9:52 AM 10/16/2017 – Cambridge Analytica, the shady data firm that might be a key Trump-Russia link, explained

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“The technologies can capture what people are thinking at a particular moment,” Albright told me, “and serve it back to them over and over again.” And with the benefit of psychographic profiling, he adds, they’re able to deliver “content on an individual basis on Twitter and Facebook feeds where people are being grabbed and pulled in certain directions through certain types of posts and stories.

“I’ve called it an emotional leash,” Woolley said.

Cambridge Analytica, the shady data firm that might be a key Trump-Russia link, explained

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The Daily Beast reported last week that the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is looking into a data analytics company called Cambridge Analytica as part of its investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.

Cambridge Analytica specializes in what’s called “psychographic” profiling, meaning they use data collected online to create personality profiles for voters. They then take that information and target individuals with specifically tailored content (more on this below).

According to the Daily Beast report, congressional investigators believe that Russian hackers might have received help in their efforts to distribute “fake news” and other forms of misinformation during the 2016 campaign. Hence the focus on Cambridge Analytica.

So far there’s been a lot of speculation about the potential links between the Trump campaign and Russia, and most of the stories have orbited around the financial dealings of the Trump family and people like Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager. But this story is specifically about how team Trump might have facilitated Russia’s meddling in the US presidential election.

The stakes, in other words, are high.

So here’s what we know about Cambridge Analytica, its connections to the Trump campaign, and what sorts of things the House Intel probe is likely looking into.

Trump’s digital army

In June 2016, the Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica to take over its data operations.

We know from the reporting of Nicholas Confessore and Danny Hakim at the New York Times that Jared Kushner, who was charged with overseeing Trump’s digital operations, is the reason Cambridge Analytica joined the Trump campaign.

Kushner hired a man named Brad Parscale, a Texas-based digital expert who had worked previously for team Trump. According to Confessore and Hakim, Cambridge Analytica convinced Parscale (who has since agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee) to “try out the firm.” The decision was reinforced by Trump’s campaign manager, Steve Bannon, who is also a former vice president of Cambridge Analytica.

It’s not clear to what extent Cambridge Analytica helped (Parscale denied that Cambridge was of any use in a recent 60 Minutes interview), but we do know that Trump’s digital operation was shockingly effective. Samuel Woolley, who heads the Computational Propaganda project at Oxford’s Internet Institute, found that a disproportionate amount of pro-Trump messaging was spread via automated bots and anti-Hillary propaganda. Trump’s bots, they reported at the time of the election, outnumbered Clinton’s five to one.

Pro-Trump programmers “carefully adjusted the timing of content production during the debates, strategically colonized pro-Clinton hashtags, and then disabled activities after Election Day.”

Martin Moore, director of the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power at King’s College, told the Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr that Trump’s campaign “was using 40-50,000 variants of ads every day that were continuously measuring responses and then adapting and evolving based on that response.”

These online ads were spread primarily thought bots on social media platforms. The ads that got liked, shared, and retweeted the most were reproduced and redistributed based on where they were popular and who they appealed to.

The benefit of this kind of data is that it allows data companies like Cambridge Analytica to develop more sophisticated psychological profiles of internet users (more data points means more predictive power).

Cambridge Analytica was also able to use this real-time information to determine which messages were resonating where and then shape Trump’s travel schedule around it. So, if there was a spike in clicks on an article about immigration in a county in Pennsylvania or Wisconsin, Trump would go there and give an immigration-focused speech.

When you consider how a few thousands votes in a handful of swing states determined the election, this is no small thing.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Flynn and the Russians

In early July, Shane Harris of the Wall Street Journal released a series of reports that offered some of the most compelling evidence yet that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian hackers.

Harris interviewed a man named Peter Smith, a pro-Trump GOP operative who sought to acquire the 30,000 deleted emails from Hillary Clinton’s private server. Of the several hacker groups Smith reached out to, at least two had connections to Russia — that’s according to Smith.

Smith told Harris that he was in regular contact with Gen. Michael Flynn, who at the time was one of Trump’s closest confidants — and of course later became Trump’s national security adviser.

