promised this would not hap­pen again. “In 2016, we were not pre­pared for the coor­di­nat­ed infor­ma­tion oper­a­tions we now reg­u­lar­ly face. But we have learned a lot since then and have devel­oped sophis­ti­cat­ed sys­tems that com­bine tech­nol­o­gy and peo­ple to pre­vent elec­tion inter­fer­ence on our ser­vices,” Face­book CEO Mark Zucker­berg wrote in 2018.

    While there is no indi­ca­tion that the Ukrain­ian net­work of Face­book pages is backed by any gov­ern­ment, they are expos­ing Amer­i­cans to a flood of inau­then­tic and manip­u­la­tive con­tent relat­ed to the 2020 elec­tion.

    David Car­roll, a pro­fes­sor at The New School and an expert in social media, called the exis­tence of the Ukrain­ian net­work “trou­bling” and said it sug­gests Face­book has “not decid­ed to use their own detec­tion tech­nol­o­gy to pre­vent fur­ther dis­sem­i­na­tion by ‘inau­then­tic coor­di­na­tion.’ ”

    Renee DiRes­ta, a tech­ni­cal research man­ag­er at the Stan­ford Inter­net Obser­va­to­ry, told Pop­u­lar Infor­ma­tion that activ­i­ties of these Ukrain­ian Face­book pages height­ened her con­cern that “for­eign agi­ta­tors” are “join­ing polit­i­cal Groups cre­at­ed and inhab­it­ed by real Amer­i­cans.”

    A Face­book spokesper­son told Pop­u­lar Infor­ma­tion that the com­pa­ny does not believe any of the Face­book pages dis­cussed in this arti­cle vio­late its poli­cies, includ­ing the pol­i­cy against “coor­di­nat­ed inau­then­tic behav­ior.” Face­book defines “coor­di­nat­ed inau­then­tic behav­ior” as “when groups of pages or peo­ple work togeth­er to mis­lead oth­ers about who they are or what they are doing.” Face­book said it would “con­tin­ue review­ing this activ­i­ty.”

    Ukrain­ian “I Love Amer­i­ca” page is recy­cling memes from Russ­ian inter­fer­ence oper­a­tion

    The Mueller Report detailed Rus­si­a’s efforts, through the Inter­net Research Agency (IRA), to inter­fere with the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. One of the IRA pages was called “Being Patri­ot­ic” and amassed over 200,000 fol­low­ers before it was tak­en down by Face­book in 2017. The memes post­ed by “Being Patri­ot­ic,” how­ev­er, were archived by researcher Josh Rus­sell.

    The “I Love Amer­i­ca” page reuses numer­ous memes that were post­ed on “Being Patri­ot­ic.”

    The page, which is the largest known to be recir­cu­lat­ing IRA memes, also repur­posed IRA con­tent in Face­book videos.

    Mas­sive “I Love Amer­i­ca” page fun­nel­ing users to pro-Trump pro­pa­gan­da

    While the “I Love Amer­i­ca” page was cre­at­ed in 2017, in recent weeks it has cross-post­ed con­tent from explic­it­ly pro-Trump pages, includ­ing “Click Like, if you love Don­ald Trump as much as we do. TRUMP 2020,” “God bless Don­ald Trump and God bless Amer­i­ca,” and “God bless Don­ald and Mela­nia Trump and God bless Amer­i­ca.” All of these pages, which were cre­at­ed in the last few months, are man­aged exclu­sive­ly by peo­ple based in Ukraine.

    The con­tent post­ed on these pages is incen­di­ary and fre­quent­ly includes mis­in­for­ma­tion. The meme on the left, for exam­ple, false­ly claims that Hillary Clin­ton sold access to her email serv­er to for­eign gov­ern­ments.

