No one in Silicon Valley believed Christopher Wylie when told them of how social media was manipulating people. The tech big shots didn’t take the pink-haired, nose-ringed, 26 year-old seriously. They should have.
The meeting was in August, 2015, a year before U.S. presidential election. No one even remotely thought that Donald Trump could win. Wylie, born in Victoria, warned the tech giants that their platforms were being used by some shady players. He told CBC Radio’s The Current:
“You know, to tell them about how their platforms were being abused by companies like Cambridge Analytica and also that I felt slightly uneasy about. . . I saw very unusual interactions with people very close to the Russian government. And, the reaction that I got was just sort of shoulder shrugs, like, well, Donald Trump is a sketchy business man. So like it’s unsurprising that he has a sketchy campaign but Hillary Clinton’s going to win. And he’s not going to win. So there’s nothing really to worry about. And I got told that enough times that I thought, OK, well, maybe I’m overreacting and, OK, they have a point. It’s kind of crazy to think that Donald Trump would be elected (October 9, 2019).”
Wylie was familiar with disinformation campaigns because he helped develop them while working at Cambridge Analytica. It was there that his company illegally took the personal data of 87 million people from their Facebook profiles and used that data to develop new forms of psychographic micro-targeting.
Psychographic micro-targeting was developed at Cambridge Analytica when Wylie worked there from 2013 to 2014. Wylie explained to the CBC’s Adrienne Arsenault how it worked. First, they had test subjects fill out psychological surveys and then they compared results with their stolen Facebook data. Then they could connect the survey results and Facebook profiles. Once that association was made, Facebook users could be manipulated; their emotional vulnerabilities revealed and exploited; their reaction to different kinds of information predicted.
While working for Cambridge Analytica, Wylie worked on disinformation campaigns for Steve Bannon, a relative unknown at the time, who later became a chief advisor for Donald Trump’s campaign.
When Wylie left Cambridge Analytica in 2014 to start his own company it was clear to him how psychographic micro-targeting was manipulating people but no one seemed to be listening.
When asked by the host of The Current what was going through Wylie’s mind when the impossible happened and Trump won, Wylie replied:
‘I can’t say it on air. Oh F. That and it was personally, it was devastating to watch that happen and then to see my old boss Steve Bannon walking into the White House with Donald Trump where he gets appointed to the National Security Council. To see people that I had seen in the office now holding the levers of power knowing that these people, at least in my view, are extremists and his vision for what he wanted to do with America was really concerning. And it was only after the inauguration of Donald Trump when I think it really started to hit home to people, like, this is real.”
Wylie had a short-term contract with the federal Liberals in November 2015 in which he revealed the power of psychographic micro-targeting. They, too, didn’t seem to take Wylie seriously and his contract wasn’t renewed.
It’s about time that Christopher Wylie was taken seriously.