Facebook, Cambridge Analytics, and Brexit

This story from Reuters announcing “Facebook parent Meta to settle Cambridge Analytica scandal case for $725” million has me wondering. Can Facebook be sued for their part in securing a leave win in the Brexit referendum?

It is my understanding that Dominic Cummings and Vote Leave took the information Cambridge Analytica scraped from Facebook, built detailed profiles of users, then targeted them with advertising designed to nudge voters in the 2016 referendum.

For those who think Facebook’s reach and impact is negligible, just another silly social media platform, consider this. 17,410,742 people voted to leave the European Union, compared to the 16,141,241 who voted to remain. That’s a difference of 1,269,501 people. Vote Leave won by nudging the attitudes and opinions of at least, but probably more than, 1.25 million people. The thing is, that’s only 2.82% of the 45 million people it’s estimated use Facebook in the United Kingdom. I also think it significant that the total electorate, those who voted in the referendum, was only 1,501,241 more than the total number of UK Facebook users.

Personally, I think the platform allowed itself to be used by Cummings and Vote Leave to reach and influence enough of the electorate, personally and specifically, to swing the vote their way. Facebook certainly took the money and ran the adverts without worrying about intention or means. I also think the picture is more complicated than simply targeting Facebook users with adverts that confirm an individual’s prejudices and trigger their fears. They also used targeted advertising to convince the apathetic or complacent, that leave could never win, nothing ever changes, so why bother voting at all. Turnout for the referendum was 72.2%, comparatively high when seen against the 2019 General Election at 67.3%. That’s a difference of 4.9%. Significant, in a conspiratorial kind of way, when you realise Vote Leave only won with a majority of 4%.

If you don’t believe me, and why would you, could you, should you, watch Dominic Cummings explain in his own words, “Why Leave Won the Referendum”. He gave this talk at the Ogilvy Nudgestock event in 2017. Nudgestock calls itself a festival of “behavioural science and creativity” that provides “science-led evaluation and optimization of nudge strategies, ideas and campaigns designed to change perception and behaviour”.

All of this sounds to me like psychological warfare, employed against the population of the United Kingdom, for political and economic gain.

Advertisement

A thought on dragons

Brexit has pissed napalm on the economy of the United Kingdom. The only creatures that will thrive on what’s left are dragons.

Reign of Fire (2002) is a high concept science fiction film staring Matthew McConaughey and Christian Bale. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic Britain ravaged by fire spitting dragons.

What does that have to do with Brexit? Apart from the obvious metaphors about fire and destruction, the dragons in Reign of Fire are unique. They’re not the dragons from Game of Thrones (2011–2019), giant reptiles wreaking havoc on the enemies of Daenerys Targaryen. They’re not the slothful Smaug from The Hobbit (2013), greedily guarding his cavernous lair of treasure. The dragons in Reign of Fire eat ash, they burn everything so they can feed. These dragons emerge from their ancient slumber, burning indiscriminately and feeding ravenously on the world.

And they’re no different to the dragons feeding on the British economy.

On March 12 Reuters reported the Office for National Statistics announcement that “British goods exports to the EU… slumped by 40.7% in January compared to December”.

Another March 12 headline on the Politics Home website led with a claim “Fish Exports To The EU Collapsed By 83% In January According To “Grim” Post-Brexit Figures”.

This, and similar figures across the economy, are what Umair Haque, in his article How Britain is Destroying Itself, calls a sudden stop. “It’d be better to call it a “heart attack,” because it means an economy seizes up and suddenly stops functioning.”

If the British economy were an eighteen wheel tanker of petrol driving along the M1, Brexit is the driver having a heart attack doing sixty miles per hour. He clutches his chest, passes out, and ploughs full speed into a vat of concentrated orange juice.

Fire sticks to everything and burns intensely.

When the fires are out the speculators, hedgefunds, pirates, and sovereign individual, start feeding like dragons on the ash of the British economy.

One day we might get lucky and meet a heroic fighter willing to sacrifice everything to defeat these monsters. A young Turk that can vanquish the vicious dinosaurs of British imperialism. A brawler with the gumption it takes to slaughter the dragons feeding on our destruction.

A thought on little England

The landscape of a post-Brexit United Kingdom is looking increasingly fractured. If we’re not carful Boris Johnson will turn the United Kingdom into little England.

Scotland is pushing hard for another independence referendum. If it goes ahead, it’s likely Scotland will leave the United Kingdom to pursue a future within the European Union.

If Scotland goes, Wales is sure to want the same kind of autonomy.

Then we have the Byzantine complexities of a post-Brexit Northern Ireland to consider. Who knows how that will all play out? At the moment Loyalists are angry about the backstop sea border. The backstop is a problem because it makes Northern Ireland different to the rest of the United Kingdom. To a community that has built its identity around loyalty to the crown, that difference is heresy. It opens up the possibility that Northern Ireland is separate from the rest of the United Kingdom. That difference is a lever Republicans could use to unite Ireland.

