Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean folks aren't out to get me
February 7, 2020 9:59 AM   Subscribe

The Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign have reportedly compiled an average of 3,000 data points on every voter in America. The Republican A great long read on the state of disinformation in the US (also touches on such campaigns elsewhere).

"What’s notable about this effort is not that it aims to expose media bias. Conservatives have been complaining—with some merit—about a liberal slant in the press for decades. But in the Trump era, an important shift has taken place. Instead of trying to reform the press, or critique its coverage, today’s most influential conservatives want to destroy the mainstream media altogether. “Journalistic integrity is dead,” Boyle declared in a 2017 speech at the Heritage Foundation. “There is no such thing anymore. So everything is about weaponization of information.”
We can't say we haven't been warned.
posted by dbmcd (36 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
I'm glad that you posted that. I desperately wanted to post this video of Rick Wilson in an hour long discussion about the coming election, and didn't know where. But PLEASE WATCH IT - it's scary as shit, but full of deep analysis of the fight ahead. I wish dems will pay attention.
posted by growabrain at 10:10 AM on February 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

Thanks so much for sharing this. I have to limit my news intake in order to cope with anxiety, especially this year. This article is completely worth making it past the filter, and I found it helpful for making sense of what the fuck is going on, generally.

Solutions? Other than carefully interrogating where my subconscious opinions have snuck in from, [shrug emoji]
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 10:48 AM on February 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

That video of Rick Wilson (who swears he's not trying to pick the Democratic nominee!!) drips with contempt for "communist" Bernie Sanders and he and the moderator (who I presume is a Democrat) are besides themselves lamenting that the Party can't somehow bar him through the usual gatekeeping fundraising mechanisms. Its kind of disgusting. Democrats would be wise to remember that the enemy of your enemy is only just that and nothing more. Rick Wilson is, like Senator Romney, right that Trump=Bad, but that hardly takes a political or moral genius to realize and the damage they've both done to our nation over their careers should make folks highly suspicious of anything that comes outta their mouths beyond denouncing Trump and providing limited insight into the Republican mindset.
posted by flamk at 10:57 AM on February 7, 2020 [19 favorites]

Direct link to the CS Monitor's article on the 3,000 data points per person.
GOP officials say they have invested over $300 million into their data operation since then and have collected roughly 3,000 data points on every voter in the country, in a system jointly owned by the Trump campaign and the RNC.
So this is the GOP's own statement on data collection, but followed by a more worrying statement:
“Donald Trump has a more sophisticated operation than anybody else does,” says Laura Edelson, a computer scientist at New York University who studies online political communication. “They’re being very conscious about tracking not just who goes to a Donald Trump rally, but maybe who goes to some kind of event that indicates they might be open to this message, something like a gun show.”
But more worrying is the GOP warchest, and their expenditures:
Getting voters onto this ladder [of engagement, to get more information and involvement from people] has allowed the Trump campaign to build small-dollar donor lists and amass a giant war chest, says Michael Luciani, CEO of The Tuesday Co., whose app organizes campaign volunteers digitally.

“With money to run targeted advertisements, you can get more people to sign up as donors and collect more data, which allows you to both pay for and better target more advertisements,” he says.

This cycle and strategy helped the Trump campaign and the RNC raise a gobsmacking $334 million this year, more than five times as much as the DNC. (The four top-polling Democratic presidential candidates have raised about $220 million among them.) The GOP campaign is also spending more on Google and Facebook advertisements than the top Democratic candidates by a wide margin, but that disparity could change if a clear front-runner emerges.
And the article in the OP makes it even more dire for a well-informed democracy:
In the United States, we tend to view such tools of oppression as the faraway problems of more fragile democracies. But the people working to reelect Trump understand the power of these tactics. They may use gentler terminology—muddy the waters; alternative facts—but they’re building a machine designed to exploit their own sprawling disinformation architecture.