Here’s a key passage from the Harris report, which my Vox colleague Andrew Prokop highlighted at the time:

“He [Smith] said, ‘I’m talking to Michael Flynn about this — if you find anything, can you let me know?’” said Eric York, a computer-security expert from Atlanta who searched hacker forums on Mr. Smith’s behalf for people who might have access to the emails. …

…In phone conversations, Mr. Smith told a computer expert he was in direct contact with Mr. Flynn and his son, according to this expert. … The expert said that based on his conversations with Mr. Smith, he understood the elder Mr. Flynn to be coordinating with Mr. Smith’s group in his capacity as a Trump campaign adviser.

Harris examined intelligence reports that described the efforts of Russian hackers to retrieve emails from Clinton’s server and pass them along to Flynn, who would then share them with the Trump campaign.

By itself, Harris’s reporting makes no connection to Cambridge Analytica. But in August the Associated Press published a report that helped connect the dots. In an amended public financial filing, Flynn was forced to disclose “a brief advisory role with a firm related to a controversial data analysis company that aided the Trump campaign.”

The “data analysis company” is none other than Cambridge Analytica. The precise amount of money Cambridge paid to Flynn is unknown, as are the details of Flynn’s role.

But we know that congressional and DOJ investigators believe that Trump’s campaign might have helped guide Russia’s voter targeting scheme and that Flynn, who worked for Trump’s campaign and with Cambridge Analytica, is suspected of having extensive ties with Russian operatives.

A Cambridge Analytica spokesperson confirmed to Vox that the company is cooperating with the Russia investigation but flatly denied any wrongdoing.

“As one of the companies that played a prominent role in the election campaign, Cambridge Analytica has been asked by the House Intelligence Committee to provide it with information that might help its investigation,” the statement said. “We believe that other organizations that worked on the campaign have been asked to do the same. CA is not under investigation, and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the company.”

What does Cambridge Analytica actually do?

If you use the internet or social media, you leave behind a digital trail of crumbs. Every post you like, every tweet you retweet, every thread you participate in — it’s all data up for collection and input.

Cambridge Analytica, a company created by Robert Mercer, a billionaire patron of right-wing outlets like Breitbart News, has been swallowing up all the data they can get. They’re not the only company doing this, but they appear to be the most prominent — in part because of their high-profile clients.

In a 2016 speech, Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, unfurled the company’s methodology: “We’ve rolled out a long-form quantitative instrument to probe the underlying traits that inform personality,” he proclaimed. “If you know the personality of the people you’re targeting, you can nuance your messaging to resonate more effectively with those key groups.”

By “your message” he means whoever pays the company for its services. But so far the firm has only taken on Republican clients, with Ted Cruz and Ben Carson being the most visible. They also worked on behalf of 2016 pro-Brexit “Leave” campaign, mining online data and using it to target and persuade British voters.

So what are they doing with all that data?

Cambridge Analytica has built models that translate the data they harvest into personality profiles for every American adult — Nix claims to have “somewhere close to 4 or 5 thousand data points on every adult in the US.”

Their models are based on the psychometric research of Michal Kosinski, who in 2013 was still a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge (hence the name “Cambridge Analytica”). Kosinski and his colleagues developed a model that linked subjects’ Facebook likes with their OCEAN scores. OCEAN refers to a questionnaire used by psychologists that describes personalities along five dimensions — openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Cambridge Analytica has combined this social psychology with data analytics. They collect data from Facebook and Twitter (which is perfectly legal) and have purchased an array of other data — about television preferences, airline travel, shopping habits, church attendance, what books you buy, what magazines you subscribe to — from third-party organizations and so-called data brokers.

They take all this information and use it for what Nix calls “behavioral microtargeting” — basically individualized advertising.

Instead of tailoring ads according to demographics, they use psychometrics. It’s a simple idea, really. Rather than assuming that all women or African Americans or working-class whites will respond to the same message, they target individual voters with emotionally charged content — in other words, ads designed to tug on emotional biases.

The success of this approach hinges on the accuracy of the company’s psychological profiles. But how much can they know about someone’s psyche on the basis of a few tweets or likes? Quite a lot, apparently. In a 2016 profile for Das Magazin, a Berlin-based culture magazine, Kosinski talked about the predictive power of his model.

