‘I made Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare tool’
At 24, Christopher Wylie came up with an idea that led to the foundation of a company called Cambridge Analytica,the data analytics firm that worked with the winning Brexit campaign and Donald Trump’s election team in harvesting millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in one of the tech giant’s biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.
Wylie turned whistleblower has revealed how Cambridge Analytica – a company owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and headed at the time by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon – used personal information taken without authorization in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements. “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.”
Its expertise was in “psychological operations” – or psyops – changing people’s minds not through persuasion but through “informational dominance”, a set of techniques that includes rumour, disinformation and fake news.
Another whistleblower Edward Snowden had this Twitter comment: