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New tapes reveal Cambridge Analytica CEO’s boasts of voter suppression (opendemocracy.net)
191 points by byproxy 48 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments



Also worthy of note is Cambridge Analytica's trolling of Nigeria's 2015 presidential election:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/04/cambridge-an...

Amoral doesn't begin to describe these people.



"SCL/CA has never undertaken voter suppression and there is no evidence to the contrary."

Hilarious - like the guilty parties in 50 years of cop/detective/courtroom/true-crime shows, he doesn't just stop with "we didn't do it" but feels compelled to tack on the part about "...and you don't have any evidence we did it!"


Apparently in Kaiser's recording, Nix (then CEO), described CA's capabilities as voter suppression.

Does the article link the recording? I wasn't able to find it while browsing by phone.


Not that I found. There's a link to the older ones at Channel4.com. And they refer to the newer recordings ("In explosive recordings that Kaiser made in the summer of 2016, excerpts from which are published exclusively by openDemocracy today...") but no link.


Weird. Thanks for confirming.


> They talked about ‘honey traps’ that used Ukrainian prostitutes and boasted of secret teams who “ghosted in, did the work, ghosted out” of countries, and “put information into the bloodstream of the internet… with no branding, so it’s unattributable, untrackable”

You really think someone would do that? Just go on the internet and write lies?

https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/just-go-on-the-internet-and-t...


>In the recordings, Nix describes one of his major clients, Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, as a "fascist".


This was a bit of an eye opener on how much information Robert Mueller's team has and could be an indication of what is in the many sealed indictments in the DC citcuit given he flipped Sam Patton.

On the Brexit side it's probably time to stop and step back to investigate whether the vote was unduly influenced with foreign cash or interferance.


The story is written in long form, so it's difficult to figure out what methods of "voter suppression" were used. I hesitate to cry "fake news" here, but only barely.

Typically, in my experience, "voter suppression" refers to techniques designed to prevent certain targeted groups from voting -- things like voter ID laws are often accused of having this motive, or closing polling stations, or limiting polling hours, or refusing to protect workers from discipline for taking the time to vote. These are almost always structural in nature; creating barriers that prevent people from voting.

It appears that the voter suppression they are referring to is a completely different beast -- they reference this [1] Bloomberg article, which says:

> “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans. Trump’s invocation at the debate of Clinton’s WikiLeaks e-mails and support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to turn off Sanders supporters. The parade of women who say they were sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and harassed or threatened by Hillary is meant to undermine her appeal to young women. And her 1996 suggestion that some African American males are “super predators” is the basis of a below-the-radar effort to discourage infrequent black voters from showing up at the polls—particularly in Florida.

These are not "voter suppression" in the sense used above; this is just dirty campaigning; or arguably even just campaigning. For a long time the fact of the matter is that a campaign, especially a presidential campaign, is trying to increase the turnout of your supporters, and decrease the turnout of your opponent's supporters -- nobody is convincing anybody to change sides; everyone is just trying to convince people to not vote. As long as it is done through non-structural means, convincing people not to vote is a perfectly reasonable persuasion technique, and it pains me to see the marketing hacks at Cambridge Analytica elevated to some sort of gurus that can magically hypnotize people.

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-27/inside-th...


You're correct, factually; this is just a perverse way of 'campaigning' that has no semblance to the 'spirit of democracy', rather than the criminal sort of voter suppression, but that's the age we live in.

Hah. Imagine if all this effort had been turned towards anything _good_, like, say, electing a political party in Trinidad which supported the interests of both racial groups instead of suppressing one of them from voting so the other would win. Like, what if all this scheming was in the interest of helping do good things that help people instead of electing the powerful people who pay for it? Sure sounds nice.


>As long as it is done through non-structural means, convincing people not to vote is a perfectly reasonable persuasion technique

What if it is done fraudulently? For example, lying to people about when/where to vote or lying about your opponent's positions. That doesn't seem like a reasonable technique to me.


That's a ridiculous straw man. None of the cases cited above or the referenced article refer to any techniques even bordering on that.

I suspect those techniques are rarely used because when they are exposed as being fraudulent they are massively counterproductive to voter apathy.


You made this comment:

==As long as it is done through non-structural means, convincing people not to vote is a perfectly reasonable persuasion technique==

I took your own generic statement and asked you to further qualify it. I did this by posing a question (opposite of a straw man) and applying it to a hypothetical scenario (to make it realistic). I never accused anyone of doing it or claimed it was something you cited. I was trying to understand if there should be some type of qualifier on the phrase "convincing people not to vote is a perfectly reasonable persuasion technique" because it seems to me that it isn't a universal truth.


