Thursday, March 22, 2018

Remember the Alamo: Trump/Cambridge Analytica scheme to suppress votes of women, minorities

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 16: (L to R) Brad Parscale, digital director for the Trump campaign, and Eli Miller, chief operating officer for the Trump campaign, exit Trump Tower, November 16, 2016 in New York City. Trump is in the process of choosing his presidential cabinet as he transitions from a candidate to the president-elect. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Trump digital director Brad Parscale
Of all the astonishing information that has been revealed about Cambridge Analytica over the last week, The Guardian’s lengthy investigation turns up what may be the most disturbing element.
… in late summer of [2014] Cambridge Analytica presented the Russian oil company with an outline of its datasets, capabilities and methodology. The presentation had little to do with “consumers”. Instead, documents show it focused on election disruption techniques. The first slide illustrates how a “rumour campaign” spread fear in the 2007 Nigerian election – in which [Cambridge Analytica’s parent company] worked – by spreading the idea that the “election would be rigged”.
The very first thing Cambridge Analytica pitched to Russia was their ability to disrupt an election through fear, and to suppress the vote specifically by convincing voters that the outcome was rigged. If that tactic sounds familiar, it should.

The idea that the election was rigged was first voiced by Trump in the summer of 2016 and became a standard part of Trump’s statements against Clinton, not just concerning the general election, but the primaries. Trump’s use of stolen Democratic emails distributed through WikiLeaks focused—through selective release, selective editing, and flat-out distortion—on pushing the idea that the primaries had been “rigged for Hillary” as a means of angering and discouraging Democratic voters.

But there’s another critical factor here. It wasn’t just that Trump was using the “rigged” story that he was taught as Cambridge Analytica’s most effective strategy for discouraging voters. There was a much, much bigger plan.  

Even before the election, Trump’s team was already pushing back on the idea that Cambridge Analytica’s psychological warfare tools were behind their online marketing success. Instead, the people behind Trump’s digital campaign told Bloomberg their plan was dreamed up by …
“some Silicon Valley people who are kind of covert Trump fans and experts in digital marketing.”
But what was going on between Parscale and the quants from Cambridge Analytica wasn’t a casual idea worked up over campaign pizza and flat soda. It was a dedicated effort to keep Democrats away from the polls. And they gave their scheme a name: Project Alamo. 

The project was created in the San Antonio is the one where 13 members of Cambridge Analytica came to huddle with Donald Trump’s IT director Brad Parscale. And they launched a plan dedicated to making Democrats despondent, disinterested, and unwilling to get out to vote in the 2016 election. What they whipped up had three prongs:
  • Convince black voters that Clinton secretly hated African Americans, but thought she could deceive them into supporting her during the election.
  • Convince Bernie Sanders supporters that Hillary Clinton was a neo-liberal war hawk who had stolen the primaries.
  • Convince younger women that Clinton was from a different era and didn’t understand their concerns while reminding them that Clinton stuck by “sexual predator” Bill Clinton.
And the stories that were spread by Trump’s campaign didn’t skimp on the “spreading fear” part of the equations that had worked so well for Cambridge Analytica overseas. They went there, as well.
Trump’s reluctance to commit to a peaceful transition of power created a firestorm of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans. But his assertions are the natural conclusion of much of his standard campaign rhetoric, with ongoing claims that the election is “rigged” against him by groups including the media, the federal government, and a “global power structure,” and coded language about voter fraud in the inner cities. He urged his supporters to “watch” the polls in cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, and Philadelphia. “I hear these horror shows, and we have to make sure that this election is not stolen from us and is not taken away from us,” he told a mostly white crowd in northeast Pennsylvania earlier this month. “And everybody knows what I’m talking about.”
Multiple sites launched “wear red to the polls” campaigns, and photo shopped images showed hordes of red-shirted Trump supporters surrounding polling sites. The results were absolutely intentional.
His inflammatory rhetoric has raised concerns that Trump supporters might attempt to intimidate voters on Election Day and adds to growing misgivings about the integrity and security of polling places.
Trump’s campaign wanted voters not just dispirited about Hillary Clinton, but literally afraid to exercise their vote. In any poll, there are always the dedicated voters, and those more on the margin. The Alamo Plan wasn’t designed to convert voters to Trump, just to keep those marginal voters trembling at home.
Revisiting Cambridge Analytica’s initial presentation to Russia:
The first slide illustrates how a “rumour campaign” spread fear in the 2007 Nigerian election – in which [Cambridge Analytica’s parent company] worked – by spreading the idea that the “election would be rigged”.
Spread rumors that the election is “rigged.” Make voters afraid to participate.
Remember that.

And remember this: Facebook had workers in that same office, directly helping Trump’s team with Project Alamo.
In San Antonio, a young staffer showed off a South Park-style animation he’d created of Clinton delivering the “super predator” line (using audio from her original 1996 sound bite), as cartoon text popped up around her: “Hillary Thinks African Americans are Super Predators.” The animation will be delivered to certain African American voters through Facebook “dark posts”—nonpublic posts whose viewership the campaign controls so that, as Parscale puts it, “only the people we want to see it, see it.” The aim is to depress Clinton’s vote total. “We know because we’ve modeled this,” says the official. “It will dramatically affect her ability to turn these people out.”

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