Part 1 described the origins of Cambridge Analytica when Steve Bannon persuaded oligargh Robert Mercer to invest in the company in order to infulence the 2016 presidential election. Who is Robert Mercer? He is an American multi-multi-millionaire who funded various right wing political activity including Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign as well as funding many right-wing political causes in the United States, such as Breitbart News and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for president.
Mercer started out as computer scientist, an early artificial intelligence researcher, then later became CEO of the hedge fund company Renaissance Technologies. In 2015, The Washington Post called Mercer one of the ten most influential billionaires in politics. Mercer was shown data that indicated “voters were becoming alienated from both political parties and mainstream candidates” which probably led him to support Trump in the Republican race in 2016.
To test run, Cambridge Analytica’s approach to infulence elections, Mercer became involved in the EU Referendum, donating the services of Cambridge Analytica (CA) to Nigel Farage and Leave.EU. CA harvested data from Facebook profiles (more about in Part 3) in order to target them with individualized ads to vote for Brexit. CA, through Canadian digital firm AggregateIQ also advised Dominic Cummings’ VoteLeave campaign, which delivered an estimated one billion individually curated targeted adverts to voters in the lead up to the Brexit referendum, in contravention of established voting rules. Neither VoteLeave and Leave.EU informed the UK electoral commission of Mercer’s donations. In 2018, the Electoral Commission found the VoteLeave campaign guilty of breaking electoral law.
For the 2016 US Presidential Election, it was revealed that Mercer funded anti-muslim adverts on facebook.
“Adverts”… it sounds so tame, doesn’t it? Part 3 will be discussing this in more detail but in the meantime, this is a must-watch TED talk by Carole Cadwallar who slams into facebook and the impact that social media is making on the UK’s antiquated election laws.