The Truth About Cambridge Analytica

From Transmetropolitan Review

We live in a small world, for sure, but clearly most people living in it are having a hard time telling the difference between what’s the truth and what’s a lie. Lies are the norm in capitalist society, each of them carefully calibrated to keep people stuck in the economy, the state, and the nation. Lies help people convince themselves that everything’s alright, their life is meaningful, they’re not a slave, and all the endless sacrifices are worth it in the end. The truth simply doesn’t make sense in this world and telling it often provokes more lies than one started with. The two books reviewed in this article contain the truth of how the population’s of capitalist nations are monitored, manipulated, and controlled through their digital devices, social media, and smart technology. One is a mystery novel called Darlingtonia, published in the fall of 2017. The other is a non-fiction book called Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America, published in the fall of 2019. Read together, these texts answer questions most people are only beginning to ask.

According to the authors, Darlingtonia was conceptualized in the summer of 2015, with the entire plot mapped out by a collective who wrote under the name Alba Roja. At the time, a company called SCL had just used one of its shell companies, AIQ, to help pro-Brexit parties in the UK win a referendum on leaving the EU. They did this by using digital profiles of the British public, freely available on social media, and found unique psychological pressure points to fuel Brexit mania. The world was in shock when the UK voted to leave the EU and most people had no clue that another subsidiary of SCL called Cambridge Analytica was now working with the Donald Trump presidential campaign in the US.

While this fascist storm gathered strength, the authors of Darlingtonia were some of the few people in the US who knew what was coming. In the spring of 2014, members of the Alba Roja collective told this to the Silicon Valley tech-lords quite clearly: get ready for a revolution neither you nor we can control, a revolution that will spread to all of the poor, exploited, and degraded members of this new tech-society and be directed towards you for your bad decisions and irresponsible activities. We advise you to take us seriously. The tech-lords didn’t listen, they didn’t take the warning seriously, and later that year a massive rebellion broke out across the US aimed at the police and the world that needed them.

Home demo against Google VC, 2014

Oakland was the closest this fiery rebellion came to Silicon Valley and by winter of 2015 nearly all of its fire had been recuperated by the Democratic Party, the NGOs, and the police. Certain members of the Alba Roja collective eventually fled the San Francisco Bay Area when the counter-reaction overwhelmed their tiny anarchist world and doomed the area to economic displacement, poverty, gentrification, and luxury developments. Since they were living in the liberal Bay Area fighting the Democratic Party-voting tech-lords, the Alba Roja collective decided to write a mystery novel about what they’d seen between 2010 and 2015. In their experience, digital weapons had been heavily used against the US public during the Obama administration, a fact that was carefully hidden during the explosion of wokeness between 2015 and 2016.

When the Alba Roja collective first mapped out the plot of Darlingtonia in 2015, they decided to have a Hilary Clinton-like character be the president. In the summer of 2015, most of the collective thought she’d win. They’d already seen weaponized digital technology used during the Obama administration, and they wanted to warn people about what was coming if Hilary was elected. This anarchist collective and their friends had already been classified as terrorists by this Democratic administration, infiltrated by depraved federal informants, and menaced with jail sentences. The use of digital technology helped the government in this repressive effort and the Alba Roja collective knew it would only continue under a Clinton administration. This was their cynical outlook when they mapped out the entire plot of Darlingtonia in the summer of 2015, just as Donald Trump’s campaign began working with Cambridge Analytica.

Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica CEO

The author of Mindf*ck, a man named Christopher Wylie, was one of the main creators of Cambridge Analytica and helped develop its methods of psychological manipulation. Just like Ricardo Florez, one of Darlingtonia’s central characters, Wylie came from a disadvantaged place in capitalist society, found his outlet with computer hacking, and eventually became ensnared in a fascist plot to manipulate entire populations. Wylie writes that, “as a gay kid in a wheelchair, I came to understand systems of power early on in life. But as a hacker, I learned every system has weaknesses waiting to be exploited.” When he first discovered the thrill of writing code, Wylie explains, “I felt like a conjurer. And the more I practiced my incantations, the more powerful my magic could become.”

Unlike the Ricardo Florez character in Darlingtonia, Christopher Wylie began doing tech work for the Canadian state directly out of high-school and was sent to the US in 2008 to observe the digital-media strategy for the Obama campaign. As he explains, “by directly communicating select messages to select voters, the microtargeting of the Obama campaign had started a journey toward the privatization of public discourse in America.” While studying these microtargeting techniques, Wylie came to realize that “computer models are not magical incantations that can predict the world—they can make predictions only when there is an ample amount of data to base a prediction on.” As the authors of Darlingtonia would explain, “there’s a threshold…the amount of data necessary to generate [a] profile.” In his work for the Canadian state, Wylie understood that social-media could provide the rich amount of personal information needed to not only microtarget voters but build a comprehensive psychological profile. Charged from his discovery, he took this dangerous knowledge with him across the Atlantic to a new job working for the Liberal Democratic Party in the UK.