    The remark­able reach of “I Love Amer­i­ca”

    The “I Love Amer­i­ca” Face­book page has a mas­sive reach on the plat­form that exceeds near­ly all U.S. media com­pa­nies. Accord­ing to Crowd­tan­gle, a social ana­lyt­ics com­pa­ny owned by Face­book, “I Love Amer­i­ca” has more engage­ment — likes, shares, and com­ments — over the last 90 days than USA Today, one of the largest media orga­ni­za­tions in the coun­try with 8 mil­lion Face­book fol­low­ers. Over the same peri­od, the engage­ment of “I Love Amer­i­ca” dwarfs major pub­li­ca­tions like the LA Times and dig­i­tal­ly native out­lets like Buz­zFeed News. More engage­ment on Face­book cor­re­sponds direct­ly to a big­ger reach, and more peo­ple see­ing the con­tent.

    Using cute dogs and Jesus to recruit new Trump sup­port­ers

    “I Love Amer­i­ca” is part of a com­plex net­work of Face­book pages man­aged by peo­ple in Ukraine that cross-post con­tent and, more recent­ly, direct users to pro-Trump pro­pa­gan­da. Some of these pages, includ­ing “Like our page if you are proud to be an Amer­i­can” and “Every­one should respect and stand for our Amer­i­can Flag. God Bless,” play on sim­i­lar patri­ot­ic themes. But the net­work also attempts to draw in users with oth­er inter­ests, includ­ing cute ani­mals.

    For exam­ple, the “Cute or Not?” Face­book page, which was estab­lished in July 2017, has eight page man­agers based in Ukraine. (There is also one man­ag­er based in Kaza­khstan and one in the Unit­ed States.) Typ­i­cal­ly, it posts images of cute dogs.

    But recent­ly, “Cute or Not?” also has cross-post­ed con­tent from “God bless Don­ald and Mela­nia Trump and God bless Amer­i­ca.”

    “Cute or Not?” has also cross-post­ed con­tent from oth­er Face­book pages in the Ukrain­ian net­work, includ­ing “US Fed­er­al Insid­er.”

    Ukraini­ans also oper­ate a page called “I Love Jesus For­ev­er.” Most of the posts, as you might expect, are about God and Jesus.

    But the “I Love Jesus For­ev­er” page has also start­ed cross-post­ing pro-Trump memes from “God bless Don­ald Trump and God bless Amer­i­ca.”

    The extra­or­di­nary pow­er of the Ukrain­ian Face­book net­work

    None of the IRA pages iden­ti­fied in the Mueller Report had more than 390,000 fol­low­ers. The Ukrain­ian net­work is much larg­er, with “I Love Amer­i­ca” boast­ing over a mil­lion fol­low­ers and mul­ti­ple pages with 400,000 fol­low­ers or more.

    It’s not pos­si­ble, from out­side the com­pa­ny, to iden­ti­fy the full scope of the Ukrain­ian net­work. But, using “I Love Amer­i­ca” as a start­ing point, Pop­u­lar Infor­ma­tion cat­a­loged pages over­whelm­ing or exclu­sive­ly man­aged from Ukraine that cross-post­ed each oth­er’s con­tent. Using Crowd­tan­gle, which cat­a­logs most of the larg­er pages, it is then pos­si­ble to get a sense of the scope of the net­work’s reach.

    Over the last 90 days, these pages have gar­nered 30 mil­lion engage­ments on Face­book.

    To put that in per­spec­tive, over the same time peri­od, New York Times, typ­i­cal­ly one of the top five pub­lish­ers on Face­book, had less than 18 mil­lion engage­ments. The Wash­ing­ton Post, over the last 90 days, has 14 mil­lion engage­ments. The reach of this Ukrain­ian Face­book net­work, repur­pos­ing IRA memes and cute pup­py pics, is as large as the two most pres­ti­gious papers in the Unit­ed States com­bined.

    The reach of the Ukrain­ian net­works is now being weaponized to boost incen­di­ary pro-Trump con­tent. Although the explic­it­ly pro-Trump pages are still small, one post pub­lished to “God bless Don­ald Trump and god bless Amer­i­ca” has over 44,000 shares. It’s an extreme­ly impres­sive num­ber for a small page that was start­ed just weeks ago.