Pretty sure they were an integral part of pushing purely fraudulent conspiracies like Pizzagate, bolstered by Bannon's very own media arm's ability to amplify.

> Breitbart is known for its anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-feminist sentiments, as well as for promoting far-right conspiracy theories like Pizzagate.

> “We were testing all kinds of messages and all kinds of imagery. That included images of walls, people scaling walls. We tested ‘drain the swamp.’ Testing ideas of the ‘deep state’ and the NSA watching you—the government is conspiring against you,” the former Cambridge Analytica employee, Christopher Wylie, told CNN late Monday. Wylie said his work for Bannon went back to 2014.

https://www.newsweek.com/watch-did-cambridge-analytica-use-f...


I'd disagree pretty strongly due to the intent.

Intent is important and clearly intended to suppress voters or describing your* actions as suppressing voters and continuing to do that is a clear intention to break the law and, IMO, a pretty repulsive thing to do. There are people out there who thing our democracy should work slightly differently (ranked choice, wealth based voting, removal of the electoral college) these approaches can be said to disenfranchise voters but if the motive for discussing/pushing for these changes is to make things more democratic their heart is at least in the right place. Having your heart in the wrong place and being open about it is a demonstration of a clear lack of scruples.

I'd also mention that I idealistically believe that negative campaigning is undemocratic - I strongly support movements to let third parties play a larger role in politics because when you change the question from "Us vs. Them" to "Which one of us" I think a lot of the partisan issues our country is suffering from are removed. I can accept that negative campaigning is an optimal strategy in our current political system but I think the fact that it is indicates that there's some really fundamental stuff wrong with our system. All that said, I think if you were, in isolation, to refer to negative campaigning as voter suppression then you'd be incorrect and the "fake news" label would be appropriate for being purposefully misleading.

[*] I tried to find more context around who "a senior official" was in this quote, it appears to suggest it's someone associated with CA and the campaign, and no matter who they are they're clearly in the wrong, but if it's someone not associated with CA then I'd agree this article is misleading by specifically calling out the CEO of CA.


Multiple opponents does not fix negative campaigning. Look at the Republican primaries that Trump one for an example of a very negative multi candidate campaign.


Multiple opponents reduces the strategic value of negative campaigning... but if a player begins in a position of strength or the rules of the game favor them or if the cost of negative campaigning is far lower than normal it is still possible they'll end up winning.


I don't agree with your assessment but it was well said and I don't think you should be downvoted. It's too bad so many people are engaging the mantra of, "I don't like it so I'm going to downvote it." Dissenting opinions don't deserve to be buried because we disagree with them.


[flagged]


Would you please stop posting political flamebait to HN?


The entire article is political flamebait, so on-topic comments would also be political flamebait.


There are degrees of this. Many comments manage to remain civil and substantive despite the divisive topic. This is exactly what the site guidelines call for: https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html.


Give me a dramatic helicopter coup and I'm in.


Sounds like they ran negative campaign ads? Hardly voter suppression and trivializes it by trying to equate the two.


Well, I wish I was able to fit the entire title in the submission. If anything, I feel that the bribery aspect is more damning.

>"You can spend $10 million on an election. Or we can send one of our guys in to go offer the leader of the opposition a bribe, you know, three weeks before polling. It's a very good way to win an election.”


I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop regarding how Peter Thiel became Trump's biggest fan and to what extent Palantir was involved with CA.


IANAL, is this enough to prosecute?

It seems like enough to get a warrant.


I wonder if that's what happened to Bernie Sanders. Immediately after his defeat in the primary he bought yet another house, his third. The timing is just too suspicious to be coincidental.

https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2016/08/bernie-sanders-summe...


From the article: "Jane told Seven Days that they had recently sold a house in Maine that had belonged to her family since the 1900s, and used the proceeds to purchase the new property, which is located in North Hero (population 803, as of the 2010 census)."

Why would he have bought a house when he was planning on moving to the White House?


I doubt it. He's the most principled seeming american politican and he sold another house for this one.

I would think that he bought the house not for a new excess of money, but time.


He "sold another house" yet showed no such activity in that year's tax return?


What gets me is that when there was a really blatant attempt at voter suppression last US election using Facebook ads falsely warning North Dakota hunters they'd lose their hunting licenses if they voted, by the official North Dakota Democratic state affiliate no less, only a few really right-wing outlets called that voter suppression. Hell, I don't think most of the mainstream news outlets even covered it.