Example of personalized microtargeting using psychographics

When he arrived in London in 2010, the Lib-Dems relied on printed leaflets to sway voters, a method Wiley felt was antiquated and obsolete. Using the knowledge gleaned from the Obama campaign, Wylie began to study the UK population’s attitude towards the Lib-Dems, and the results didn’t please his employers. To be relevant, the party needed to focus on gathering data and respond directly to what they saw. Ignoring Wylie’s suggestions, the Lib-Dems were be decimated in the coming years, partially from their lack of digital engagement, but during his efforts to help them, Wylie became familiar with the five-factor model of personality (or OCEAN), a concept from experimental psychology he’d learned from a Ph.D. student at Cambridge University. In this model, individuals are broken down into five categories: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (OCEAN). Wylie would later write that this model, “in the end, provided the central idea behind what became Cambridge Analytica.”

In Darlingtonia, a private company called GSX breaks down individuals using a more elaborate model, this one based on the color spectrum. Unlike the SCL company that controlled Cambridge Analytica, GSX wasn’t limited to swaying votes. It was tasked by the federal government with controlling the entire population of the US with its sophisticated predictive models and placed each individual on a color spectrum of political belief. Alba Roja explains how “GSX had algorithms running on millions of Facebook users without distinction. Using the color spectrum, the populace was divided into those who opposed the current order and those who upheld it. Those who wished to destroy the government or capitalism were placed on the side of pure red. Those who helped maintain government and capitalism were on the side of pure violet. There were over 300 gradients, each containing dozens of behavioral subsets. Algorithms were constantly running to push people away from the red and towards the violet.” Just like Cambridge Analytica, the fictional GSX company was built using principles from behavioral psychology, an academic field that massively overlaps with our new digital era.

Christopher Wylie left his job with the Lib-Dems in early 2013 and eventually found his way to the SCL Group, a private military contractor with access to the British government’s secret information, very similar to GSX. While the Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) was only given partial access to government data, Global Security Experts (GSX) was given massive data-sets not just from the CIA and NSA, but also Facebook and Twitter. In 2013, the SCL group was limited to its specific assignments, which included working for NATO, the US government, and the British Ministry of Defense. During his hiring process, Wylie learned that SCL’s main focus was running psychological operations on specific targets, mostly in former colonies, and the company now wanted to shift into the digital realm. Wylie explains that “in 2011, DARPA began funding research into psychological profiling of social media users, how anti-government messages spread, and even online deception.” In 2013, one of SCL’s directors, Alexander Nix, asked Wylie if he’d “heard of a company called Palantir…a massive venture-capital-funded company that undertook information operations for the CIA” along with other government entities in the US and UK. Wylie explains that “Nix was obsessed. He wanted SCL to do what Palantir was doing.” Over the next few years, Wylie would help them do just that.

Like the Ricardo Florez character in Darlingtonia, Christopher Wylie made a deal with horrible people, but unlike Florez, Wylie had no secret plan to bring down the entire surveillance network. He worked enthusiastically with a Cambridge University psychologist and several other employees to build “automated data-harvesting utilities, using algorithmic imputations to consolidate different data sources into a single unified identity for each individual, and then use deep-learning neural networks to predict our desired behaviors.” Wylie explains that they needed a team of psychologists “to create the narratives needed to change behaviors” and the first sketch of this plan was color-coded “to make the journey look like the London tube map.” The first big data-set they were given came from the government of Trinidad and the Caribbean telecom companies, allowing SCL to monitor the entire island’s population in real-time. Wylie was in the process of making their system work when he was sent to meet a man named Steve Bannon in October 2013.

Wylie and Bannon met in Cambridge and talked for hours not just about politics, but “fashion and culture, Foucault, the third-wave feminist Judith Butler, and the nature of the fractured self.” Wylie thought Bannon “spoke with a certain wokeness” and was “kind of cool.” He showed Bannon a map of Trinidad speckled with colored dots, each representing a person’s psychological profile. As the map lit up, so did Bannon’s eyes, and Wylie explained that all “the data allowed us to do was to disaggregate that culture into individuals, who became moveable units of that society.” If they wanted to target people with extroverted characteristics, the data would generate a list of extroverts, “ordered by their degree of extroversion, whom we could track and target over time, trying to chip away at their extroversion.” After this initial meeting with Wylie, Bannon told SCL there was “a major right-wing donor who might be persuaded to make an investment in the firm.” This donor was Robert Mercer.

