How to influence people though social media and win elections

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.

image: CBC

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.

China’s low-tech threat to our elections

China doesn’t need the sneaky influence of social media to influence the outcome of our federal election when the brute force of trade sanctions work.

image: The Globe and Mail

Not to say that social media aren’t a concern. Federal Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, worries about the influence of digital platforms and their inability to protect the “digital public square.”

J. Michael Cole is more familiar with China’s trade sanctions:

“And in Taiwan, where I have lived for the past 13 years, I have witnessed first-hand Beijing’s repeated use of financial sticks-and-carrots and how that approach is used to affect electoral outcomes (Globe and Mail, April 1, 2019),” said the former analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Here’s an example of how China’s strong-arm tactics work: After the dispute between Philippines and China over territory in the South China Sea in 2012, Beijing cancelled orders of bananas and restricted Chinese tourism to the Philippines. After Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte capitulated, Beijing lifted tourism restrictions and resumed orders of commercial crops.

Canada’s feds are under pressure after China restricted the importation of our canola. Farmers blame Prime Minister Trudeau for not moving quickly enough to prevent “the biggest disaster” in living memory. Growers across the Prairies commonly devote half their acreage to Canola and sell 40 per cent of it to China.

Complaints from growers sound a lot like Western alienation.

“One thing I’m hearing more of is extreme disappointment with our government,” said Brett Halstead, a farmer in Nokomis, Sask. “It doesn’t look or feel like they’re taking it seriously … It feels like, ‘it’s only the west, it doesn’t matter.’”

China pretends that blockage of our canola is justified and has nothing to do with Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou. They claim to have found contaminants in our canola.

What an odd coincidence that China has just now found contaminants after years of importation of our canola.

What would canola growers have Canada do? Arrest Chinese citizens in Canada and torture them as China has done with two Canadians living in China?  Build a canola pipeline to tidewater?

There is one easy solution -it would compromise our values but work. Canada could release Meng Wanzhou. However, not with this government, it seems.

That’s where the political interference comes in. If some opposition politician running in the federal election were to promise the release of the Huawei CFO, it could gain a lot of support from Western voters; many who already feel abandoned over lack of progress in building an oil pipeline.

It’s not just disenfranchised oil workers and canola growers who can be recruited to serve China’s will; there are thousands of Chinese-Canadians who use the app WeChat. The social media and messaging app has one billion Chinese-speaking users around the world, and has a reputation for spreading China’s propaganda.

WeChat was used by Liberal candidate Karen Wang to some effect in her efforts to mobilize Chinese-Canadians in her campaign against NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in Burnaby South.

Holding Meng Wanzhou in the face China’s bullying will take some courage. The posturing of opposition politicians in the coming months before the federal election will be revealing.

Wilson-Raybould: a uniquely Canadian scandal

A scandal in Britain brought down the Conservative government in 1963 when it was revealed that model and nightclub dancer Christine Keeler had slept with British and Russian officials. Revelations of the previously well-hidden world of sex- and alcohol-fuelled orgies among Britain’s political elite rocked the establishment.

The walking, breathing, American scandal involves President Donald Trump groping women, mocking disabled people and provoking attacks on blacks. His former lawyer Michael Cohen says: “He is a racist. He is a conman. He is a cheat.” Cohen testified that Trump wanted him to pay off adult-film actress Stormy Daniels who says Trump had an affair with her.

image: The Independent

Canada’s scandal is not like that.

Prime Minister Trudeau is accused of trying to influence Jody Wilson-Raybould to settle a case out of court in order to save thousands jobs. The former attorney-general and minister of justice objected to the pressure, especially when she had already decided to proceed with the court case.

After she was shuffled out of the position, Gerald Butts, Justin Trudeau‘s former principle secretary, said it had nothing to do with the disagreement between Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau.

It doesn’t look that way. It looks like Trudeau didn’t like the fact that Wilson-Raybould was not complying with his wishes so he re moved her.

Post #MeToo, Canadian scandals look different.

What’s changed are the expectations of women entering politics says columnist Elizabeth Renzetti:

”. . .there is enough research out there to suggest that women in office do not believe in politics as usual. And once more women are brought into office, politics will have to change. We are seeing the consequences of that right now. (Globe and Mail, March 6, 2019).”

