How the Cambridge Analytica sausage was made
Cambridge Analytica wasn’t something new and radically different. It was just another shitty western company selling over-hyped digital counterinsurgency solutions to private and government clients.
Modesty is a virtue and all that, but boy does it hurt to be so consistently right. What’s the latest?
Well, remember that panic about Cambridge Analytica? Back in 2018, we were told that this shady UK data firm used a totally unprecedented psychological influence weapon to elect Donald Trump, push through Brexit, and lay waste to global democracy — all with the help of “the Russians.” This scandal played out for months, years even — and it launched the careers of a pink-haired fabulist “whistleblower” and a total crank journalist from the Guardian. The pair helped convince everyone that Cambridge Analytica was the most dangerous company in the world. How could democracy function when we’re just puppets in the hands of these Russia-backed shadowy techno-manipulators?
Back then I criticized this Cambridge Analytica craze as completely ahistorical. And I saw the support that this conspiracy theory enjoyed in establishment political circles as yet another example of people desperately wanting to shift blame for domestic political problems (Trump, Brexit) onto something external and foreign — in this case, it’s all because of shifty Russians and their supposedly mongoloid-voodoo brainwashing technologies.
Welp, I was right. Thanks to a recently released UK government report, we now know that the panic about Cambridge Analytica turned out to be just that: panic — panic and propaganda.
While the Financial Times has a quick analysis of the new findings, over at the Grayzone Alexander Rubinstein does a deep dive into the Cambridge Analytica conspiracy theory. He looks at the two grifters most responsible for whipping it up: a guy named Christopher Wylie and reporter from the Guardian named Carole Cadwalladr.
Check it out, I highly recommend it:
Reading Alex’s piece, I figured I might as well dig up from the Internet’s mass graveyard of information my own work on this shady company. Back in 2018, just when my book Surveillance Valley came out, I did a big article that looked at how Cambridge Analytica fits into the larger counterinsurgency history of the Internet.
What’s important to remember is that the drive to build computer technologies which could track, predict, analyze, and influence behavior of people and populations was a big part of why the Pentagon funded the creation of the Internet.
As I wrote:
The early internet came out of a series of Vietnam War counterinsurgency projects aimed at developing computer technology that would give the government a way to manage a complex series of global commitments and to monitor and prevent political strife—both at home and abroad. The internet, going back to its first incarnation as the ARPANET military network, was always about surveillance, profiling, and targeting.
The influence of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine on the development of modern computers and the internet is not something that many people know about. So what jumps out at me is how seamlessly the reported activities of Cambridge Analytica fit into this historical narrative.
Surveillance and behavior modification are the root of this system that we all use today. So Cambridge Analytica isn’t an outlier or something new and different that was concocted with the help of “the Russians” or Bannon’s evil genius nationalist brigade. Nope. It’s just another shitty western company selling digital counterinsurgency solutions to private and government clients — all while comically overstating its capabilities.
While we wait for the election results to finally hit, I’m reprinting my old article below. Enjoy!