From left to right: Alexander Nix, Steve Bannon, Robert Mercer, Christopher Wylie

Before any funding, Bannon asked SCL to run a “proof of concept in Virginia,” an effort that would be the first time they “played with the data of the United States.” Within a month of setting up in Virginia, the SCL group began focusing on the state attorney general Ken Cuccinelli (the current Acting Director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services). In late-2013, Cuccinelli was running for Governor and well-known as a “super-right-wing type who had advocated for initiatives to roll back gay rights and fight environmental protections.” He reminded Wylie of “crazed politicians we’d encountered in parts of Africa, obsessed with gays and their bedroom sins.” Using their psychographic methods, the SCL group came to the conclusion that “Virginia Republicans were put off by Cuccinelli’s obsession with blow jobs.” While he lost the 2013 race for Governor, studying the population’s attitude towards Cuccinelli allowed the SCL group to conclude that “Republicans can accept a batshit insane candidate, so long as it’s consistent insanity.” During their time in Virginia, the SCL group also “compiled reams of personal information,” leading Wylie to ask, “did the state government bureaus care, or even bother to ask, where this data on their citizens was going? Nope. We could have been fraudsters of foreign spies and they wouldn’t have had a clue.” This was the sort of nihilism that would soon give birth to Cambridge Analytica.

Towards the end of Darlingtonia, the Ricardo Florez character explains that he’d reached a mental state that was “definitely not Zen” but much “closer to nihilism.” Florez is in the middle of planning his secret take-down of the surveillance network and goes to work everyday with overt racists hell-bent on sucking more people into their digital behavior modification program. Wylie never had such ambition, at least not in November 2013 when he was flown from London to New York City for a meeting with Steve Bannon, Robert Mercer, his daughter Rebekah Mercer, and Alexander Nix. Wylie was taken to a massive three-floor apartment in Trump Place that he found “tacky, as Rebekah had decorated it with random artsy-crafty touches.” In the living room there were also members of the pro-Brexit UKIP party, along with several other Mercers, and Wylie soon took center-stage.

Rebekah Mercer’s apartment, Trump Place, NYC

His initial hook in the Mercer clan was a story he told about “Kombucha Lady,” an individual from Virginia he’d found in their data-set who was “a Whole Foods shopper with an interest in yoga, but also a member of an anti-gay church and a donor to right-wing charities.” Her living room “smelled of incense and had statues of both Buddha and the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh” while a crucifix hung on the wall beside them. She served Wylie kombucha and evangelized to him “that being gay was like a block in your energy—a sinful block.” From this encounter, he realized SCL needed to “invest more in understanding the nuances behind the demographics” because “how in the hell would a pollster classify this woman?” After he finished describing his experience with Kombucha Lady, “Rebekah [Mercer] blurted, ‘That’s so me! Finally, someone understands us!”

Rebekah and Robert Mercer

Rebekah wasn’t the only one in the room who subscribed to Buddhist and Hindu thought. Steve Bannon “claimed to believe in dharma, a tenet of Hinduism and Buddhism that has to do with order in the universe and proper, harmonious ways of living….and with what Bannon called Facebook’s God’s-eye view of each and every citizen, he could work to find the dharma for every American. In this way our research became almost spiritual for him…before catalyzing America’s dharmic rebalancing, his movement would first need to instill chaos throughout society so that a new order could emerge…[he] would go on rants about how America was changing too much, his prophetic notion of an impending great conflict, or his misreading of dharma in Hinduism, which bordered on fetishistic Orientalism.” The entire room agreed with Bannon’s pseudo-dharma and Rebekah Mercer would even say to Wylie that “we need more of your kind of people…the gays—who I love, by the way!” By the end of that fateful evening, Robert Mercer decided to invest 20 million dollars into an “offshoot of SCL, which Bannon named Cambridge Analytica.” Just after they concluded this deal, the first blockade of a Google Bus took place in San Francisco on December 9, 2013, the opening shots of a movement against the same mass-surveillance-technology soon to be used by Cambridge Analytica.

In Darlingtonia, the fictional game company OingoBoingo and the real life Dropbox hold a private party at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater in San Francisco. It’s here that the Ricardo Florez character seems to make his decision to climb the OingoBoingo hierarchy in order to infiltrate and expose their surveillance network. As he tells the main character, “I just gotta for it…I just gotta play the game.” The main character has no idea what Florez really means at the time, only later, when she finally has access to the files he leaked from GSX. Just like Florez, Christopher Wylie played the game, but he did so without the intention of sinking SCL. He played the game out of genuine passion. As Wylie explains, he joined Steve Bannon’s Cambridge Analytica “because the idea was a killer one. With free rein to study such an abstract and fluid thing as culture, we could be breaking into a new field of researching societies.”