Wow, that is so astonishingly scummy [1]

[1] https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2018/nov...


It did get covered but it materialized, got called, out and disappeared in the span of like a few days.


> Nix ... engineered a highly successful grassroots campaign to "increase apathy" so that young Afro-Caribbeans would not vote.

1. He did this via speech. Free speech is a good thing even when the speech is bad, even when spoken by foreigners, even when it's illegal.

2. To the extent that this campaign succeeds it will tend to remove voters that are a) more suggestive, b) more prone to apathy. That would seem to improve the overall quality of the voting pool.

The drive to get everyone to vote seems to be more about justifying the result than improving it.


> He did this via speech. Free speech is a good thing even when the speech is bad, even when spoken by foreigners, even when it's illegal.

I'm not sure you've thought this through. There's no line whatsoever? Speech is good even when it's, say, fraudulent? If I send mailers to voters registered with the opposite party that look like they're from the board of elections but give the wrong date for the election, or the wrong polling place, that's a good thing? How? What value is served?

> That would seem to improve the overall quality of the voting pool The drive to get everyone to vote seems to be more about justifying the result than improving it.

You're assuming that the value of democracy is as a means of arriving at optimal policy. A lot of people think there are normative aspects of democratic participation, such as ensuring that government actions reflect the values and desires of those governed. And even sticking with the sort of instrumental frame you're operating with, your analysis is too static. Bringing people into the political process improves voter quality, as those who start out apathetic become less so through participation, and those who are less informed become more so.


I disagree with your position that 'Free speech is a good thing even when the speech is bad...' on the premise that intent matters in democracy. In this case, 'free speech' was really 'paid speech' whose intent was not to argue the relative merits or problems of one policy or candidate but cynically targeted with the intent to achieve a specific outcome for a client. It makes no difference if the speech is domestic or foreign, legal or illegal.

Taken to an extreme, the ecosystem of speech and ideas that democracy relies upon becomes a wilderness where it becomes impossible to discern who is articulating their real opinions and who is simply making a bad-faith argument in which they do not necessarily believe in order to get a paycheck.


> Taken to an extreme, the ecosystem of speech and ideas that democracy relies upon becomes a wilderness where it becomes impossible to discern who is articulating their real opinions and who is simply making a bad-faith argument in which they do not necessarily believe in order to get a paycheck.

I think you are making a lot of politicians homeless now if you would forbid this.


Sounds like a brilliant idea, then.


I'm astonished to hear this said so openly. Whom is a representative democracy supposed to represent - only educated, upper-class, "quality" folks?

We rightly consigned that idea to the dust bin, along with poll taxes, literacy tests, etc. If you want to improve the _citizenry_, a better approach would be to support civic education.

edit: s/What/Whom/


>Whom is a representative democracy supposed to represent - only educated, upper-class, "quality" folks?

I think there is an valid question to what extent should people and views be represented. The simplest idea is that everyone is equally represented, but every voting system I've ever heard of has a minimum age, meaning that we think you can be too young to be represented.

Also, anyone who supports a non-mandatory system also supports, perhaps not knowingly or willingly, a system where the apathetic are not represented.

So, we already have a system where we think it is okay that apathetic and young individuals aren't represented, is it really that astonishing to suggest that some people think other groups should be included or that they want to change the boundaries of the already excluded groups?

In my mind, as soon as a society makes it acceptable to look at a 17 year old and say "You are too young/inexperienced/immature to vote", that society has legitimized unequal forms of representation.


Democracies are supposed to represent everybody, and I don't think the GP would disagree. The things you cite as being consigned to the dust bin are all structural remedies -- changes to how elections are run with the intent of removing voters from the rolls and preventing people from voting.

Apathy-inducing speech is not that at all -- people have to make the choice to not vote; nothing is preventing them. Where there are things preventing them, we as a nation should be doing our utmost to remove those barriers. But not voting is a perfectly valid statement to make in a democracy. It can be a statement of lack of confidence in any of the candidates, or a statement of deferring to an electorate that you feel is more knowledgeable. For example, I will almost always abstain from voting for judgeships or DAs (I live in NYC); I have absolutely no means by which to judge the performance or resumes of these individuals except in very rare circumstances.


My take is that there is a civic, if not legal, obligation to participate in our democracy. The speech in question is working to suppress the mechanism by which we influence our own society. That it's an effort by a private party, and not the government itself, is immaterial to my point.