Here’s how the authors summed it up:

The strength of their [Kosinski and his Cambridge colleagues] modeling was illustrated by how well it could predict a subject’s answers. Kosinski continued to work on the models incessantly: before long, he was able to evaluate a person better than the average work colleague, merely on the basis of ten Facebook “likes.” Seventy “likes” were enough to outdo what a person’s friends knew, 150 what their parents knew, and 300 “likes” what their partner knew. More “likes” could even surpass what a person thought they knew about themselves.

Combine this kind of predictive power with an army of bots and you’ve got a potent propaganda tool. As Woolley told me, “One person controlling a thousand bot accounts is able to not just affect the people in their immediate circle but also potentially the algorithm of the site on which their operating.”

Bots are even more effective, as they’re able to react instantly to trending topics on Twitter and Facebook, producing targeted posts, images, and even YouTube videos.

“The technologies can capture what people are thinking at a particular moment,” Albright told me, “and serve it back to them over and over again.” And with the benefit of psychographic profiling, he adds, they’re able to deliver “content on an individual basis on Twitter and Facebook feeds where people are being grabbed and pulled in certain directions through certain types of posts and stories.

“I’ve called it an emotional leash,” Woolley said.

Getty Images

There’s a lot we don’t know

We don’t know if Flynn actually passed any data to the Russians. Nor do we know if his numerous ties to Russia resulted in collusion.

We don’t know if the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russians to help their disinformation operation. We know only that there are many points of overlap. And if anyone in his campaign did coordinate with Russia, we don’t know if Trump himself was involved in any way.

We don’t know if the data produced by Cambridge Analytica ever found its way to Russians. And if it did, we don’t know for sure how it got there or how much it helped or if the company was aware of it.

We also don’t know how useful Cambridge Analytica’s work was to the Trump campaign. Researchers like Woolley told me that the company’s capabilities are a “bit overblown,” but we simply don’t know. We know only what they’ve admitted publicly about their methods and what they claim to be able to do.

One thing we do know is that data companies like Cambridge Analytica have changed things. Facebook is already under fire for allowing Russia to manipulate its algorithms during the 2016 election. And we’ve likely just scratched the surface in terms of how state actors are able to weaponize information online. The role of companies like Cambridge Analytica in these efforts remains something of a mystery, however.

In any event, no definitive evidence has emerged that connects Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign to Russia’s efforts to influence our election. What we’re left with, ultimately, is a ton of smoke and no fire. But if the ongoing investigations conclude that the Trump campaign did help Russia target voters, expect to hear more about Cambridge Analytica.

It’s entirely possible that such collusion could have occurred and the work of Cambridge Analytica had nothing to do with it; however, that would be strange, since targeting voters is precisely what the company was hired to do.

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1. Trump from mikenova (196 sites): putin won US 2016 election – Google News: Cyber cold war is just getting started, claims Hillary Clinton – The Guardian

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The Guardian
Cyber cold war is just getting started, claims Hillary Clinton
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Donald Trump has been served a subpoena to turn over his obscene Apprentice tapes 

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Donald Trump – further reading

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The Donald Trump media feeding-frenzy is in full flow. But beyond all the fun stuff about the horse-race and the insults, have there been any really good articles explaining the Trump phenomenon? I have found two recent pieces particularly interesting. Thomas Edsall explains how – “The economic basis for voter anger has been building for over 40 years” – and has some interesting numbers on the stagnation of real wages, the shrinking of the middle-class, the disappearance of manufacturing jobs and the impact of Chinese accession to the WTO.

Another good analysis, this time on the Vox site, looks at the kinds of people who are attracted to Trump’s rhetoric – and in particular at political scientists’ work on the rise of authoritarian attitudes in America. Apparently, people’s attitudes to parenting are a good predictor of their attitudes to Trump. Those who value obedience in children, above all, are “authoritarian” types, who also like Trump. But there are also is a large group of people with “latent authoritarianism”, which is aroused when they feel under threat.

If you prefer full-throated condemnation to analysis, may I recommend this speech by Mitt Romney. It got covered a lot when it was made on Thursday, but it is worth reading in full. I suspect historians may judge that the speech was made several months too late. I also liked Robert Kagan’s eloquent condemnation of Trump in the Washington Post.