While this deal between Mercer, Bannon, and SCL was being finalized, the anti-tech rebellion targeted the giants of Silicon Valley. In Oakland on December 20, 2013, a Google Bus had one of its windows busted out while people scattered fliers that included the following text: “you might even believe that the technologies you create serve the betterment of all humans. But in reality, the benefactors of technological development are advertisers, the wealthy, the powerful, and the NSA analysts running dragnet surveillance over email, phone calls, and social media.” This rock through Google’s window quickly escalated into a year long sequence of home-demos, bus blockades, vandalism, and random violence directed against the tech world. Much of this rebellion was reported by Valleywag, a branch of the Gawker media group, and it soon drew the anger of Peter Thiel, creator of surveillance company Palantir. As mentioned above, Palantir inspired what Alexander Nix wanted SCL to become.

As this conflict heated up across San Francisco and Silicon Valley, Cambridge Analytica sent a team of sociologists and anthropologists to the US, all from different countries. Wylie explained “this was intentional. There’s a tendency among Americans to see their country as exceptional, but we wanted to study it like we would study any country, using the same language and sociological approaches.” Wylie believed that in the US, most citizens think“anthropology is for other people, not Americans,” and he would later write, “because I’m not American myself, I felt I was more able to cut through unquestioned assumptions of American culture and notice things that Americans don’t see in themselves…America is addicted to its own self-conception, and it wants to be exceptional. But it’s not. America is just like any other country.”

Informed by this viewpoint, this team of Cambridge Analytica sociologists and anthropologists fanned out across the US in early 2014 and ultimately came to the conclusion that racism, guns, and the environment were the most controversial issues in the US. Since the murder of Trayvon Martin by a racist US citizen in 2012, increasingly militant protests had been spreading across the country, further polarizing the population into hostile camps who openly expressed themselves across social-media platforms. Cambridge Analytica’s initial research was conducted in the field but that all changed in the spring of 2014 when it began to focus on obtaining enough psychological data on the US to make their system work. Cambridge Analytica turned for help to its friends at Cambridge University where the psychology department “had spearheaded several breakthroughs in using social-media data for psychological profiling.”

In Darlingtonia, the main character tracks a GSX contractor to the Department of Psychology at UC Berkeley and confronts this professor at her office. When she arrives at the Department of Psychology building, she sees “a giant box made of cement, metal, and glass. It was built in the 1970s or ’80s and meant to look futuristic. Now it’s shabby and out of place, a stale precursor to [modern condo buildings].” In his description of visiting Cambridge’s Psychological Laboratory, Wylie writes that “inside, the air was stale, and the décor hadn’t been updated since at least the 1970s.” He goes on to explain that “one of the challenges for social sciences like psychology, anthropology, and sociology is a relative lack of numerical data, since it’s extremely hard to measure and quantify the abstract cultural or social dynamics of an entire society.” This sentiment is echoed in Darlingtonia after the main character briefly kidnaps the psychology professor and makes her confess the work she did for GSX. To justify herself, the professor claims “it was a tradeoff. I got access to the data and another salary. I could test theories that couldn’t otherwise be tested. The universities just don’t have access to that data. The government and tech companies keep it from us. They use it as bait. They want to lure us away from the academy.” In this way, and in many others, Mindf*ck and Darlingtonia eerily mirror each other, a pattern which should be obvious by the end of this article.

In early 2014, Cambridge Analytica began working with a Cambridge University psychologist named Aleksandr Kogan. Born in Moldova in 1985 before emigrating to the US, Kogan studied psychology at UC Berkeley and finished his Ph.D. at the University of Hong Kong. He was hired by Cambridge as a proffesor and worked with “researchers based in St. Petersburg State University on a psychological profiling project funded by the Russian state through a public research grant. Kogan advised a team in St. Petersburg that was pulling swaths of social media profile data and using it to analyze trolling behavior.” SCL first gave Kogan access to their data on Trinidad but he was far more interested in the data recently harvested in the US. Kogan offered his services to Mercer’s project in exchange for being able to use this data for his research, a project that involved harvesting personal Facebook data using psychological survey apps. Kogan gave Cambridge Analytica tens of thousands of Facebook profiles which Wylie plugged in to the company’s existing models to test if it all worked. When it did, Kogan and Wylie got busy harvesting as much data as possible.

