As Boris Johnson haphazardly takes the reigns of our utterly polarised nation like a raver released from a four day drug binge obsessively repeating the last two words he remembers (which in this case are NO DEAL) I am reminded of a scene from Guy Ritchies’ Snatch. Turkish and Tommy walk through a quintessentially British meadow with plastic bags wrapped round their shoes in search of Brad Pitt’s version of an Irish gypsy who is in the field coursing hares. Turkish explains to Tommy that the hare has to outrun the Lurchers. ‘What if it doesn’t?’ asks Tommy. ‘The hare gets fucked’ explains Turkish. ‘Proper fucked…?’ exclaims Tommy.
Boris and Trump are the Lurchers. Blood thirsty spittle hangs from their jowls as they yelp in excitement and anticipation desperate to tear the large bunny to bits. The hare becomes the European Union, the environment, our beloved NHS, human rights, women’s rights, in fact any rights that aren’t white, privileged, male and middle aged are sufficiently on the table. This may seem over dramatic but I can only judge these men on their actions and words. Trump speaks for himself, regularly, and although certain members of the Republican party seem willing to fight to the death to defend his recent tweet urging four members of Congress who just happen to be women of colour to ‘go back to where they came from’ the rest of the world knows he’s racist. Is that why 100,000 members of the Conservative party chose to vote in Boris as our new Prime Minister? Was it his tasteless remarks of watermelon smiles and letterboxes? Or the incessant demand for NO DEAL? Possibly his pledge to offer tax cuts to the rich helped grease the palms of the gentry who tucked away in remote country estates prep their assault rifles for the illegal immigrant shooting bound to be made a national sport any day now.
It is easy to get lost in the narrative. We just keep on scrolling down that hill into the open mouths of the rich happily hypnotised by whatever flashes up on our phones next. Nobody seems to have noticed that every ‘like’, ‘share’ and ‘log in via Facebook’ provides yet another opportunity to harvest our data and manipulate our minds. We have become so distracted by click bait headlines and angry posts sparking off hours of cyber debates that by the time we put our phones down we can’t be arsed to go to the protest. What’s most disconcerting about this virtual reality is the motive lurking behind it. As long as we are logged in on different sides and refusing to talk to one other, someone’s making money.
Thanks to social media our behaviour has become a commodity. The guise of connectivity has been satisfactorily blown as it becomes public knowledge that our personal data is regularly sold to the highest bidder in order to fatten pockets and claim power. The first time data became such a game changer politically was within the Obama campaign in 2014. Enter Brittany Keiser who at the time was one of many unpaid interns managing social media for the Democratic nominee. The success of this data related victory encouraged the Republicans to seek out SCL also known as Cambridge Analytica, a Republican owned data mining psych-ops company, in an attempt to bump up their data score. When Brittany sold her soul to Alexander Nix, the then CEO of Cambridge Analytica, she traded her political views for cash selling valuable secrets that would contribute not only to a new Republican President and a Farage-led-Brexit but the end of our democratic rights.
Cambridge Analytica was employed by political campaigns in several global elections most notably Trump 2016 and the European Referendum by Leave.eu to essentially help them gain more votes via social media. Their methods have been likened to psychological warfare. This is no surprise as SCL started in Defence offering military disinformation campaigns to countries like Iran and Afghanistan. They start by harvesting data profiles on millions of people from platforms like Facebook. Once they have the profiles they only have to work out how many of these profiles are what data analysts call ‘persuadable’. If, for example, you have no opinion on the EU but you have liked and shared a simple patriotic meme on Facebook or maybe ticked the boxes to find out what kind of dog you are discovering you’re as passive as a Spaniel you would probably fit the bill. If you’re ‘persuadable’ you’re fodder to be fucked with. All they then have to do is sow a seed of doubt by threatening your comfort, frightening you into action. By creating memes like ‘Defeat Crooked Hilary’ or ‘Take Back Control’ Cambridge Analyitica turned fake news into legitimate looking political messages to their group of ‘persuadables’. This not only changed peoples views but created an opinion where there was none. No political campaign needs to change everyone in the country’s mind about everything. It just needs to put enough doubt into the right amount of peoples’ minds in order to influence their vote. Having psychological profiles on large portions of the population makes that somewhat easier.
In 2019 all one needs to make the world a terrible place is Facebook, a personality quiz and an internet signal. It may seem clear to everyone in my echo chamber that Boris, Trump and Farage are far worse for the world than Corbyn, Obama and Sanders but is that simply a testament to my own political bias or proof of the polarising algorithms at work? Did these campaigns really go too far or simply use the technology readily available? As Brittany Keiser proves, it’s pretty easy to abandon all your principles when you get invited to the big boys club. I mean doing the right thing doesn’t really compare with free champagne, private jets and infinity pools. Political cartoon characters like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump may make a lot of noise as they start turning their whims into laws but do they really hold the cards? From where I’m standing the billionaires of silicon valley certainly seem to be calling the shots regardless of which states turn red on election night. In our strive for consumerism, convenience and connectivity we lost ethics along the way.
Our democracy feels broken. In March this year after an 18 month investigation parliament declared that we are no longer able to have a fair election in this country. And then everyone carried on as normal. Despite headlines questioning the legality of the Leave.eu campaign and Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in influencing the 2016 Referendum result we are being doggedly dragged towards October 31st by our new PM like a four year old determined to cut off his nose in order to spite his face. We now live in a hall of mirrors in which authoritarian leaders can use the indisputable fact that all media is up for manipulation to try and discredit award winning journalists like Carole Cadwalladr. The trouble is they’re not wrong. Our media is notoriously unreliable. It’s designed that way to get attention, raise ratings and sell papers plus most of it’s owned by Oligarchs who are not only above the law but change the headlines to suit their stocks. So which news is fake now? When the ‘persuadable’s’ are confounded into constant carnage and one side fights while the other one screams, who is listening?
I still haven’t’ figured out why so many people in this country want to leave the EU. The only argument I’ve heard for a while now is ‘we said we’d do it so we have to’. That old chestnut. Call me negative but that’s a bit like saying you’re going to shoot yourself because the world is ending and then when the world is saved you do it anyway on the basis that you said you would. Most of the things I’ve read about Brexit comprise of rather dismal forecasts for pretty much everyone except a handful of the political elite. But maybe that’s the extreme socialist media trying to convince me to vote for Jeremy Corbyn again? I do hate a politician with principles. Maybe I am over-reacting? Brexit could be just like the whole Y2K farce. We all waited anxiously for the year 2000 to creep in wondering if the world would end or if aliens would appear and the worst thing that actually happened was we lost phone signal for a few minutes. Maybe it’ll be like that? I bet chlorinated antibiotic laden hormone infested chicken is really quite good. Europe will still physically be there and nobody really liked Scotland that much anyway. Maybe Boris won’t be so bad and we’ll have a street party with bunting and eat cucumber sandwiches and we’ll all cheers to making Britain great again. Maybe as a nation we will squeeze through the metaphorical crack and like the hare in Snatch that fled the Lurchers we will all live to see another day…
Or maybe the British people are represented by Tommy and Turkish in this twisted metaphor. And maybe we lost the bet. Maybe we will pay a hefty sum for a shitty periwinkle blue caravan only to watch it melt into ashes, our democracy in flames, the fire fuelled by our love for social media and our susceptibility to manipulation.
Maybe we are proper fucked.