I view this and similar efforts as direct attacks on the fabric of our society, aiming to reduce the influence of underrepresented people, to the advantage of the well-represented. In that respect, it's no different from disenfranchisement (or "structural remedies", as you so euphemistically put it).


> I'm astonished to hear this said so openly.

Increasing "voter apathy" is a 100% legitimate democratic tactic, even for foreign powers.


No, it isn't.

The whole point of democracy is to canvas opinion.

If you influence opinion on an industrial scale using significant sums of cash that aren't available to most citizens, that's not true democracy - that's you buying power with money.


Can you further explain what you mean by "legitimate" in this sentence? In it's context, it could be taken a number of different ways.


even for foreign powers.

Not in the view of U.S. campaign law.


>To the extent that this campaign succeeds it will tend to remove voters that are a) more suggestive, b) more prone to apathy.

You forgot c) That are Afro-Carribbeans

This is targeted. It doesn't just remove all suggestive apathetic voters. It targets only the ones that vote the "wrong" way.


Though it's difficult to technically fault what you say, I find it unsettling.

Here in AU we have some significant differences to elections - eg. compulsory voting, Saturday polls. The annoying thing is that this doesn't appear (on average) to deliver superior administration.


I can't see how compulsory voting is a good thing. Voluntary voting, I feel, has the effect of filtering out those that can't be bothered to vote and would therefore vote poorly (that is, based on whims and more susceptible to misinformation) if made to. I don't know that people who do choose to vote in a voluntary system have done their diligence on the people and issues they are voting for, but they at least meet a certain level of caring enough to go to the polls or mail out their ballot.

Then again, it'd be nice to think compulsory voting would increase levels of civic engagement and make people interested in how government works and effects them.


I suppose like many things it comes down to what you grew up with.

Very few people in Australia think we should move to a voluntary voting approach, and I don't see much inclination in the US or UK to move to a compulsory voting approach.

This despite the absence of a clearly favourable outcome in any of those nation states -- which makes me think it might not really matter, other than perhaps hopefully requiring more effort and money to manipulate a larger number of voters. But again, no evidence of that either.

Whether compulsory voting leads to a more informed population, as you suggest may happen, I'm not sure if it's true, or how you'd test for that.


One possible fallacy here is that people who vote have done their due diligence. I don't think that's a given, especially with how many 1-topic voters there are in the US.


1. The right to free speech is good. Individual instances of free speech can be bad. These two stances are perfectly compatible: belief in the goodness of the right to free speech only means you think it’s bad for the government to punish it, not that every use of it is good.

2. Another way to put this is that it will tend to remove voters who are more open-minded and who have interests outside politics.

Fanatics and crazies will vote no matter what. Getting more ordinary people to vote is good.


> Free speech is a good thing [...] even when it's illegal.

What do you mean? Illegal speech is, by definition, not free speech. Not all speech is free.

And why would it be good in general to say things in public that are illegal to say?


So the American founding fathers weren't engaging in free speech when they declared independence from England (an act of treason against the crown?)

No one protesting an authoritarian regime or an unjust law is exercising free speech when its illegal to do so?

Books, art, music, any expression considered subversive by the state, none of that is free speech?

The law does not define free speech, it can only limit it, as any law can only limit rights, not define them. There is a great deal of historic precedent defending illegal speech as free speech.


I think the legality and the morality of free speech aren't connected. You can have legal but immoral speech and illegal but moral speech (such as the example you give). It is possible to have speech that is, regardless of legality, wrong and something not to celebrate or call good (say someone encouraging a suicidal person to attempt).


> The law does not define free speech

What is the first amendment then? It’s also the other way around. Freedom of speech is defined as speech that has no negative legal ramifications, among other things. Look it up.

> So the American founding fathers weren’t engaging in free speech when they declared independence from England (an act of treason against the crown?)

Correct, as you pointed out. It was an act of treason from England’s legal point of view, punishable had they gone back to England. It was also written in the middle of a war, and is a declaration of secession. This is a pretty wild example to try to use. I’m confused what makes you think this is a demonstration of freedom of speech in any way? It’s almost completely the opposite, it’s a demonstration of successful speech against the law. England did not offer the freedom for this speech, and freedom of speech wasn’t establish in the United States as a legal concept until after the country was formed.

You seem to be confusing having strong reasons to take a moral stand with actual freedom. If there are negative legal consequences, then you don’t have freedom, by the definition of freedom. People can and do risk choosing to take actions knowing there are negative consequences, but that’s not the same thing as having the “freedom” to take those actions.