Aleksandr Kogan

Their first data-set was generated using Amazon’s Mturk and Facebook. As Wylie explains, “a person would agree to take a test in exchange for a small payment [2$ through Mturk]. But in order to get paid, they would have to download Kogan’s app on Facebook and input a special code. The app, in turn, would take all the responses from the survey and put those into one table. It would then pull all of the user’s Facebook data and put it into a second table. And then it would pull all the data for the person’s Facebook friends and put that into another table.” After this system was launched in June 2014, tens of millions of profiles were quickly gathered in the US, allowing Cambridge Analytica to instantly access all this intimate data.

Steve Bannon wanted his investment up-and-running by the 2014 midterms, and when he came to London for a demo, Nix, Wylie, and the team spent hours searching for random US citizens through their system, looked at all their photos, and even called their personal phone numbers. After this, Steve Bannon was hooked, just like the rest of them. Wylie describes it as “an epic moment.” By August 2014, they’d collected over 87 million profiles off Facebook and Mturk, a practice that drew the attention of Palantir. No one could believe Facebook was giving away all this data, and Palantir wanted in. As the authors of Darlingtonia explain, this was a simple “data for profiles” exchange. Facebook recorded all the results from their psychological surveys and used them for its own profiling purposes, a benefit that outweighed the cost, at least at the time.

Wylie explains that ‘some of the staff working at Palantir realized that Facebook had the potential to become the best discreet surveillance tool imaginable for the NSA—that is, if that data was “freely volunteered’ by another entity…the staff suggested to Nix that if Cambridge Analytica gave them access to the harvested data, they could then, at least in theory, legally pass it along to the NSA.” After that, Palantir “contractors” would arrive at the Cambridge Analytica office, were given access to their data, and were paid in cash, sometimes tens of thousands a week. It’s still unclear what happened as a result of this collaboration, but the implications should be obvious.

All of this took place just before Cambridge Analytica officially launched in the summer of 2014, the moment when they began targeting specific types of individuals. Wylie explains that “a select minority of people exhibit traits of narcissism (extreme self-centerdness), Machiavellianism (ruthless self-interest), and psychopathy (emotional detachment). In contrast to the Big Five traits found in everyone to some degree as part of normal psychology—openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism [OCEAN]—these “dark triad” traits were maladaptive, meaning that those who exhibit them are generally more prone to antisocial behavior, including criminal acts…Cambridge Analytica would target them, introducing narratives via Facebook groups, ads, or articles that the firm knew from internal testing were likely to inflame the very narrow segments of people with these traits.” While the results of these methods should be clear today, at the time there were few people who knew what was being unleashed on the world. Among those few were the anarchists.

While this method of scraping Facebook profiles was being refined, the anti-tech rebellion in the San Francisco Bay Area climbed to the height of its global influence. In January 2014, a small group held a demo outside the home of Anthony Levandowski, a Republican Google engineer developing their self-driving car. Before blocking a nearby Google Bus, the group left fliers across his neighborhood that included the following text: “People like Levandowski are gentrifying neighborhoods, flooding the market with noxious commodities, and creating the infrastructure for an unimaginable totalitarianism.” This demo further escalated the simmering conflict and by spring of 2014 the phrase “DIE TECHIE SCUM” was painted, stickered, or pasted across hundreds of urban surfaces in the SF Bay Area.

This rebellion spread to Seattle, Los Angeles, and Portland before becoming international with the demo outside the San Francisco home of Kevin Rose, another Google employee. In that action, the group issued a communique that read: “Get ready for a revolution neither you nor we can control, a revolution that will spread to all of the poor, exploited, and degraded members of this new tech-society and be directed towards you for your bad decisions and irresponsible activities. We advise you to take us seriously.” While this high-profile action went viral across the internet, few people understood the warning, let alone took it seriously. At the same time, dark forces were gathering on the internet around the feet of Peter Thiel, creator of Palantir. Just as the anti-tech rebellion was peaking, anarchists became aware of these dark forces, a growing movement called the Dark Enlightenment, or Neo-Reaction. Today, most people know them as the alt-right. In the summer of 2014, few realized they were being cultivated and groomed by Neo-Reactionaries working for Cambridge Analytica who specialized in turning the “dark triad” personality type into the conscious “dark enlightenment.”

In the summer of 2014, the team at Cambridge Analytica “began developing fake pages on Facebook and other platforms that looked like real forums, groups, and news sources.” In this regard, they were “simply treating the American population in the exact same way they would treat the Pakistani and Yemeni populations on projects for American or British clients.” Having identified racism as a key pressure point in the US, Steve Bannon “wanted to test the malleability of the American psyche” and had the team include “racially biased questions” to see “just how far” they could “push people.” From this moment onward, the full-on psychological grooming of the alt-right began in earnest, and this was precisely when Russians began to appear at the Cambridge Analytica office representing Lukoil, the “largest privately owned company in Putin’s kleptocracy.” For whatever reason, Alexander Nix briefed these representatives on exactly what they were doing in the US, a subject they were very interested in.