In addition to the mismatched expectations of new women in an old system, there is an inherent conflict in the office duties that Wilson-Raybould held. She alluded to them in her testimony:

 “The two hats that the minister of justice and the attorney-general wears here in our country are completely different,” she said, “and I think there would be merit to talking about having those as two separate individuals.”

As minister of justice, she was expected to be a team member of Trudeau’s cabinet. As attorney-general, she was the government’s lawyer. Politics and justice seldom mix.

 Former minister of justice and attorney-general in the Paul Martin government, Irwin Cotler, reflected on the internal conflict of minister of justice and attorney-general:

“There were times when I would oppose a decision of cabinet in confidence and then be obliged to show support for the decision outside of cabinet, out of cabinet solidarity − and because of solicitor-client privilege, I could not even say that I had opposed it. It created awkward situations.”

Mr. Cotler recommended splitting the office but that idea gained little traction.

It’s hard to imagine this kind of scandal in former Prime Minister Harper’s government because there was no misunderstanding who was in charge. Non-compliant ministers would have been bullied into compliance or fired.

This distinctly Canadian scandal doesn’t centre on the dalliances of politicians but on Trudeau setting up expectations on which he couldn’t or wouldn’t deliver.

Canada’s contribution to NATO

During President Trump’s Alternate Truth tour of Europe, he scolded NATO countries:

“Many countries are not paying what they should. And, frankly, many countries owe us a tremendous amount of money for many years back, where they’re delinquent, as far as I’m concerned, because the United States has had to pay for them.”

    President Donald Trump walks away after being greeted by NATO Secretary General Jens

In the real world, NATO countries don’t owe the United States a cent. Members contribute to the organization for mutual protection. Trump is confusing what he thinks is a debt with the goal of increased spending to two per cent of GDP by 2024.

The United States spends almost four per cent of its GDP on NATO as a matter of choice. Former U.S. ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder says:

“No one owes us any money. Nor is the U.S. spending more because allies are spending less … our defense spending is a national decision and is determined by our national security and defense needs.”

Regardless, the amount of money spent on defense is not the whole picture. Professor Elinor Sloan, political scientist at Carleton University says:

“A big reason countries don’t adhere to [the two per cent of GDP] is because it is a flawed metric. It doesn’t capture the military capability a country can deploy in support of NATO operations, measure absolute military spending or account for the percentage of a defence budget spent on major equipment as opposed to, say, pensions and housing (Globe and Mail, July 10, 2018).”

The two per cent figure doesn’t take into account non-monetary factors such as Canada’s willingness to take on leadership roles, contribute to dangerous missions, and accept casualties and the loss of life. You can’t buy leadership and commitment.

The military is an integral part of the U.S. economy. They have more than 1.3 million troops on active duty, 450,000 stationed overseas. The military-industrial complex fuels the American economy and asserts global hegemony.  It’s a way of distributing wealth nationally through military contracts, something like Canada’s equalization payments to provinces. It’s also a social security scheme to provide work to youth who have few options. Author Danny Sjursen, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, says:

“The military is also a welfare state; it is the most socialist institution we have. It provides a certain degree of economic stability (Harper’s magazine, June, 2018).”

Canada has its own interests but they don’t include a welfare state based on the military. Nor are they exclusive to NATO.

Not long ago, we only had two coastlines to protect. As Canada’s Arctic flank becomes exposed because of global warming, we need ships, fighters, and submarines to establish a presence in the North. The Arctic is melting. As shipping traffic increases, foreign bombers and fighters will test our sovereignty.

NATO is important to Canada, not just for the military component but for the political connections to Europe. As the U.S. becomes more unstable under the Trump administration, we look to Europe as an ally and trading partner.

As we watch in disbelief as Trump scolds his NATO partners while cozying up to Russia, Canada will be strengthened as we chart our own course.

Illegal dams –another BC Liberal legacy

The NDP government has inherited a number of issues from the BC Liberals; some anticipated and some a complete surprise.

One expected problem was B.C.’s medical services premium. B.C. was the only province to collect the unfair tax in which the rich and poor paid the same flat rate. Now the MSP will be collected from businesses with a payroll over $500,000.

