Elections on social media

With Cambridge Analytica scandal out in the open and it’s links with Trump’s 2016 USA presidential election and with UKs leave EU campaign, under investigation, it opens a Pandora’s box of who else is using these tactics and what information we are acquiring ourselves and what is being fed to us.

Cambridge Analytica aids in providing strategic communication to its clients, mostly assisting in electoral process. It was founded in 2013, and in US, is partly owned by Robert Mercer. Mr Mercer, who started of as a computer scientist and aided in development of artificial intelligence, has formerly been linked to funding right wing political causes in US and in 2016 Mercer family threw its weight behind Donald Trump. In presidential campaign of Donald Trump, Cambridge Analytica have been blamed of using mass information acquired through social media, without the consent of individual involved. This was then used to profile millions of Americans and identify potential voters. They were then targeted with ad campaigns, slogans, posts, videos etc, hence manipulating and motivating them, all by using social media as its platform. The “defeat crooked Hillary” campaign was probably one of its biggest successes, which made Mrs. Clinton look like an evil witch, a cheat, hypocrite and a liar and subsequently making Trump look like the savior. It created enough doubt in the voter’s mind, to swing the electoral balance in favor of Trump. Experts claim that this science is so accurate that through a few likes on social media, it can psychoanalyze an individual and no more about him or her, than his friends or family know about him.

Companies like Cambridge Analytica, do not limit themselves to social media. They collect data on voters using other sources like internet activity, browsing/searching, online shopping, online surveys, mobile phone usage, making fake news and fake videos to swing voters. In a sting operation by a British news channel, head of CA was recorded saying, “things don’t necessarily need to be true, as long as they are believed.” He was also caught boasting about using means like bribery, sting operations, prostitutes and honey traps to discredit opposing politicians.

These tactics are neither limited to Cambridge Analytica, nor to US election campaign. Robert Mercer has also played a key role in leave EU campaign in UK Brexit referendum, by providing his services to Nigel Farage, UKIP leader and prominent figure of Leave EU campaign. We saw a similar environment of hatred and scare mongering, like the US elections.

Company executives have also admitted to CA (Cambridge Analytica) playing a role in hundreds of elections around the world, including one much closer to home, in India, though to what extent is still unclear. This may explain the sudden rise of nationalism and downfall of globalization trend in recent election results, as hate politics works best in such scenarios.

Something similar came out earlier this year about Saudi Arabia, where intelligence agency is allegedly using hacking software to both identify any element of political dissidence and to snub it. Artificial intelligence and propaganda bots work side by side, with former used to pick up key words, in discussions on forums, blogs or social media like facebook pages. Bots then take control of such discussions, launching a pro government propaganda. Aim is to create information overload, that presents only one side of the picture, and the other side is completely overshadowed and smudged.

In Pakistan, with elections coming, I see a similar environment being created. The way this is working is that so much noise is being made that it is difficult to find actual information, buried under a heap of memes, threads and videos. This is always done in a way to give the impression that it’s coming from third party which is neutral or from members of public, hence giving the impression that it is public opinion. There is no denying that once a chain reaction is started, public does play a part, this is where motivation is playing its role. Without realizing, individuals have been incorporated into a political movement, with information being spread in favor of one group who is being portrayed as a messiah from heaven above, while defaming the opposing party in a way that leaders of that party appear as something out of Dante’s seventh degree of hell, and their supporters, biggest fools on face of planet. I think someone is at work in IKs campaign. I see a lot of manipulated / motivated figures, easy to find on Facebook. Don’t think PTI itself has the means to pull such a thing off. You can just scroll through a few posts to realize who is behind these. There are so many pages you can find, that you may lose count. I see the theme of “crooked Hillary” being repeated, while Saudi tactic of information overload is also at play. These are proven, successful tactics and surely IKs starting position is better than what Donald Trump’s was. Victory is eminent for IK.

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Dr. Faisal Chaudhry

Dr Faisal Chaudhry is a graduate of King Edward Medical University and is currently working in Oxford University Hospitals. He is an avid traveler and an advocate of social awareness and dissidence.