In the summer of 2014, a Cambridge Analytica employee with connections to Russia began working in Oregon to determine the population’s attitude towards Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation. Their field-research teams began asking questions like “Is Russia entitled to Crimea?” and “What do you think of Vladimir Putin as a leader?” This was when Christopher Wylie realized there was something wrong with what he was doing. Everyone in this network was “profiling people who were high in neuroticism and dark-triad traits. These targets were more impulsive and more susceptible to conspiratorial thinking, and, with the right kind of nudges, they could be lured into extreme thoughts or behavior.” He grew deeply depressed at what he’d built and would later explain how he “felt lost and trapped. I started going out on all-night binges at late-night clubs or raves.”

Russian microtargeting on Facebook

This behavior is almost identical to that of Ricardo Florez in Darlingtonia, with both of their friends noting they didn’t look very good. In the early-fall of 2014, Wylie told Alexander Nix he was leaving Cambridge Analytica, unlike Ricardo Florez, who pushed through his depression until he sunk the entire network. Wylie would go on to write, “what bothers me most was how I had let Nix dominate me. I let him pick away at every insecurity and vulnerability I had, and then, in service to him, I picked away at the insecurities and vulnerabilities of a nation. My actions were inexcusable, and I will always live with the shame.” In Darlingtonia, Ricardo Florez channels this shame into a grand act of sabotage that effectively brings down the US state, although it would be years before Christopher Wylie finally leaked all his information. Before he officially left Cambridge Analytica, the Ferguson Uprising broke out in August 2014, thrusting the US into a race-fueled conflict. This organic rebellion, caused by decades of brutal racism, was quickly exploited by state, non-state, and no-state actors of every variety. Among them was the FSB and its Internet Research Agency, now famous for its efforts to destabilize the US. In the fall of 2014, the Russians mostly just watched, studied, and analyzed what unfolded, although they did conduct a few tests of their future methods.

In plain words, Wylie explains that “in 2015, Ukrainian security services accused Lukoil of financing pro-Russian insurgencies in Donetsk and Luhansk…in reality, when Nix and I met with these “Lukoil executives” [in the summer of 2014], we were almost certainly speaking to Russian intelligence. They likely were interested in finding out more about this firm that was also working for NATO forces…what made these contact all the more concerning was that they wouldn’t have needed to hack Cambridge Analytica to access the Facebook data. Nix had told them where it could be accessed: in Russia, with [Aleksandr] Kogan…using the Internet to cultivate local populations was an elegant way to bypass all Western notions of ‘national security’…these narratives spread through a system of constitutionally protected free speech, and the US government did nothing to stop them. Neither did Facebook.” Wylie left the company in late Feburuary 2015, although Cambridge Analytica only continued to advance and refine its methods. Three months after Wylie left the company, the anti-tech rebellion of the SF Bay Area was declared dead by the local media, announcing a repressive wave of gentrification against the whole region. One month after this, the Alba Roja collective decided to encode their knowledge and experience into a mystery novel called Darlingtonia.

Dylan Kinsey, main character of Darlingtonia

Several members of the collective had lived through not only the anti-tech rebellion, but also the fiery Ferguson Uprising that lit up the SF Bay Area. In Oakland, the uprising lasted three entire weeks and announced the beggining of a new era, violent and polarized. After this insurgent energy was usurped by the Democratic Party and NGOs, members of the Alba Roja collective were even more determined to spill the beans on what these tech companies were truly working on. All of them had learned bits and pieces of the truth, having lived so close to Silicon Valley, and it was clear that “the infrastructure for an unimaginable totalitarianism” was already in place. The Alba Roja collective was familiar with the ruling Democratic Party’s use of these psychological methods, and most of them mistakenly believed Hillary Clinton would win the upcoming presidential race. Only a few believed Trump would win, and it’s thanks to this minority of the collective that the novel was written as if either candidate had won the 2016 election. The only major editing that happened after Trump was elected consisted of changing the pronoun from she to he. As Christopher Wylie correctly illustrates, these methods of psychological manipulation had been first developed by the Obama administration, and the anarchists of the Alba Roja collective experienced their effects firsthand. At the end of the day, these tools could be wielded by either Democrat or Republican. There was little difference.