Central to that effort is the campaign’s use of micro-targeting—the process of slicing up the electorate into distinct niches and then appealing to them with precisely tailored digital messages. The advantages of this approach are obvious: An ad that calls for defunding Planned Parenthood might get a mixed response from a large national audience, but serve it directly via Facebook to 800 Roman Catholic women in Dubuque, Iowa, and its reception will be much more positive. If candidates once had to shout their campaign promises from a soapbox, micro-targeting allows them to sidle up to millions of voters and whisper personalized messages in their ear.

Parscale didn’t invent this practice—Barack Obama’s campaign famously used it in 2012, and Clinton’s followed suit. But Trump’s effort in 2016 was unprecedented, in both its scale and its brazenness. In the final days of the 2016 race, for example, Trump’s team tried to suppress turnout among black voters in Florida by slipping ads into their News Feeds that read, “Hillary Thinks African-Americans Are Super Predators.” An unnamed campaign official boasted to Bloomberg Businessweek that it was one of “three major voter suppression operations underway.” (The other two targeted young women and white liberals.)
Reminder: Facebook refuses to restrict untruthful political ads and micro-targeting (The Guardian, Jan. 9, 2020). The article's top two points are:
- Twitter banned political ads outright in October, and
- Rival Google limits ad targeting to broad categories

Facebook again/still has the potential to heavily influence the election, and the GOP is capitalizing on that, hard. As told in the OP, after the reporter created a new Trump-aligned Facebook account:
The story that unfurled in my Facebook feed over the next several weeks was, at times, disorienting. There were days when I would watch, live on TV, an impeachment hearing filled with damning testimony about the president’s conduct, only to look at my phone later and find a slickly edited video—served up by the Trump campaign—that used out-of-context clips to recast the same testimony as an exoneration. Wait, I caught myself wondering more than once, is that what happened today?

As I swiped at my phone, a stream of pro-Trump propaganda filled the screen: “That’s right, the whistleblower’s own lawyer said, ‘The coup has started …’ ” Swipe. “Democrats are doing Putin’s bidding …” Swipe. “The only message these radical socialists and extremists will understand is a crushing …” Swipe. “Only one man can stop this chaos …” Swipe, swipe, swipe.
Bolded for emphasis. The "alternative reality" of the Trump Truths is the whole fucking point. Conservative reality becomes warped by GOP's version of facts, fueled by lots of money and personally identifying data.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:59 AM on February 7, 2020 [50 favorites]

I wonder what would happen if Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube had to go dark for 90 days prior to election day, or something along those lines. Can you even imagine? The Internet is a technical wonder, but social media is the worst thing that we could have possibly done with it.

Old guy rant: I remember buying appliances - a TV, say. It'd come with a little card from the manufacturer. "Please tell us everything about you: salary, hobbies, level of education, etc.". You'd look at that card, laugh, and immediately shitcan it. Why? Because it was nobody's business, I don't care if it is postage prepaid. Go pound sand. I sometimes feel like all I can do is continue telling people that it doesn't have to be this way, but without sounding like some crotchety Luddite.
posted by jquinby at 11:16 AM on February 7, 2020 [39 favorites]

Every time a Trump ad shows up for me I feel like I'm doing my part to make sure their ad buy was as much of a waste of time and money as possible. The Dems could nominate a pet rock and I'm voting for Igneous Quartz over that motherfucker.
posted by axiom at 11:18 AM on February 7, 2020 [25 favorites]

That "3000 points of data for every American" headline is not surprising. In American political circles this is called The Voter File. The Democrats have one too, or several. The details are complicated, but the DNC has its own basic record of every voter / potential voter, then there's NGP VAN, then there's a bunch of value add third party services.

To a first approximation these are all just giant spreadsheets. One row per potential voter, one column per fact. Columns go from simple things like name, address, age, gender to complicated things like voting history, party registration, estimated income, various other demographics. To downright detailed things like "donates to Planned Parenthood" or "likely to support female candidates", depending on the specific product.

