A Randomized Algorithm for Attenuating Voter Signal
As Cory Doctorow’s post clearly articulated, what Cambridge Analytical claims to sell is (probably) bullshit. Faux psychohistorians hawking psychometrics as a scalpel to carve out a favorable electoral outcome. Magic! But, while I agree with that assessment of their marketing materials, I disagree in that I think what they sell is actually effective.
Lets say you’re a politician named Bob. You don’t care about your constituents. Instead, you serve the people (Corporations, mostly) who bribe you best. Unfortunately for you, voters aren’t fools, they’re just constrained by time and circumstance. Given enough time, they’ll see you for what you are and vote you out.
They’ve had enough time.
You’re probably going to lose this election. Since your political activity reflects deficiencies of your character, you’re not going to suddenly become responsive to the needs of your constituency.
So, what can you do?
History provides an answer: the Southern Strategy! Appealing to White Racism has been remarkably effective! It allowed the Republicans to repeatedly capture a sufficient mass of corrupted hearts and fragile minds as voters, without offering them tangible policy benefits. More than that, it allowed the GOP to enact policies that actually hurt their constituents without losing support.
I think Cambridge Analytica is a generalization of this strategy.
It’s algorithmic befuddlement.
They inject noise rendered salient by primed group identity.
There’s no scalpel. There’s no targeting. All they need to do is incessantly provoke voters’ group calculus so that they’re blinded to both our history and their biography. For some, this inhibits voting. For others, it induces fervent activism which is premised upon and virally replicates the original bullshit Cambridge Analytica pushed.
Both cases produce the intended effect: a increase in entropy.
Induced, disorganized beliefs.
Because if you’re going to lose based on your record, moving the election towards a coin toss is a good play.
For you, anyway.
Everyone else loses.
Originally published on medium