It took months to map out the plot of Darlingtonia and the actual writing didn’t begin until March 2016, the moment when Russian hackers and trolls targetted the Democratic Party in preparation for the upcoming election. The collective worked as fast as it could across multiple borders, inlcuding the US/Canadian border. At the time, Christopher Wylie was working for the Liberal Party under the leadership of Justin Trudeau, and it was under these credentials that he flew to San Francisco in the spring of 2016, just after the collective wrote their first chapters. Wylie went to the offices of Andreesen Horowitz, a venture capital firm that had been one of Facebook’s main investors. He told them what Cambridge Analytica was doing with Facebook data and how it was being weaponized for the upcoming election. An employee told Wylie they “would look into it” but there’s no indication that ever actually happened. Wylie’s next stop was a party in the Mission District “where a Facebook VP was expected to be among the guests.” After explaining what he knew to this vice president, Wylie was told that if he had a problem with Cambridge Analytica then he should “create a rival firm” and “respond to the Uber of propaganda by developing the Lyft.” Wylie would remark that this was typical of a Silicon Valley executive, people for whom “the reaction to any problem, even one as serious as a threat to the integrity of our elections, is not ‘How can we fix it?’ Rather, it’s ‘How can we monetize it?’” Wylie was one of the few who concretely knew what was happening, having built much of Cambridge Analytica, and even then he was ignored. Nevertheless, the truth began to spread.

The Alba Roja collective continued to plug away at Darlingtonia that summer while Guccifer 2.0 leaked documents from the Democratic National Committee and Wikileaks published stolen emails, further tipping the scales against Clinton. Christopher Wylie made one more trip to San Francisco in August 2016 and stayed on a 135-foot hacker ship with no cell reception, hoping to have absolute security before a meeting with White House staff members where he’d warn them of what was happening. When this meeting finally happened, Wylie was told the Democrats were confident Hillary would win and didn’t want to taint the election with talk of a Russian conspiracy. While this was his last attempt to warn anyone in the US, the Alba Roja collective completed the first draft of Darlingtonia in October 2016, just as the last of the hacked Democratic Party emails were being released. On the night Donald Trump was elected President, Christopher Wylie was in Vancouver, BC when his phone started to vibrate with calls. One of them was from a friend in the Democratic Party and he told Wylie that “this may have been just a game to you. But we are the ones who have to live it.”

In May 2016, just before the hacked emails were released, an anonymous author named Josephine Armistead released a short paper titled The Silicon Ideology. It quickly spread across the internet and provided not only a clear history of the Neo-Reactionary movement and Alt-Right, but also a clear way to beat them: “Traditional anti-fascist tactics have largely been formulated in response to 20th century fascism. I am not confident that they will be sufficient to defeat neo-reaionaries. That is not to say they will not be useful; merely insufficient. Neo-reactionaries must be fought on their own ground (the internet), and with their own tactics: doxⅺng especially, which has been shown to be effectⅳe at threatening the alt-right. Information must be spread about neo-reactionaries, such that they lose opportunities to accumulate capital and social capital. They must not be able to use social media without haⅵng to answer for their beliefs and actions.” After the election of Donald Trump, this advice from Josephine proved itself not just accurate, but prescient. Like the Alba Roja collective, the author of The Silicon Ideology had been paying close attention to the darkness gathering in the US.

The final draft of Darlingtonia was completed in the spring of 2017, just as a journalist from The Guardian was contacting Christopher Wylie about his involvment with Cambridge Analytica. This set off a chain of events that led to what is now known as the Cambrdge Analytica leak. Before all of this information was publicly released in March 2018, Darlingtonia was published in November 2017. In contrast to the leak on Cambridge Analytica, Darlingtonia painted the broadest picture possible in the hope of making the reader understand that every government and large tech company was using these same psychographic tactics against the public. According to the authors, over three dozen individuals contributed to the plot of Darlingtonia with their input drawn from firsthand experiences, much of it in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, where the book is set. There isn’t a single member of the Alba Roja collective who knows all the other members and their input was painstakingly assembled into a highly-readable mystery novel. Knowing the truth would be beyond belief, Alba Roja decided to utilize the mystery novel, a popular genre in the United States that random people actually read. In publishing the novel, Alba Roja had two main goals: to tell the truth of our modern totalitarianism, and to prove the international anarchist movement is clearly more intelligent than any intelligence agency. Unlike every state and private intelligence agency, the international anarchist movement wants freedom for the many populations of the earth, not their enslavement. There are too many eerie coincidences in Darlingtonia to list, but an informed reader will quickly find just how accurate their predictions would prove to be, although many of those predictions have yet to come true. Time will tell, as it has.

In Mindf*ck, Christopher Wylie explains that after the leaks went public, his life became “that of a paranoid man.” Much like the main character of Darlingtonia, Wylie disconnected himself from all of his devices and social-media accounts. As he explains, “although [Facebook] is at pains to deny pulling user audio data for targeted advertising, there is nonetheless a technical permission sitting on our phones that allows access to audio capabilities…Facebook already had access to my photos and camera, which put them in a position to not just listen to me but also to see where I was…if my phone was there, so was Facebook…if a friend took a photo, Facebook could access it, and its facial recognition algorithms could, at least in theory, detect my face in the photos sitting on other people’s phones, even if they were strangers to me…we now live in a world where there are invisible spirits made of code and data that have the power to watch us, listen to us, and think about us. And I wanted these specters gone from my life.”