> Books, art, music, any expression considered subversive by the state, none of that is free speech?

“Considered subversive” and illegal aren’t the same thing. If it’s illegal, then you don’t have freedom to say it. When people say “America is a free country” they don’t mean you get to do anything at all, they mean we have fewer laws limiting personal freedoms than other countries. But there are still lots of illegal things you shouldn’t do that if you do will result in punishment.

> There is a great deal of historic precedent defending illegal speech as free speech.

No, there are some specific cases of speech, and some specific classes of speech, that were illegal and have been changed, and for good reasons. There are also types of speech that remain illegal and probably always will. Slander and libel, among others, are not protected classes of legal speech, for good reasons.


>What is the first amendment then?

The first amendment defines the federal government's ability to "abridge (or limit) the freedom of speech (...)" Nowhere does it preface this with a statement like "the freedom of speech shall be defined as..." but rather it assumes the right already exists.

>I’m confused what makes you think this is a demonstration of freedom of speech in any way?

My argument is that freedom of speech is a universal right, as much as any right is universal, and that a legal framework can only diminish it but never define it or expand it.

>“Considered subversive” and illegal aren’t the same thing.

It can be under some authoritarian governments. One of the most powerful uses for freedom of speech (and freedom of the press) is criticizing governments and powerful entities. But what does freedom of speech even mean if the only criticism or forms of expression allowed are those permitted by the government?

> There are also types of speech that remain illegal and probably always will. Slander and libel, among others, are not protected classes of legal speech, for good reasons.

Yes, and I agree those reasons are good, for the most part, and necessary for a civil society. But they are also limitations on the freedom of speech, and not all such limitations are just.


> not all such limitations are just

This might be the heart of your confusion. I’m not arguing about what’s just or right at all. I’m talking about what freedom actually means, and the fact that, right or wrong, not all speech is allowed in public.

> Nowhere does [the first amendment] preface this with a statement like “the freedom of speech shall be defined as...”

That is correct, but it does start with the words “Congress shall make no laws...” which is an uber-law defining the idea that speech will have legal protection. Those five words are a constitutional directive that defines what “freedom” means in the term “freedom of speech” in the United States.

> My argument is that freedom of speech is a universal right

The principle of freedom of speech is the idea that most speech should be a universal right; that principle does not allow for all speech, and it is not universally recognized, therefore is is not a universal "right". It becomes a right and a freedom when the principle is recognized and protected by your government.

Freedom of speech is an explicitly stated goal for the US constitution, and also for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Those documents are not recognized in all countries, and both documents have exceptions. In no case is there a blanket protection for any speech at all, anywhere in the world today.

> One of the most power uses for freedom of speech (and freedom of the press) is criticizing governments and powerful entities.

Again, you seem to have the misconception that “freedom of speech” is a term that is referring to speech that takes a moral stand against power or against the law. What you’re talking about is “speech”, not the principle of “freedom of speech”, nor the legal protections we call “freedom of speech”. If you might be sent to jail for saying it, then you aren’t enjoying freedom. The better term for this is “speaking to power”.

You seem to be referring to cases where people should have freedom of speech in principle, but don’t. The term “freedom of speech” is the term for the idea that most speech should or will be protected and allowed by law. That’s what the word “freedom” is referring to.

> But what does freedom of speech even mean if the only criticism or forms of expression allowed are those permitted by the government?

What would freedom of speech even mean if it's not permitted by the government?

In the US, freedom of speech means that a journalist is allowed to criticize the president’s public policy actions and not be sent to jail, for example. People are allowed to protest in public.

In China, journalists who criticize the legitimacy of the communist party are put in jail. In China, you are not allowed to use Facebook or Google, and people are jailed for attending public protests.

If you want to understand what our government means by speech that is permitted and protected by the government, you just have to look at other countries that don’t recognize those freedoms.


Free speech is a good thing even when the speech is bad, even when spoken by foreigners, even when it's illegal.

It seems you're confusing "has a right to exist" with "is a good thing".


Is there a name for the "X is not actually illegal, therefore X is good" fallacy? I see it a lot on the internet.


>Free speech is a good thing even when [...] it's illegal.

...well, that's a new one for me.


If you remove the more apathetic voters, what does that leave? Raving fanatic partisans. Which leads to a broken gridlocked government. Which leads to increased voter apathy and efforts to disenfranchise the "enemy" party. First they came for the voting rights of the young Afro-Caribeans, and I did not speak out.


1. "Doing X is good, even if X is illegal" is not a great stance.

2. Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc. Try again.




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