That's all state of the art c. 2010. What's newer is companies getting smarter about deriving meaning from the voter file. And tying it to other things, like Facebook accounts and social networks.

Then there's what the Atlantic article is really about, which is the Trump Campaign's incredibly aggressive and deceptive advertising campaign. They've been running it since literally 2015, with basically no pause after the 2016 election. That shit's scary. My impression is the Democrats are way behind on this stuff. Partly because they're all busy with winning the primary. Partly maybe because of ethical concerns, too.
posted by Nelson at 11:21 AM on February 7, 2020 [17 favorites]

I thought this was an interesting part about how the 3,000 data points will be used:

"While these ads can be used to try to win over undecided voters, they’re most often deployed for fundraising and for firing up the faithful—and Trump’s advisers believe this election will be decided by mobilization, not persuasion. To turn out the base, the campaign has signaled that it will return to familiar themes: the threat of “illegal aliens”—a term Parscale has reportedly encouraged Trump to use—and the corruption of the “swamp.”"

emphasis added.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 11:25 AM on February 7, 2020 [5 favorites]

Meanwhile, the Democrats are unable to run their own primary.
posted by aramaic at 11:29 AM on February 7, 2020 [6 favorites]

I was just telling my wife about this post and article (we get The Atlantic, so I'll be looking for this in the print mag), and she pointed me towards this bit from NPR yesterday:

How Political Campaigns Are Using 'Geofencing' Technology To Target Catholics At Mass

Original reporting: Pro-Trump group targets Catholic voters using cellphone technology
posted by jquinby at 11:30 AM on February 7, 2020 [8 favorites]

All the dems need to do is get folks out to vote, but they can not even hold a small caucus without a meltdown of the system.
posted by sammyo at 11:34 AM on February 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

oh, what aramaic said
posted by sammyo at 11:34 AM on February 7, 2020

“If you look at the Trump ads, they’re always asking their supporters to do things,” he says. “They’re asking their supporters to click a link, to give money, to sign up, to volunteer, to give over their email address.”

Immediately below that paragraph, csmonitor.com inserted a form that asked me for my email address.
posted by Foosnark at 11:37 AM on February 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

In related news, elections may be decided by turnout, not swing voters.

Which means selecting a centrist candidate based on “electability” is probably a fools errand. Best to select the most energizing candidate.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 11:40 AM on February 7, 2020 [40 favorites]

Meanwhile, the Democrats are unable to run their own primary.

Meanwhile, the press completely ignores both the ratfucking and the GOP's actually rigged caucus, leading to false impressions like this.
posted by wierdo at 11:46 AM on February 7, 2020 [44 favorites]

It all makes sense, if you think about it. The GOP can do math. They know they don’t have a broad base of support, so their only hope to get power is to suppress voters unlikely to support them and juice their supporters into outrage. Figure out who those voters are and target them by any means necessary, commitment to the truth be damned.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 11:57 AM on February 7, 2020 [8 favorites]

...the DNC has its own basic record of every voter / potential voter...

This is one of the reasons I think it's so, so very important to vote whether or not it will have any influence on the final result in your area.

My assumption is that if I call my house rep's office to give my opinion and they take down my comment and zip code that they will check the database for my zip code, assume that if I'm calling there are a bunch of other people in my area that feel the same way and just don't call in for a myriad of reasons (don't care quite as much, don't think it's effective, don't know they can/should, don't have time/energy, etc.). But if they see that every damn eligible voter in that area votes in every primary and election they can, my comment will get more weight than if I'm the only one in my area that actually votes.

There was a thread here on the blue a while back about an article showing how countries with higher voter turnout have more moderate politics in general because more people with moderate positions vote so that's who politicians listen to. Instead of like in the US where it's just us cranks at the edges that care enough to go vote. The voter is, I think, at least a part of the puzzle on the actual mechanism that would work in the US.