Peace in the region, for the last thirty years, has relied on the Good Friday Agreement. Post-Brexit that agreement is unworkable. To be clear, the agreement only works if there is free movement between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The kind of free movement only possible by being part of the European Union. A land border is unacceptable to Republicans. The sea border is unacceptable to Loyalists. The Good Friday Agreement allowed both Republicans and Loyalists to function while maintaining their separate identities. Without it old conflicts reappear.

The way out of this is more complicated than anyone in Johnson’s government has the intellectual or political power for. One possibility is that Johnson abandons Loyalists and Northern Ireland altogether. Unsupported by the English, Northern Ireland will inevitably unite with Ireland. This move will allow Johnson to make the probable Loyalist uprising a problem for Irish and not English governments. Another possibility has Northern Ireland follow Scotland’s example, pursue independence, joining the European Union as a sovereign nation. It’s possible a newly independent Northern Ireland could negotiate a version of the Good Friday Agreement to forge peace. I don’t think this will happen. Loyalist are as wedded to the crown, as Republicans are to a united Ireland. Speculation aside one thing is for certain, this issue is not going away.

Into the historic divisions that are tearing at the United Kingdom, England is now facing its own set of fractures.

The Northern Independence Party is a new political entity demanding independence for the North of England. Campaigning under the banner “We’re not English, we are Northumbrian” they want to reinstate ancient borders that stretch north from the Humber river, up to Scotland. Who knows if they’ll make gains politically, but the idea is there. The north south divide has been given a border, and that feeling, the one that thinks the south has left the north to rot, has been given a voice.

If this sentiment gets traction, and an independent North becomes a possibility, it won’t be long before Cornish nationalism is seeking to escape from English rule.

Then where will England be, let alone the United Kingdom? One thing is for certain, Johnson and the Conservatives will use these cries for independence as a crisis. One that lets them calve up England as if they were the ancient Kings of Wessex or Mercia. England will be transformed into a series of charter cities. Regions that will claim to be hubs of enterprise and entrepreneurship. When in fact they will be islands of tax avoidance, shell companies, and post office boxes that hide wealth. For the ninety-nine point nine per cent this will mean a bad, much poorer, little England.

Leave have faith

This is an intelligent unpicking of Boris Johnsons’s lies by The Labour Party. The problem I fear is that we’re not dealing with intelligence, or logic, or even truth. We are dealing with belief, we’re dealing with faith.

Leave have faith, despite all the evidence, that leaving the EU is the right thing to do. For me faith is just a short bus journey to Zealot Town. I have no idea how to counter their belief. They don’t listen to reason.

Despite their best efforts I have no desire to make them my enemy, but that’s what I am. I am other, a none believer, and not to believe, not to have faith, is heresy. I can live with being a heretic, but no amount of faith will put food on the table, or pay my rent.

There’s more at stake than just blocking no deal

Sienna Rodgers in Labour List announces that “Labour has launched a cross-party bid to block the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a divorce deal”.

I think there’s more at stake than just blocking no deal.

This motion is only needed because there have been calls to suspend parliament. The fact that there is even talk of suspending parliament should scare everyone, even those on the side of Britain exiting the European Union.

Their argument was that we should wrestle back sovereignty from Europe, not give it to an elite group of self serving politicians. Suspending parliament is not acceptable under any circumstance. That’s us slipping and sliding, scrambling and scuffing, open eyed towards totalitarianism.

But that’s what happens when the world gets complicated, filled with nuance, and leaders frame every argument as a binary choice. I considered exactly this “totalitarian mindset” when I was working on one of my characters for CARR-10-N. This is an extract from something I wrote in 2013.

So the question I’m really asking is; what kind of person is attracted to totalitarianism? To answer that question you first need to ask; what allows totalitarianism to flourish? The short answer is uncertainty. In his paper “How to make enemies and influence people” (2) Alfonso Montuori characterises the “totalitarian mindset” as a response to the stress of contemporary pluralism. Basically we live in complex times full of ambiguity and uncertainty. We feel threatened. And when we’re backed into a corner we have a tendency to succumb to “simplistic, black-and-white solutions.” Montuori goes on to note that “individuals all over the world have sought relief from the uncertainty of a pluralistic world in the arms of absolute belief systems of a religious fundamentalist and/or political/nationalistic nature.” 

2013/02/08

If that doesn’t describe the current mess nothing does. Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for a “muddy” position on Britain exiting the European Union, but muddy’s what we need. We need nuance not black and white choices. Black and white choices are what got us here in the first place. There are no easy answers in any of this, but sleepwalking a totalitarian government into office is not the answer.

Is this one of the many reasons for Brexit?

A study says the UK and territories are ‘greatest enabler’ of tax avoidance in the world.

I’m guessing the vested interests pushing for a no deal Brexit are doing it, in part, to weaken the European Union’s hold on The City of London.

The European Union wants to bring in tighter rules on financial services, and try to stop the kind of enabling, that ranks British territories and its dependencies among the worst offenders.

The only people who will benefit from a low tax Britain are the wealthy. For the rest of us less tax means no money for schools, infrastructure, or the health service.

If we crash out of the European Union, and stronger regulation, the City will become the perfect host for all kinds of parasitic tax avoiders.

%d bloggers like this: