Brexit was one of the most momentous outcomes ever from a democratic poll. Even though the results were wide-reaching and ground breaking, most people are still unsure how this campaign came to win. We dig into the data-mining campaign that shifted this election.
This campaign started with an app many people spent 3-4 hours per day on. This app collected data from people to devise unique campaigns. The best part is that this campaign would then disappear, leaving no trace behind! The data war is something we must be very familiar with. Or else, we would fall victim to those who know how to utilise with your data. Just like how they tricked British politics.
Brexit is a movement that led to the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union(E.U). Going into 2016, U.K citizens had the right to either vote for the EU alliance or to vote against it. Various focus groups and discussions held before the elections predicted that people would favour the alliance. However, they were in for a shock. The results showed that the majority of people chose to leave. The results had, in fact, debunked the polls predicted by analysts. As much as 152 individual polls rooted for remain, but it was the only 16 polls that predicted leave that offered the accurate tally. The final tally stood at 51.9% leave and 48.1% remain. This massive turn of votes wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for a tech-savvy political strategist!
Key Players in the Brexit data war
AggregateIQ and Cambridge Analytica were the two prominent technology firms that took part in this data war. Cummings sought AggregateIQ for his campaign while Cambridge Analytica was hired by another campaigner. Among these two, AggregateIQ was the one that started playing with the data first.
Dominic Cummings is a key player in this election. Despite being a political strategist, he always preferred technology over political experts. When UKIP approached him to join the “Vote Leave” team, he was doubtful. However, when they offered him full authority over this campaign he enrolled himself in and started making the strategies. One of his biggest decisions was to spend millions of pounds on an obscure Canadian tech firm. This was the start of the data war. The very war that would change the fate of British politics.
AggregateIQ is a Canadian Political Consultancy company that specialises in data mining and data analysis. In short, they harness useful data and manipulate it to use for campaigns. For this, they were paid a total of £3.5 Million by four pro-Brexit campaigners. One among them was Cumming’s “Vote Leave”.
Before meeting AggregateIQ’s founder, Cummings believed that it would be the technology that would be helping them to get across this election. Using his political brain, he marked the required target groups. These groups include those who were uncertain as to which side to root for, as well as those who had specific concerns. Upon meeting AIQ’s founder, Zack Massingham, he came to know of a new target group. As portrayed in the documentary of this movement, Zack promised Cummings an extra 3 Million voters. The millions that the other side were not familiar with.
The science behind AggregateIQ’s work
AggregateIQ were basically using Data Science to target the voters and lure them into voting for Brexit. To collect the data, AIQ launched a huge data harvesting exercise. Through this exercise, a person is capable of winning as much as £50 Million. However, they must correctly guess the result of all 51 games in the 2016 European football championship. This exercise helped AIQ gather the contact details of thousands of potential voters. Above all, the vast majority of them would not normally be interested in the referendum.
Once the data was collected, the company would target advertisements in accordance with the demographics. For instance, older voters would get ads showing how the money sent to the EU could be spent on the NHS. While much more younger voters were targeted with unemployment ads. AQI we’re clearly involved in the triumph of Cummings and his Vote Leave campaign. For a prolonged period of time, a testimonial from Cummings, “we couldn’t have done it without them”
Was Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook involved in this scandal?
Following the revelation of this illicit campaign, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook was questioned by many. The reason for this is that AQI launched this ad campaign through Facebook. Facebook sent as much as 1 billion ads supporting Brexit. Oftentimes, these ads involve hate crime and racism. On one of the ads targeted to people, the Pro-leavers claimed Turkey to be a major threat for the UK. In addition to that, these ads posed Turkish immigrants as terrorists. All of this happened despite Facebook’s strict policy of protecting the app from racism.
Facebook’s involvement is prevalent. Though it is uncertain as to whether it took place under the nose of Zuckerberg or not, AIQ launched all of their ad campaigns through Facebook. Above all, they used a personality app to cross-reference personality types against what people had liked on Facebook. This clearly shows the misuse of data to psychometrically profile the entire electorate. On top of all, these ads were spreading fake news.
To add to the scepticism, Zuckerberg refused to answer the questions posed by the British parliament. Through AIQ, Cummings targeted as much as 7 million people, 10 days before the elections. Which was crucial as the final tally stood at 17,410,742 for leave and 16,141,241 for remain.
Is data war a threat to democracy?
Technology disrupted the Brexit elections. But the question we must be asking is whether this would be the new “normal” in democracy. The data war instigated by Cummings and team was against democracy. However, Cummings is not the only person misusing data science. Rumours are that Cambridge Analytica hijacked data from Facebook to manipulate the 2016 U.S Elections. Similar to AIQ, they curated advertisements through Facebook based on a user’s personality. On the other hand, many believe that there are many other elections that used such data wars. Persistence of such illicit acts would only be predominant in the coming elections. To sum up, data war is indeed a threat to democracy.