Hacked US Voter data was used to influence Americans on social media during the US 2016 Election, claims two UK Journalists
As a social media strategist, I know all too well the power of big data and the ability to use social media tactics to influence audiences – microtargetted advertising with content works.
In the world of politics, Facebook is particularly powerful.
Personal emails, district voter data, interests, location data and psychographics can be used to target very specific ad messages to small audiences.
Now, it’s emerged that not only did the Trump campaign use these exact tactics to win the election, the data gained to undertake such activity may have been obtained from the hacking of voter data by Russian backed networks.
Even more disturbing, claims that the Trump campaign may have worked with these dubious sources to make it happen. The stunning claims are hard to believe, and I’m struggling to comprehend how this might have happened.
Non the less, the story is too stunning not to write about. Straight from a James Bond movie plot.
The Big Social Media Analytics Boast
After claiming the stunning US Presidential election victory, attention turned to the strategy of the victor. Trump son in law and West Wing operative Jared Kushner claimed much of the credit.
As Forbes Magazine reported, the Trump campaign had used the expertise of a UK analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica.
“History is written by the Victors.” – Winston Churchill
The firm has close ties to Donald Trump advisors and former employees and had great success with former US Presidential candidate Ted Cruz and the UK Brexit campaign.
The Cambridge Analytica story has some really interesting off shoots of its own, including claims that data mining was used gather psychological profiles of millions of users, without them even knowing.
The Power of Facebook and Big Data
Using the power of Facebook, data science and dashboards, the Trump campaign were able to influence important parts of the US electorate. All-the-while the Clinton campaign was spending most of their time on 20th Century tactics – TV, radio and broad digital advertising tactics. Trying to activate the Obama coalition, all while distracted by Trump’s Twitter and airport hanger rally antics.
The Trump camp had other plans, using at least $70 million in Facebook ads, countless thousands of campaign messages and ad content – all targeted at the most granular level in the final few weeks of the campaign.
Now, there are allegations emerging that US voter data, obtained through database hacking from Russian backed teams was part of this strategy.
The allegations suggest US voters rolls, hacked during the 2016 campaign, were used by the Trump campaign in collusion with Russian disinformation efforts.
The BBC’s Paul Wood reported on March 30 that US official believed that the Russian government hacked US voter rolls in several US states. Somehow, the story goes, that data was then passed on to target voters on social media.
The activities is one of the major threads of a US intelligence and law enforcement agency investigations into the Russian activity and Donald Trump campaigns, according to Wood and Louise Mensch.
Hacked voter registration data was used for “mictrotargeting” that involved “Using email, Facebook and Twitter,” the BBC’s Paul Wood wrote.
BBC Report on this hacked data/Trump collusion theory.
In my experience, data on user profiles could be matched with electoral roll data to create tailored messages or advertising to influence an outcome. This isn’t actually new. The use of fake news is, as would be the use of voter data obtained through dubious means.
Fake News, Sponsored Posts on Facebook
This would have involved the use of ‘dark posts’ fed into enrolled voters Facebook newsfeeds with sponsored posts, including fake news stories. Based on a whole range of data, including demographics, geolocation, house address and email.
In October 2016, it was reported the Trump campaign had indeed been using the Facebook sponsored stories advertising product to spread fake news to certain voter demographics.
Bloomberg reporter Joshua Green reported at the time there were members of the Trump campaign running fake news stories targeting ‘infrequent black voters’ in order to influence them to stay at home, and not vote for Hillary Clinton.
Bloomberg said Trump’s strategy was “voter suppression.. aimed at white liberals, white women and African Americans.”
The idea was to keep them home.
Here’s a great outtake from the Bloomberg story, that went inside the ‘Trump Bunker’ in San Antonio, Texas at the time.
The social media driven suppression strategy was to “shrink the size of the electorate” – it worked!
Russian Hackers Take US Voter Data
In October 2016, US media reported that information on voter rolls in 20 US States had been hacked or had seen attempted hacking on voter data.
“Russia downloads the online voter rolls… political advertising can be tailored very precisely: individual messaging for individual voters,” Paul Wood from BBC News wrote.
Now, Louise Mensch, a writer and former politician based in New York, has written that indeed Trump worked with the Russian government to “target hacked Americans” using the stolen data.
Mensch also claims intelligence sources tell her that this is indeed the case, the same allegations as suggested by the BBC last week.
“Sources with links to the intelligence community have now confirmed that this theory is accurate, and I am therefore upgrading this story from my theory to a factual report,” she wrote.
“In the closing days of the election, the Russian state hacked into the voter rolls of the United States. Russian intelligence did this in order that they could provide this information to Alfa Bank in order to use Cambridge Analytica’s targeting, and SCL’s propaganda, in order precisely to target voters and tip them to Trump,” she wrote on her blog.
The Big Claim
US Congress Investigating/Knows This
Did Trump win because of this Social Media Targeting Using Stolen Data?
Virginia Senator Mark Warner (who has been briefed by the FBI) alludes to this in the US Senate a few days ago. Watch from 3 minutes 39 seconds.
“I’ve heard and it’s been reported that part of the misinformation disinformation campaign that was launched in three key states – Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania – and it was launched interestingly enough not to reinforce Trump voters to go out but actually target it at potential Clinton voters with misinformation in the last week (of the campaign on Twitter and Facebook).”
Facebook and Twitter May Need to Co-Operate
To prove these allegations, social media companies may need to assist special investigators.
Thomas Rid, King’s College London War Studies Professor, says ultimately we need to co-operation of the social media companies to give us heuristics and visibility into the data that only they have.”
The claims are pretty stunning. There are also suggestions that Russian banks may be involved, a pretty bizarre scenario all round.
If the Trump campaign did indeed receive hacked voter data, was it used in a way that violated any current laws? If so, could it even be proven. It would involved some serious auditing of old ad accounts by Facebook.
Is the US law enforcement and court system even set up to deal with such activities, are there any laws prohibiting this use of data?
Many questions remain.