It takes a lot of assuming to get there so if there are people that can clue me in one way or the other I'd LOVE to hear from you.
posted by VTX at 11:57 AM on February 7, 2020 [6 favorites]

Is Bitecofer the only proponent of this idea, or is there a school of thought?
posted by Selena777 at 2:04 PM on February 7, 2020

Any company looking to sell something with a halfway decent marketing team probably knows more about you through direct data and metadata than you would be comfortable with.

And make no mistake, GOP turnout effort this year is going to be very sophisticated, and it will be much broader and more elaborate than 2016. Do you ever wonder why Trump always seems always seems to hold rallies in places like Hershey PA. It isn’t just because his fat ass likes chocolate.

Efforts to try to beat the GOP machine in these areas or by targeting “swing voters” are doomed to fail. It’s all about turning out your base.
posted by eagles123 at 2:59 PM on February 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

What's strange to me is that I'm as liberal as one can be in the midwest without getting crosses burned on my lawn. Yet I get at least 2 Republican fundraising calls every day. EVERY DAY. Generally at least 1 of the calls is from Trump's organization.

I know, n=1, but if they know so much about me, how is it that they waste their time calling me? Or are they just calling EVERYBODY because it's so cheap? Or maybe the fundraising is just an excuse to cheaply push their bullshit into my head for a few seconds.

I've taken to playing Horst-Wessel-Lied loudly in the background when I get a Trump call. Nobody has commented on it yet, which fulfills my expectations about Trump supporters.
posted by ensign_ricky at 3:54 PM on February 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

If there is any bright spot in all this it's that a fantastic amount of Trump fund raising is just a scam that will go nowhere near funding his re-election.

If the economy stays out of recession the incumbent is almost certain to get re-elected (though the Coronavirus effect on markets may change that economic dynamic — one which I'd like to avoid since pandemics are very bad AND, even if it's all overreaction most peoples retirements can't take another hit nor can another generation stand economic stagnation).

In fact, in spite of the 2018 House victories, I see very little change to the presidential election dynamics that lead to the Trump win in 2016 and a whole host of things that the GOP seems to be getting down right competent at this time. Youth vote and voter turnout not much better. Petty fringe left intransigence the same. "Enlightened centrist" Pollyanna-ism, yup. Still plenty of support for Trump's among white women.

It would be a delight to be wrong about that.

In either case we've resigned ourselves to just surviving long enough to retire in three years and get out of Dodge because Trumpism is going nowhere, even if Trump get's shit canned. And because of that I feel no particular allegiance to this idiot nation what so ever.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 4:28 PM on February 7, 2020 [5 favorites]

That video of Rick Wilson drips with contempt

And it opens with him yucking it up about his NYT book numbers. Totally gross from start to finish.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:34 PM on February 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

a political-action committee with a pledge to spend $75 million attacking Trump online

So they 'prove' he lied, "oh that's just trump being trump". They find a porn video, ratings bump, look at that scalawag. They make up truly heinous fake news, omg another bump in the ratings from an even more heinous demographic. Not a winning strategy.

Spend the 75mil on free uber rides to the polls.
posted by sammyo at 9:06 PM on February 7, 2020 [9 favorites]

Collation and cross-referencing might be tedious and unglamorous, folks, but damn it works. It was a very powerful tool even pre-internet, and has only become exponentially more so with it.


Rick Wilson is one of the leading Repub propagandists who was instrumental in creating the current toxic political zeitgeist of rabid fact-free partisanship on the right that gave Trumpers the opening they needed.

I mean, I appreciate he is now trying to stop the descent into madness and violence. But he sure ain't no clean skin in its genesis, and it all seems like a too little, too late, trying to salve his conscience act, to me.

Not that we can be too picky about our allies right now.
posted by Pouteria at 9:07 PM on February 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

"Meanwhile, the Democrats are unable to run their own primary."