    The moti­va­tion

    Ben Nim­mo, direc­tor of inves­ti­ga­tions at Graphi­ka, believes that the Ukrain­ian net­work of Face­book pages lacks the sophis­ti­ca­tion to be a gov­ern­ment-backed effort. “We’re see­ing state-linked oper­a­tors try­ing hard­er to hide, reduc­ing their lin­guis­tic foot­print, mask­ing their tech­ni­cal sig­nals and cov­er­ing up the iden­ti­ties of the peo­ple behind them,” Nim­mo told Pop­u­lar Infor­ma­tion.

    In this case, the loca­tion of the page man­agers was avail­able through a trans­paren­cy tool that Face­book put into place after the 2016 elec­tion. Nim­mo believes this oper­a­tion “looks more like a click­bait group try­ing to build fol­low­ers by post­ing cat pho­tos, hors­es, and patri­ot­ic memes.”

    ...

    ———-

    “Mas­sive “I Love Amer­i­ca” Face­book page, push­ing pro-Trump pro­pa­gan­da, is run by Ukraini­ans” by Judd Legum; Pop­u­lar Infor­ma­tion; 09/23/2019

    “There are lots of ref­er­ences to “our coun­try” and “our mil­i­tary.” Not men­tioned is that the page is man­aged by ten peo­ple based in Ukraine. (There is also one man­ag­er from Kaza­khstan, one from France, and one from the Unit­ed States.) A web­site that was pre­vi­ous­ly linked in the “About” sec­tion of the “I Love Amer­i­ca” page is reg­is­tered to Andriy Zyuzikov, an online strate­gist from the Ukrain­ian city of Odessa.

    A web­site linked to on the “About” page reg­is­tered to a Ukrain­ian social media strate­gist in Odessa. That appears to be the pri­ma­ry clue as to who is behind this net­work of sur­pris­ing­ly high-traf­fic Face­book pages.

    But it’s only in the last few months that this net­work has cre­at­ed overt­ly pro-Trump pages and then start­ed direct­ing peo­ple there from their already estab­lished click-bait pages. And all of these new­ly cre­at­ed pro-Trump pages appear to be man­aged exclu­sive­ly by peo­ple based out of Ukraine. Although it does sound like at least one of the click-bait pages (“Cute or Not?”) has a man­ag­er in the US:

    ...
    While “I Love Amer­i­ca,” which was estab­lished in March 2017, focus­es on patri­o­tism, in recent weeks it has used its extra­or­di­nary reach to push pro-Trump pro­pa­gan­da.

    These pro-Trump memes are cross-post­ed from sev­er­al explic­it­ly pro-Trump pages, with names like “God bless Don­ald and Mela­nia Trump and God bless Amer­i­ca.” All of these pages, which were cre­at­ed in the last few months, are man­aged exclu­sive­ly by peo­ple based out of Ukraine.

    ...

    Using cute dogs and Jesus to recruit new Trump sup­port­ers

    “I Love Amer­i­ca” is part of a com­plex net­work of Face­book pages man­aged by peo­ple in Ukraine that cross-post con­tent and, more recent­ly, direct users to pro-Trump pro­pa­gan­da. Some of these pages, includ­ing “Like our page if you are proud to be an Amer­i­can” and “Every­one should respect and stand for our Amer­i­can Flag. God Bless,” play on sim­i­lar patri­ot­ic themes. But the net­work also attempts to draw in users with oth­er inter­ests, includ­ing cute ani­mals.

    For exam­ple, the “Cute or Not?” Face­book page, which was estab­lished in July 2017, has eight page man­agers based in Ukraine. (There is also one man­ag­er based in Kaza­khstan and one in the Unit­ed States.) Typ­i­cal­ly, it posts images of cute dogs.

    But recent­ly, “Cute or Not?” also has cross-post­ed con­tent from “God bless Don­ald and Mela­nia Trump and God bless Amer­i­ca.”

    “Cute or Not?” has also cross-post­ed con­tent from oth­er Face­book pages in the Ukrain­ian net­work, includ­ing “US Fed­er­al Insid­er.”

    Ukraini­ans also oper­ate a page called “I Love Jesus For­ev­er.” Most of the posts, as you might expect, are about God and Jesus.