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8:12 PM 10/15/2017 – CNN’s YouTube Videos: Leading Democrat calls for Puerto Rico water investigation after CNN report

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1. News in Photos from mikenova (4 sites) WSJ.com: World News: Freed Family Tries to Rebuild as Dark Details Emerge About Ordeal The couple rescued by Pakistani military forces is moving to rebuild their life in a small Canadian town after five years in captivity in which they say an infant daughter was killed and … Continue reading “8:12 PM 10/15/2017 – CNN’s YouTube Videos: Leading Democrat calls for Puerto Rico water investigation after CNN report”

Why are Russian media outlets hyping the Mueller investigation? – Westport News

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1. Trump from mikenova (196 sites): Palmer Report: Here comes Donald Trump’s biggest meltdown about Rex Tillerson yet

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Donald Trump seems to desperately wish he could fire Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for having called him a “moron.” But by now it’s clear that Trump doesn’t have the guts to do it, either because he’s at his politically weakest point in general, or because Tillerson is a personal friend of Vladimir Putin. Regardless of the reason, Tillerson is now flaunting the fact that he apparently can’t be fired. Based on what Tillerson did on Sunday, we’re about to see Trump’s biggest meltdown about him to date.

For reasons known only to him, instead of laying low until “Morongate” blows over, Rex Tillerson decided to appear on CNN State of the Union on Sunday morning. He knew full well that he’d be asked yet again whether or not he really called Trump a moron. Sure enough, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked him the question. Tillerson once again refused to answer – which at this point is an absolute confirmation that he did call him a moron.

Trump has long had insecurities about his intellect. His poorly written and phonetically misspelled tweets suggest that he suffers from some sort of mild learning disability, which may drive his insecurities on the matter, even though learning disabilities are not counter-indicative to intellect. It’s not shocking that Trump responded to the “moron” insult by publicly calling for himself and Tillerson to take IQ tests.

Donald Trump watches the Sunday morning shows, at least when his own people are on, so he saw Rex Tillerson’s interview. He saw Tillerson once again refusing to deny that he called Trump a moron. That’ll be enough to set Trump off yet again, with a round of angry tweets about Tillerson on Monday – or perhaps not til Tuesday, if some other grievance distracts him. But we’re looking at the (supposed) President of the United States publicly attacking his own Secretary of State yet again.

The post Here comes Donald Trump’s biggest meltdown about Rex Tillerson yet appeared first on Palmer Report.

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Sheryl Sandberg’s Russia talk was an insult to our intelligence – Google Search

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Story image for Sheryl Sandberg’s Russia talk was an insult to our intelligence from Markets Insider

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Sheryl Sandberg’s Russia talk was an insult to our intelligence, Business Insider

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source
Axios

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, says people were worried about hacking and not election interference before 2016.

But that’s not true. Hillary Clinton and others were warning about Russia’s disinformation campaign as far back as 2011.

Facebook needs to stop talking about what it didn’t do for years and start talking about what it will do from today.In a live interview with the news website Axios on Thursday, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, lamented that the company hadn’t found out about Russia’s use of the platform to spread disinformation and propaganda before the 2016 US elections.

“We were looking at this certainly not as early as we would have liked to, because we wish we had found it before it ever happened,” Sandberg said.

“If you think about 2015, 2016,” she later added, “the threats most people were worried about were hacking, taking down accounts, getting into your email account and sharing all of it.”

Oh.

Perhaps hacking is what users were worried about, but in national security and press circles, the idea of a Russian information war against the US had been gaining steam since 2011. TV channels like Russia Today and websites like Sputnik have long been unapologetic about towing the Kremlin line – about the fact that they are pushing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s will.

By 2015, Russian propaganda was all over Facebook in forms both formal and informal, and the platform had already helped Russia wreak havoc around the world, especially in Ukraine.

“There are those who claim the warnings are just the work of alarmist neo-conservatives,” Columbia professor Ann Cooper and I said in The Washington Post in 2015. “They’re not. The spread of ideas matters. If it didn’t, Russia wouldn’t be in the idea-spreading business.”

Connecting the dots that Russia may have a plan for the US presidential election would require one to pay attention. So let’s say Facebook wasn’t. That’s gross negligence. To ignore that the people purchasing space on Facebook were pushing lies and distortions, on the other hand, is beyond that – it’s willful ignorance and a stunning display of greed.

They’ll tell you

I know that we’re in an information war with Russia because I asked.

Back in 2015, as an adjunct professor at Columbia’s journalism school, I hosted staffers from RT, and they were very frank about their mission. They informed us that from 2008, when the US was critical of Russia’s annexation of a piece of Georgia, their aim was to show the world that the US was a flawed nation that’s inferior to Russia.