It was a caucus. A primary won't have the kinds of problems seen in Iowa.
posted by republican at 1:56 PM on February 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

It's happening via facebook. I feel helpless because this person is saying things I know in my heart they would never say otherwise.
Facebook is a very common link here, and I don’t know that there any way to stop it short of regulation, similar to industrial polluters. The 20th century was spent moving into socially isolated lifestyles and we can’t expect that many people to stop using a common link for a lot of families.
posted by adamsc at 7:48 AM on February 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Collation and cross-referencing might be tedious and unglamorous, folks, but damn it works. It was a very powerful tool even pre-internet, and has only become exponentially more so with it.

[citations needed]

The last four years don't bear this out. Trump won* even though his lies were clearly factchecked all over, and his approval/disapproval ratings are unprecedentedly low and unprecedentedly inelastic (scroll down for a comparison to approval ratings for all the other post-WWII presidents), in spite of the continuing heroic efforts of Daniel Dale et al. to document his many crimes against epistemology.

As noted above, this also indicates that increasing Democratic turnout is the best (probably the only) way to win; there's barely any winnable votes in the center and barring a major event I'd say Trump has about the same chances of winning that he did in 2016, which as far as I recall was around 30% per 538. The cards fell *just right* for him then; hopefully the Democrats run a less shitty campaign this time round.

*by negative three million votes
posted by tivalasvegas at 11:32 AM on February 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

I don’t think they were referencing collation and cross-checking of Trump’s lies but of voter information.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 4:44 AM on February 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Anyway, to the point: I'm worried someone in my family is starting to fall prey to far-right propaganda. I don't really know what to do. It's happening via facebook. I feel helpless because this person is saying things I know in my heart they would never say otherwise. Horrible things. Like that some people deserved to be separated from their kids.

Someone needs to develop a method of de-brainwashing that works before it's too late.

Set them up with a pi-hole to block advertisements and then surreptitiously a few weeks later blackhole facebook and when they complain that facebook isn't working say "Huh, that's weird". And do not mention the pi-hole.

For a while I kept "accidentally" deleting the Canadian Fox news like channels on my parent's TV when I was visiting.
posted by srboisvert at 6:09 AM on February 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

alternately, you can try to counterprogram your parents by buying facebook ads micro-targeted at them. feed ‘em, i dunno, anarchosyndicalist propaganda for a few months and see if it does any good.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 8:23 AM on February 10, 2020 [9 favorites]

You could change your loved ones' default home page to Drudge Retort
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:48 AM on February 10, 2020

3,000 data points per person --- must not be connected to their fundraising team, since Trump keeps sending me letters / calls asking for money. Despite the fact that I'm a lifelong registered Democrat who donates thousands of dollars to Democrats, both among the easiest of political facts to collect.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:47 PM on February 10, 2020

Conservatives have been complaining—with some merit—about a liberal slant in the press for decades

Stopped taking the article seriously right about here.
posted by JohnFromGR at 8:02 AM on February 11, 2020 [7 favorites]

there is a liberal slant. it's just, the thing is, liberalism — the idea that markets are an effective and just way of allocating goods — is a conservative ideology.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 1:05 PM on February 11, 2020 [6 favorites]

I don’t think they were referencing collation and cross-checking of Trump’s lies but of voter information.

Correct. I was not referring to fact-checking possibilities it offers, but the marketing and manipulation opportunities, which it offers in lavish abundance.
posted by Pouteria at 6:57 PM on February 11, 2020

Yeah as soon as I saw the "with some merit" thing I checked out. Obviously he's never met all the people who think Elizabeth Warren is a tool of the corporate machine and that NPR is a center-right "both sides" outlet, etc. Where's the liberal slant? MSNBC maybe? There's also a difference between reporting true things and picking which ones to emphasize (every outlet) and deliberately twisting and misrepresenting the truth to promote an agenda (Fox). I have not heard any credible allegations of mainstream "liberal" media outlets spreading lies about Trump or misreporting facts.
posted by freecellwizard at 1:08 PM on February 14, 2020

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