    But the “I Love Jesus For­ev­er” page has also start­ed cross-post­ing pro-Trump memes from “God bless Don­ald Trump and God bless Amer­i­ca.”
    ...

    And on these estab­lished click-bait pages, like “I Love Amer­i­ca”, there are recy­cled pro-Trump memes appar­ent­ly tak­en from pages pre­vi­ous­ly attrib­uted to the IRA. Pages like “Being Patri­ot­ic”. Pre­sum­ably these recy­cled 2016 memes are only recent­ly recy­cled since it sounds like this net­work has only recent­ly start­ed push­ing pro-Trump memes but that’s unclear:

    ...
    Ukrain­ian “I Love Amer­i­ca” page is recy­cling memes from Russ­ian inter­fer­ence oper­a­tion

    The Mueller Report detailed Rus­si­a’s efforts, through the Inter­net Research Agency (IRA), to inter­fere with the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. One of the IRA pages was called “Being Patri­ot­ic” and amassed over 200,000 fol­low­ers before it was tak­en down by Face­book in 2017. The memes post­ed by “Being Patri­ot­ic,” how­ev­er, were archived by researcher Josh Rus­sell.

    The “I Love Amer­i­ca” page reuses numer­ous memes that were post­ed on “Being Patri­ot­ic.”

    The page, which is the largest known to be recir­cu­lat­ing IRA memes, also repur­posed IRA con­tent in Face­book videos.
    ...

    And this net­work dwarfs the IRA’s Face­book pages in terms of the num­ber of peo­ple its inter­act­ing with. It also exceeds major US media out­lets like the LA Times and Buz­zFeed:

    ...
    Mas­sive “I Love Amer­i­ca” page fun­nel­ing users to pro-Trump pro­pa­gan­da

    While the “I Love Amer­i­ca” page was cre­at­ed in 2017, in recent weeks it has cross-post­ed con­tent from explic­it­ly pro-Trump pages, includ­ing “Click Like, if you love Don­ald Trump as much as we do. TRUMP 2020,” “God bless Don­ald Trump and God bless Amer­i­ca,” and “God bless Don­ald and Mela­nia Trump and God bless Amer­i­ca.” All of these pages, which were cre­at­ed in the last few months, are man­aged exclu­sive­ly by peo­ple based in Ukraine.

    The con­tent post­ed on these pages is incen­di­ary and fre­quent­ly includes mis­in­for­ma­tion. The meme on the left, for exam­ple, false­ly claims that Hillary Clin­ton sold access to her email serv­er to for­eign gov­ern­ments.

    The remark­able reach of “I Love Amer­i­ca”

    The “I Love Amer­i­ca” Face­book page has a mas­sive reach on the plat­form that exceeds near­ly all U.S. media com­pa­nies. Accord­ing to Crowd­tan­gle, a social ana­lyt­ics com­pa­ny owned by Face­book, “I Love Amer­i­ca” has more engage­ment — likes, shares, and com­ments — over the last 90 days than USA Today, one of the largest media orga­ni­za­tions in the coun­try with 8 mil­lion Face­book fol­low­ers. Over the same peri­od, the engage­ment of “I Love Amer­i­ca” dwarfs major pub­li­ca­tions like the LA Times and dig­i­tal­ly native out­lets like Buz­zFeed News. More engage­ment on Face­book cor­re­sponds direct­ly to a big­ger reach, and more peo­ple see­ing the con­tent.

    ...

    None of the IRA pages iden­ti­fied in the Mueller Report had more than 390,000 fol­low­ers. The Ukrain­ian net­work is much larg­er, with “I Love Amer­i­ca” boast­ing over a mil­lion fol­low­ers and mul­ti­ple pages with 400,000 fol­low­ers or more.

    ...

    Over the last 90 days, these pages have gar­nered 30 mil­lion engage­ments on Face­book.

    To put that in per­spec­tive, over the same time peri­od, New York Times, typ­i­cal­ly one of the top five pub­lish­ers on Face­book, had less than 18 mil­lion engage­ments. The Wash­ing­ton Post, over the last 90 days, has 14 mil­lion engage­ments. The reach of this Ukrain­ian Face­book net­work, repur­pos­ing IRA memes and cute pup­py pics, is as large as the two most pres­ti­gious papers in the Unit­ed States com­bined.
    ...

