Wednesday, March 21, 2018


When a few voices began to suggest that the planet had reached and exceeded the limits of nations, it was thought that some international body, maybe the UN, needed to develop some muscle.  When it was asserted by experts that not only had Russia been able to elect Trump as our president in spite of a popular vote that went the other way, but also that the vote for Britain to leave the European Union had been twiddled by Russia, our mouths flew open.  Both were strategies to sow discord and confusion and both have worked very well.  But also experts suggest that as many as a dozen nations, including such previously unconsidered nations as Nigeria, are actively at least monitoring and possibly controlling cyber traffic around the world.

In the past no one has taken computers very seriously.  I’ve warned and warned friends and neighbors about Facebook, for instance, and their habit of invading privacy at a high level — not what’s your favorite color, but what really scares the hell out of you — but they just brush me off.  They refuse to learn to operate the little cyber beasts, those computers — don’t you know they’re full of porn?  (If you ask them what porn is, they talk of naked people.  If you talk about how what was once unthinkable is now demonstrated on You Tube, they giggle.  And change the subject.)

I have a relative who claims vehemently that all politicians are crooked, that everyone who is at the top of anything is crooked because how else did they get there?  Then she becomes incoherent, shrieking.  Especially if I disagree with her.  But I’m beginning to agree with her.

Cambridge Analytica is a good example of why I never do entirely.  It is also an example of a principle of mine:  “Watch the porn folks.”  Most porn makes me laugh: it’s aimed at young men and assumes a certain stance towards the world, that it’s possible for ideas and images to be erotic even if you’re not handsome and charismatic enough for the mainstream.  In recent years it has seemed there are no limits to the kinds and methods of exaggeration, kink, stereotyping, and general merchandizing.  Besides, if you say “porn” to most women, they get outta there, leaving the field for the guys.  They have been taught it's not nice.  It smells bad.

Major insight was provided by a precursor of Cambridge Analytica, a book called “A Billlion Wicked Thoughts” by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam.  (2011) Using accepted scientific methods of studying bodies, creatures and diseases -- which meant lumping huge amounts of data together and then re-sorting them according to a set of criteria -- scientists are able to pinpoint individuals and patterns suggestive of differing reactions, which are then possible to manipulate for study.  What Ogas and Gaddam did was to aggregate all the cyber porn users of every kind and then try sorting them out according to various criteria.  They were helped by porn providers who “woke” them to patterns they had never guessed.  Some of it was weird and much was funny, like my favorite: tentacle porn, which came about because Japan, disliking its reputation for frank depiction of what goes where, ruled out some anatomical feats.  The artists, undaunted, replaced the human parts with arms of octopi and squid, which went over well in a nation close to the sea.  It’s, um, "gripping" stuff.

Cambridge Analytica acquired factoids about 50,000,000 voting humans, threw them together and then separated them out into types that they claim are so deep that they are possibly unconscious, but reliably indicative of how those people will emotionally vote.  They claim that all politics is emotional, which seems pretty valid, though we all fancy we are being reasonable.  They say some vote for safety, some vote for a pretty face, and just about all the uneducated white unemployed hot-tempered Archie Bunkers out there are completely aligned with Trump, though they're nothing like him.  (Not rich, for one thing.)  They may be right.

The scandal is in part that the factoids were acquired from Facebook, which had been accruing all this info in what seemed innocent ways.  Not only were they raiding users but also maybe 60 of each individual's friendship circle.  Financial matters and business game plans were included.  CA claims they have psychological insight into individuals that they can use to manipulate what those people do.  It's an ad principle.  I’ve been aware of this sort of thing for a long time and resist Facebook for businesses, churches, schools, family and friends.  I warn them and get brushed off.  But NOW people are cancelling their membership and selling off their shares in the company.  Too late.  By now CA and offshoot companies have more sources, more strategies, more skill at manipulation.

It has been a puzzle about how Trump knew exactly which line to feed which crowd, no item of which was ever even considered once he was in office.  The suspicion is that he was coached by CA.  This leads a person to wonder what CA is telling the Republicans.  Trump breaks laws, customs, agreements, and relationships with no pattern, many of them rules that are enforceable by Congress, but they stand numb, dumb, and unmoving with their thumbs in their ears.  Are they getting the last of the spoils?  Do they simply not know what to do?  Are they afraid or bribed?  What could CA tell us about their obedience to the NRA?  Why are law-makers so afraid of young people?

From Terrierman's blog:

Why Do Some White Men Stockpile Guns and Ammo?
From Scientific American: "Since the 2008 election of President Obama, the number of firearms manufactured in the U.S. has tripled, while imports have doubled. This doesn’t mean more households have guns than ever before—that percentage has stayed fairly steady for decades. Rather, more guns are being stockpiled by a small number of individuals. Three percent of the population now owns half of the country’s firearms, says a recent, definitive study from the Injury Control Research Center at Harvard University."  What's going on?  Basically these folks are terrified,  weak, and insecure individuals beset by racial and economic fear who are undergoing a crisis in meaning and purpose in their lives.

We are data-driven in a cynical way, giving up our human responses to real people.  David Brooks (R) says, with bafflement, that when he talks to Republicans they like the taxes favoring the rich and the abolishment of irksome regulations, but when Brooks tries to talk about the other issues, they simply wave the those issues off as though they didn’t exist.  Yet if the security aspect of the country is telling us that foreign countries, both friends and enemies, can shut down energy grids and explode our industrial installations, it would seem more important than indulging nepotism by some spectacularly stupid but well-connected children.

My relative claims this was always true, that discovering now that big money people engineered the laws that let them buy whole states and countries, simply by writing a check, is just late news of something true forever.  Regardless of whether I agree or not, the real question is “so what are we gonna do about it?”

This is the head of CA explaining how his strategy works.  He is now suspended.


Katherine Rouzie said...

I am not surprised that CA used quizzes that seemed harmless to get access to data. Why would anyone need access to my friends? These always looked very suspicious to me. I think FB for pictures, social news and Twitter for more serious political news/action.

Mary Strachan Scriver said...

Facebook and CA do not care about your favorite color or even your photos and social news, but rather about their clues to your deep emotional state. They are not selling products. They are looking for cumulative evidence to whether you are emotional, romantic, or whatever so that they can target you with information that will seem real and oddly appealing. They are not selling product. Twitter is a different kettle of fish. In fact, the big data sweep that Facebook made some years ago, the one with 50 mlllion people is passé now and has moved on into the hands of election "working" groups. Facebook and CA are both paralyzed now and their mighty leaders are being scrutinized and suspended.