For employers who previously paid their employee’s MSP, there will be no difference. For employers who didn’t pay, like the City of Kamloops, it means an extra cost. Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian is crying foul. The B.C. government gets credit for eliminating the MSP and the city will get blamed for adding about three-quarters of a per cent to taxes. Maybe so, but low-income Kamloopsians will see the MSP tax eliminated. Why not see it as a benefit for citizens?

More of a surprise was the money-laundering that went on under the noses of the BC Liberals. Dirty money was being washed to obscure its rotten roots through gambling at B.C. Lotteries. The practice had been known as early as 2015 when investigations “had been looking for a ‘minnow’ and found ‘a whale,’” according to the RCMP.

Then there is the looming problem of illegal dams in B.C. that went unregulated under the BC Liberals. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has uncovered at least 92 unauthorized dams. CCPA researcher Ben Parfitt has been digging into the problem for over a year. He first found out about the illegal dams last year through a Freedom of Information request. Initially, 51 dams were identified. Of those, one-third were found to have structural problems that posed serious risks to human health and safety and the environment.

The dams were built to supply water for fracking natural gas, part of former Premier Christy Clark’s grand plans for exporting liquefied natural gas.

Swamp Donkey Dam by Vicky Husband

After the election of the NDP government, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development (FLNRO) reported the additional dams. The report labelled some of the unauthorized dams as potential “time bombs” and said a top priority must be “to find the high consequence dams and make sure they are properly constructed and operated and maintained in an appropriate manner before any of them fail.”

An example of a potentially catastrophic failure was the collapse of Testalinden dam near Oliver in 2010. A portion of the dam’s wall gave way, releasing 20,000 cubic metres of water. Fortunately, no one was killed but the resulting mudslide wiped out five houses and blocked a portion of Highway 97 for five days.

The BC Liberals failed to tell residents about the poor condition of the Testalinden dam. Elizabeth Denham, former Information and Privacy Commissioner, wrote a report in which she found that the province knew the dam was at the end of its lifespan, yet failed to alert the public.

The NDP government, perhaps because it already has enough on its plate, has been relatively silent about the dams.

“Instead,” says Parfitt, “the province has taken the softer approach of coaxing companies to ‘come into compliance’ after-the-fact. Time will tell whether or not that approach safeguards the public interest and proves a sufficient deterrent.”

Homoeopathy debate re-ignited

Questions about the practice of homoeopathy have been re-ignited by two recent events. One has to do with a homeopathic rabid-dog-saliva treatment and the other about the retrial of a couple originally found guilty of failing to provide for the necessities of life.

Samuel Hahnemann   image: thefamouspeople.com

 

If you thought that dog spit was an effective treatment because Health Canada approved it, you would be wrong. Health Canada approved rabid dog saliva and 8,500 other homeopathic remedies, not because they are effective but because they have concluded that they are safe. Health Canada doesn’t test these remedies for efficacy.

Other homeopathic treatments are made from cancerous cells, black mould and the smallpox virus; they sound dangerous until you realize just how much they have been diluted.

The founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, devised a dilution system that he called “C scale.” Homeopathy claims that the more remedies are diluted, the more effective they are. A 6C dilution will result in the original substance being diluted to one part in a million million. Kamloops’ tap water has a million times more naturally occurring fluorides than such remedies.

No wonder Heath Canada has deemed homeopathic remedies to be safe. They are purer than the water we drink. So, why go to all that trouble to make pure water?  The difference between pure water and homoeopathic pure water, homeopaths claim, is that the later contains a “memory” of the original substance even when it is diluted virtually out of existence.

A Vancouver Island naturopath got into trouble when she provided a remedy containing (or not containing, depending on the dilution) rabid-dog saliva. Anke Zimmermann, gave a child lyssin because he demonstrated behavioural issues after a dog bite. The problem, according to Health Canada, had nothing to do with the fact that it contained rabid-dog saliva: five others had been approved. The problem was this one, lyssin, which is made in Britain and not approved.

People can imagine whatever they want, but if they think they are taking medicines when they are drinking pure water, that’s a worry. B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, Bonnie Henry, wrote Health Canada expressing her concerns.