Take a quick look at the topics RT consistently used to prove its anti-American point and you might as well be at a buffet serving Facebook’s garbage media diet from the election. Going back as far as 2011, RT was playing on US racial tensions and shrilly accusing Hillary Clinton of warmongering and criminality.

I say 2011 because that’s when Clinton, then secretary of state, testified before Congress about Russia’s information war against the US. The Kremlin knew she was watching, and so the Kremlin went to war against her. No one who paid attention to this interaction was shocked that Putin favored Donald Trump in 2016.

But again, you had to be paying attention. Or you had to keep paying attention. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Congress again addressed the matter of Russian propaganda in testimony. The former RT journalist Liz Wahl explained how the Kremlin manipulated social media, and it might sound familiar to anyone in the US now.

From Wahl’s testimony (emphasis ours):

“Russian media provides a home for a spectrum of political beliefs as long as they are skeptical of the political establishment. While some of the theories peddled are outright absurd, there are a surprising amount of people prone to being manipulated that think it’s hip to believe in any alternative theory, feeling proud of perceiving themselves to be enlightened and even prouder when they amass sizable social media followers that hang on every misguided and outright false theory that is propagated. Russia is aware of this population of paranoid skeptics and plays them like a fiddle.

Sound familiar? Maybe it reminds you of a few arguments you had with Facebook-addicted family members over the holidays in 2016.

Another witness, Peter Pomeratsev, a journalist who spent years working in Russian television, was even more explicit mentioning Facebook by name.

“The Kremlin… funds ‘troll farms,’ regime-funded companies which hire people to spread messages on social media, using Facebook, Twitter, newspaper comment sections and many other spaces. Through these networks, Russia propagates conspiracy theories, disinformation and fake news…. Their aim was [is] not so much to persuade a potential viewer of any one version, but to trash the information space with so much disinformation so that a conversation based on actual facts would become impossible.”

Pomeratsev wrote a book about his time working in Russia called “Nothing is Real and Everything is Possible” – about how Russia became a fact-less nation. America now knows what he was talking about, but it’s something Facebook should’ve known before we had to find out.

No one wants to hear it, Sheryl

Facebook says it didn’t have an inkling of what was going on before the election, but we know that it knew the Kremlin’s agents were bullying Ukrainian activists, at the very least. Were Sandberg and Zuckerberg simply so naive they didn’t think that Putin would turn his eye on his most fearsome enemy?

Or were they just so greedy they didn’t care?

In the Axios interview, most of Sandberg’s comments were backward-looking and so, in a word, worthless. The 2018 elections are coming, and the far right has not tried to disguise its affinity for the Kremlin line. Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News is known for spreading its share of fact-melting misinformation that sounds as if it’s straight from the RT newsroom.

And – for so-called anti-globalists – Bannon has shown a willingness to collaborate with other international Putin-philes like the UK’s Nigel Farage and Hungary’s far right. Make no mistake: What they all have in common is not only “nationalism” but also a belief in Putin’s political system – fascism.

Opposing this and stamping it out shouldn’t be a question for Facebook. This isn’t a gray area. This an American value. We are not fascists. Millions of people around the world died not too long ago to reaffirm that. What Facebook (and Twitter and Google) has done – ignoring the spread of fascism, lies, and anti-American propaganda in the digital space – is a disgusting display of moral relativism and intellectual laziness that Silicon Valley has revealed it can wear as easily as a pair of Tevas and some cargo shorts.

We don’t want to hear about what Facebook missed. We want to hear that Facebook will not allow the agents of a fascist movement to continue to manipulate it as a distribution platform. We want to hear how attempts by these agents to engage the platform will be vetted and reported to the US government.

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PBSNewsHour’s YouTube Videos: Iraqi, Kurdish forces in standoff over Kurdish independence 

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From: PBSNewsHour
Duration: 02:59

Iraqi army and Kurdish troops are in a standoff in Kirkuk, a city located in the Kurdistan region, which voted for independence from Iraq last month. Kirkuk holds 10 percent of Iraq’s oil reserves. Washington Post reporter Loveday Morris, who is covering the standoff, joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Baghdad.

 PBSNewsHour’s YouTube Videos


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