A prominent MP has accused the campaign to leave the EU supported by Nigel Farage of unlawful behaviour. The politician says the Leave.EU campaign has not declared that it used the services of Donald Trump’s billionaire social media guru. And it raises serious questions about the entire result.
Labour MP Stephen Kinnock has asked the Electoral Commission to look into claims that the Leave.EU campaign used the services of a “psychographic” social media strategy company. Kinnock’s argument is that the company, Cambridge Analytica (CA), may have given free help to Leave.EU. And if it did, the value of this ‘donation in kind’ would likely have pushed the Brexit campaign over its legal spending limit. Raising serious questions about the validity of the EU referendum result.
Trump used CA in the 2016 US Presidential election. His campaign paid $5m for its services in one month alone. It uses analysis of bulk data to ‘tailor’ messages and adverts to users on Facebook. This is done by looking at what users say and ‘like’. As The Canary previously reported:
In short, it’s all about persuading people, possibly without their knowledge, to act in a certain way or adopt certain attitudes. An ideal approach when it comes to influencing elections.
Robert Mercer funds CA. He is a Trump adviser and also a financial backer of right-wing news site Breitbart, whose former Executive Chairman Steve Bannon (now Trump’s chief strategist), happens to be a board member of CA.
Don’t look at us!
But Leave.EU has denied this. Its Communications Director Andy Wigmore said:
[CA] did no work for us formally and if they had it would have been way before you had to report expenditure. [Kinnock is a] remoaner [and] a rabid Europhile. [Leave.EU] never employed CA and they never gave us anything in kind. We met them way before the referendum even started a year before 23 June… [and] kept in touch that’s all and it’s true that one of their directors participated in our initial press conference to launch Leave.EU in October 2015.
But The Guardian said that Wigmore admitted CA was “among supporters and friends who provided ideas and strategy” to the campaign’s official political consulting firm, Goddard Gunster.
Wigmore also said that Mercer had introduced CA to Leave.EU. And the campaign’s financier Arron Banks seems confident as to why the UK voted to Brexit:
interesting,since we deployed this technology in leave.eu we got unprecedented levels of engagement. 1 video 13m views. AI won it for leave https://t.co/mlB3TSyrSk
— Arron Banks (@Arron_banks) January 30, 2017
CA also works on several British and US government defence projects in Asia, Europe and Latin America.
Swiss data activist Paul-Olivier Dehaye said of CA:
Is it going to be used to try and manipulate people around domestic policies? Or to foment conflict between different communities? It is potentially very scary. People just don’t understand the power of this data and how it can be used against them.
The Electoral Commission said it doesn’t comment on specific cases. But it would look at Leave.EU spending details:
until it is satisfied that they are complete and accurate.
If the commission finds that Leave.EU did unlawfully get CA to target/manipulate (delete depending on your viewpoint) voters in the referendum, then the result may be thrown into question. But either way, it shows that the creep of technology into democratic processes, and the lengths to which politicians will go to persuade the public to vote for them, knows no bounds.
UPDATE: Changed “former Chief Editor Steve Bannon” at 3:05pm on 2 March to “former Executive Chairman Steve Bannon”.
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Featured image via Flickr