“I believe all of these products that are purportedly based on infectious or dangerous material should not be classified as ‘medicines’ and should not be regulated as health products (Globe and Mail, May 13, 2018),” Dr. Henry said in an e-mail.

Professor Bernie Garrett at the University of British Columbia’s nursing school says:

“It’s absurd that these homeopathic remedies should be licensed for use when technically, they’re nothing more than water because of the dilution process. But they still cause harm by delaying access to effective treatment and by causing people to lose money.”

David Stephan and his wife, Collet, were found guilty in 2016 of failing to provide the necessaries of life for 19-month-old Ezekiel. They treated him with garlic, onion and horseradish rather than take him to a doctor. Ezekiel’s body was so stiff from meningitis that he couldn’t sit in his car seat. She took him to naturopathic clinic in Lethbridge on a mattress where she bought an echinacea mixture. Ezekiel died later.

The Supreme Court allowed a new trial based on a technicality. The couple appealed the original decision and lost. But because appeal court’s ruling wasn’t unanimous, the couple had an automatic right to take their case to the Supreme Court.

Michael Kruse, executive director of Bad Science Watch, is blunt in his assessment of homeopathy:

“These self-regulated professions are based on magical thinking, and until provincial governments take responsibility to be the arbiter of what is scientific and what is not, the doors are open for any profession with a training program and standard of practice to make potentially deadly claims.”

 

Government as theatre

The Trump administration doesn’t make sense as government. He has no coherent foreign or domestic policies. He fires trusted advisors regularly. White House staff wake up each morning and check their Twitter feeds to find out what bizarre direction the country is now going in.

    image: NPR

However, the Trump administration does make sense as theatre. Not exactly Shakespeare, although there may be comic elements. More like professional wrestling says Naomi Klein:

“It’s hard to overstate Trump’s fascination with wrestling (Harper’s magazine, Sept., 2017).”

He has performed at least eight times in World Wrestling Entertainment, enough to earn a place in the W.W.E. Hall of Fame. In the “Battle of the Billionaires,” he pretended to beat wrestling champ Vince McMahon and shaved McMahon’s head in front of the cheering throng.

Trump honed his infotainment skills in front of live audiences. As president, whenever he wants a feel-good moment he assembles crowds of supporters and whips up the crowd with the standard rhetoric of wrestling.

His campaign followed the and true wrestling script: invent heroes and villains. Mock the villains with insulting nicknames like “Little Marco”, “Lyin’ Ted.” Stir up the crowd with over-the-top insults and chants like “Killary,” and “Lock her up.” Direct the crowd’s rage at the designated villains: journalists and demonstrators.

“Outsiders would emerge from these events shaken, not sure what had just happened,” says Klein, “What had happened was a cross between a pro-wrestling match and a white-supremacist rally.”

President Trump’s plans to meet with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, if it ever happens, will have the circus-like feel of a wrestling match. Each leaders boasts of having a bigger rocket than the other. They trade insults, Trump calling Jong-un a “little rocket man.” Jong-un calling Trump a “Mentally deranged dotard (senile old man).”

Trump will promote the match as having high stakes. If Trump wins –and in wrestling, the hero always wins- Kim will have to eat humble pie. Trump will symbolically shave Kim Jong-un’s head.

That’s how Trump will spin the meeting. The reality is a bit different. Trump is not bargaining from a position of strength. While he does have the potential to bomb North Korea out of existence, that would also destroy much of South Korea. Kim Jong-un’s stature is elevated to that of a world leader as a result of the proposed meeting with Trump.

Trump is not bothered at all about the political reality, his concern is ratings. Klein explains:

“So Trump sees himself less as a president than as the executive producer of his country, with an eye always on the ratings. Responding to the suggestion that he fire his press secretary, he reportedly said, ‘I’m not firing Sean Spicer. That guy gets great ratings. Everyone tunes in.’”

It’s a mistake to think of Trump as a politician. He ran for office as reality show host and won because he isn’t a politician. He is skilled at attracting attention to himself with crude, audacious, contradictory, untrue and insulting remarks.

It works. In a world that’s increasingly narcissistic, Trump is skilled at drawing attention to himself with his clever wrestling shtick.