In a cautionary tale that should have everyone re-thinking taking that seemingly innocuous quiz that comes across their news feed, Facebook has suspended the account of the architect of the technology that threw the company in the crosshairs of the debate over Russian collusion and election meddling.
Christopher Wylie, the Canadian genius tapped by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon to mine Facebook profile data — although arguably without Facebook’s permission — for his work under Bannon’s employ at Cambridge Analytica, has officially had his account suspended from Facebook.
Plaintive phone call from Chris: he's also banned from WhatsApp.
And – outraged voice! – Instagram.
"But how am I going to curate my online identity?" he says.
The Millennials' first great whistleblower? And @facebook hitting him where it hurts https://t.co/abjfh4td4g
— Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) March 18, 2018
A self-described gay, Canadian vegan, Wylie eventually became — as he told The Guardian — the developer of “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindf**k tool.”
The goal, as The Guardian reported, was to combine social media’s reach with big data analytical tools to create psychographic profiles that could then be manipulated in what Bannon and Cambridge Analytica investor Robert Mercer allegedly referred to as a military-style psychological operations campaign — targeting U.S. voters.
CA, in a tweet thread, has taken issue with Wylie’s account — which was extensively profiled in The Guardian from Wylie’s perspective alone — and Facebook has also issued a statement shutting the door to Wylie for what they appear to believe is inflammatory information about exactly what happened with Facebook user data in the run-up to the 2016 election.
“Mr. Wylie has refused to cooperate with us until we lift the suspension on his account. Given he said he ‘exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles,’ we cannot do this at this time.
“We are in the process of conducting a comprehensive internal and external review as we work to determine the accuracy of the claims that the Facebook data in question still exists. That is where our focus lies as we remain committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information.”
Wylie’s Guardian account maintains that Bannon, corrupting and debauching his old mentor Andrew Breitbart’s mantra that politics is downstream from culture, was interested in using Facebook profile data to shift online culture so that voters would be better primed to accept certain policies and politicians over others.
“[Bannon] got it immediately. He believes in the whole Andrew Breitbart doctrine that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture. And fashion trends are a useful proxy for that. Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically. So how do you get from people thinking ‘Ugh. Totally ugly’ to the moment when everyone is wearing them? That was the inflection point he was looking for.”
But Wylie wasn’t just talking about fashion. He had recently been exposed to a new discipline: “information operations”, which ranks alongside land, sea, air and space in the US military’s doctrine of the “five-dimensional battle space”. His brief ranged across the SCL Group – the British government has paid SCL to conduct counter-extremism operations in the Middle East, and the US Department of Defense has contracted it to work in Afghanistan.
I tell him that another former employee described the firm as “MI6 for hire”, and I’d never quite understood it.
“It’s like dirty MI6 because you’re not constrained. There’s no having to go to a judge to apply for permission. It’s normal for a ‘market research company’ to amass data on domestic populations. And if you’re working in some country and there’s an auxiliary benefit to a current client with aligned interests, well that’s just a bonus.”
Cambridge Analytica and the role they played in the 2016 election has been mentioned as an area of interest to the ongoing Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. elections, although CBS News reported Sunday that the Trump campaign phased out the data firm’s information pre-election.
“The Trump campaign never used the psychographic data at the heart of a whistleblower who once worked to help acquire the data’s reporting — principally because it was relatively new and of suspect quality and value,” CBS reported.