This Cambridge Analytica scandal has raised some interesting questions about the minds of the electorate for me. Namely, are those who weren't taken in by the right-wing agenda better at critical thinking than their Brexit, Trump and Tory voting peers, or just more cynical?
Take that big £350m Brexit bus. Leave voters did vote for that, regardless of how much they splutter and deny it nowadays, regardless of the tortuous mental gymnastics they perform to claim they somehow understood it wasn't actually a claim that the NHS would get £350m a week post-Brexit. Total bollocks of course, it was a big Boris-flavoured scam and they fell for it.
Remain voters didn't believe it however, and I wonder if that was because they have superior critical thinking skills, or because they didn't believe a word the Leave campaign said. Personally, while I did do plenty of critical thinking on the issue, in the end my remain vote boiled down to the concept that even if everything the Leave campaign claimed was true, I didn't believe the Tories had either the integrity to keep their promises or the ability to implement them. I feel justified in that belief, as they've lurched from blunder to capitulation with depressing regularity. But is that evidence of my critical thinking accurately predicting an outcome, or just coincidence verifying my cynicism?
The thing with CA tactics is that they rely on people not using critical thinking. They rely on the mechanism in people's brains that makes them believe. For example, Trump was going to drain the swamp. Anyone with an ounce of critical thinking could tell you that he'd do the exact opposite, and nepotism and patronage would be the order of the day. Because that's who he is and what he does, and all the memes and fake news in the world won't change that.
I suppose it's no different to the tactics used by media the world over, in that they influence public opinion to decide the outcome of elections. "It was the Sun wot won it," etc. Except, crucially, CA directly target social media users based on harvested data, in order to foment virality and create ersatz movements in which the people they target believe they're acting in their own best interests. They're not of course. They're acting in the best interests of those who have paid CA millions of pounds to alter the zeitgeist. It's like they've found a way to beam a right-wing agenda directly into people's head.
And that is truly insidious. A phrase that is bandied about far too much nowadays by people who've never read Orwell is "Orwellian," but that is exactly what this is. It's digital doublethink, supplemented by a viral daily hate. It's all a bit depressing really.
What's the solution? Globally, I don't know. The radicals, the progressives, the socialists and the Left don't really have anything to compete with a globalised corporate psyops outfit.
There is however a model that might help in the fight against this disturbing machine, and we've built it right here in Britain. The online presence Labour supporters have built up is nothing short of astonishing. Everywhere the right wing make their case, you'll find Labour troops countering it, pointing out lies and hypocrisy and distortions. We do it all for free, and it works.
Don't believe me? The last general election was predicted to wipe Labour out, and you better believe CA were working their bollocks off behind the scenes. Did they win? Barely. We countered and damaged their narrative everywhere we found it and turned a Tory majority and Labour wipe out into a crippled Tory government reliant on the goodwill of the creationists at the DUP.
It's a start