    And yet, we are told be experts that there’s no rea­son to assume this net­work is con­nect­ed to a nation state because there was­n’t much done to hide the iden­ti­ties of who was behind it. Instead, it’s assumed to be a for-prof­it click-bait oper­a­tion:

    ...
    Ben Nim­mo, direc­tor of inves­ti­ga­tions at Graphi­ka, believes that the Ukrain­ian net­work of Face­book pages lacks the sophis­ti­ca­tion to be a gov­ern­ment-backed effort. “We’re see­ing state-linked oper­a­tors try­ing hard­er to hide, reduc­ing their lin­guis­tic foot­print, mask­ing their tech­ni­cal sig­nals and cov­er­ing up the iden­ti­ties of the peo­ple behind them,” Nim­mo told Pop­u­lar Infor­ma­tion.

    In this case, the loca­tion of the page man­agers was avail­able through a trans­paren­cy tool that Face­book put into place after the 2016 elec­tion. Nim­mo believes this oper­a­tion “looks more like a click­bait group try­ing to build fol­low­ers by post­ing cat pho­tos, hors­es, and patri­ot­ic memes.”
    ...

    And while the con­clu­sion that this looks like a click-bait oper­a­tion, and not a nation state oper­a­tion, appears to be a rea­son­able one, don’t for­get that the US Sen­ate Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee’s report on the IRA crit­i­cized Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies for not iden­ti­fy­ing all sorts of clues that sug­gest­ed pages were part of an IRA oper­a­tion. Clues like Russ­ian phone num­bers as con­tact infor­ma­tion and pay­ing for ads in rubles. Also note that Renee DiRes­ta was the per­son who wrote that Sen­ate Report as part of her work at New Knowl­edge, the same firm that cre­at­ed the fake ‘Russ­ian bot’ net­work in the 2017 Alaba­ma Sen­ate race. It’s a reminder of just how sus­pect much of this attri­bu­tion real­ly is:

    ...
    Renee DiRes­ta, a tech­ni­cal research man­ag­er at the Stan­ford Inter­net Obser­va­to­ry, told Pop­u­lar Infor­ma­tion that activ­i­ties of these Ukrain­ian Face­book pages height­ened her con­cern that “for­eign agi­ta­tors” are “join­ing polit­i­cal Groups cre­at­ed and inhab­it­ed by real Amer­i­cans.”
    ...

    So is it pos­si­ble Legum actu­al­ly came across a net­work that was cre­at­ing at least some of the pro-Trump con­tent in 2016 that was attrib­uted to the IRA? At this point we have no idea, although there don’t appear to be any read­i­ly appar­ent ties between the Odessa-based online strate­gist, Andriy Zyuzikov, and the larg­er net­work of Ukrain­ian fig­ures known to be inter­act­ing with the Trump team.

    But if it turned out ele­ments in Ukraine’s were behind at least of the pro-Trump 2016 Face­book activ­i­ty attrib­uted to the IRA, it’s worth keep­ing in mind that this sce­nario could poten­tial­ly play into the exist­ing ques­tions sur­round­ing Trump’s shake­down of Zelen­sky that have sud­den­ly result­ed in an impeach­ment inquiry. Because if Ukraini­ans were behind some of that pro-Trump 2016 social media con­tent, that could end up being a pub­lic rela­tions dis­as­ter for Ukraine. The last thing Ukraine’s gov­ern­ment is going to want at this point is get­ting dragged into the whole #Rus­si­a­Gate fias­co as a pos­si­ble cul­prit in the mind of the Amer­i­can pub­lic. In oth­er words, the implied threat Trump was lev­el­ing at Zelen­sky could have involved more than just the threat of with­hold­ing mil­i­tary aid. Hope­ful­ly the impeach­ment inquiry takes a look at this. It prob­a­bly won’t but it should.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 28, 2019, 4:23 pm

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