Although he didn’t go about it the same way as Ricardo Florez, Christopher Wylie destabilized the US not only by building Cambridge Analytica, but by revealing what they were doing with his inventions. As history has shown us all, Facebook and Cambridge Analytica became the main scapegoats for the controversy and little has actually changed. Palantir and the NSA are still doing the same thing, just as Peter Thiel and Mark Zuckerberg recently met with Donald Trump for a private session at the White House. Thousands have read Mindf*ck, while only a few hundred have read Darlingtonia. Millions are now vaugely familiar with the Cambridge Analytica scandal and millions more might have watched the recent Netflix documentary The Great Hack, but it’s hard to say if anyone’s grasping the bigger picture beyond Cambridge Analytica and Facebook. As the saying goes, one does not defeat a lie with a single truth, but only with a world of truth. This is what we need. A world of truth. Thankfully, we live in a small world. Get going.

There are 16 Comments

… Did this blow anyone else's mind? Thought I understood the scandal already but it's SO MUCH WORSE.
Great article, thx for posting.

Nope, not really, brainwashing has been going on for millenia, and we smart ones regard it all as very passé. We have our own methods of shielding against psychological manipulation.

Wow anon 12:30 you are so cool, your brain is already so blown it can't get all paranoid or panicked anymore. YOU ARE TRULY FREE OF ALL AUTHORITARIAN OPPRESSION, AND HAVE ATTAINED THE PINNACLE OF ANARCH ENDEAVOR!!

Not to mention they either didn't read or only skimmed because this goes way beyond brainwashing …

Its not about the intensity or degree of data exchange, manipulation and projection but just the incredibly chaotic demographic modelling this creates which is advantagous in creating an ideal situation for insurgent and counter authoritarian memes and slogans to thrive within, creating multiple eddies and vortices of anti-state propaganda in return.

you def sound like one of them.
glad to see you slip up!

Slip up? No, I am a neutral anarch existing in a creative void, there is no slip or traction, just floating.

so I've been talking about this with anyone who holds still for days now and it seems to suffer from the Snowden effect pretty badly? feels like the implications just bounce off of most people … somehow manages to make this worse! lol

i've shared the same frustration, like ever since i read "Society of the Spectacle" that makes a more nuance point about the way in which everything is produced. Like you can turn off T.V., ignore billboards, install ad-blockers, but the shape of the city, all of the buildings, each product, the way we're making them and buying them and discarding them, a fragment of the whole bigger picture. of course no one cares.

this recent innovation in terms of applications of tech, because it's just the same motives and goals of marketing and publicity and they were fantasizing of doing this since decades ago, you can find it written all over the place.
but it's particularly scary this time around, because this is not 2016 where """russian bots""" and trolls were this crude and rudimentary thing you could tell from miles apart (actually a lot of people couldn't, which was the point, and these people can be targeted with fake news etc) now they're more sophisticated and there's more funding and interest put towards it.
there's literal psyops accounts all over the place, ran by real people, using all kinds of big data insights.

at this point of course, it's just easier to log off and not look back. if you don't have an account and constantly clear your cookies, block trackers, mask location etc etc, they can't taget you with those weak-ass shenanigans.

of course, here referring only to targeted ads and propaganda/misinformation, covert nudging of opinions and online behavior or whatever. not referring here of course to gps tracking, and browsing tracking, profiling etc.

yeah, I hear ya!

For me, it's not about the personal level at all because of course I automatically view the online spaces as hostile. My guard is up, I'm hyper-skeptical (to a fault at times). I'm constantly about to scream FUCK YOU LIAR in everyone's face. The only sensible way to be online, imo.

BUT the far more unsettling thing is watching this shit manifest in physical spaces, as if conjured by sorcery directly in to people's brains. Because now it's a skin-riding demon with physicality and the capacity for violence. I've watched them walk in to lefty bookstores and hang around cute liberal street demos, literally babbling insane bullshit to themselves out loud, often while videoing themselves with their own phone and/or threatening people, at least 75% of their vitriol is copy/pasted from the psyops campaigns you're talking about. Brain-hacking, straight out of Ghost in the shell, right before my very eyes!

oof, that does sound scary and unsettling, for sure i'd be super creeped out if i got to experience that irl
i've managed to avoid people and conversations that seem to have been sucked in to that

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