On the junk science and excellent PR of Cambridge Analytica

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/04/02/daily-mail-cancer-scares.html


The real question is, how did the needle get so close to the red zone, when the red zone had a bozo like Trump in it?

That is indeed the question. And, of course the same should be applied to a couple of hundred guys in Russia reposting memes and buying a a few hundred dollars of facebook ads.


The same can be said for the tiring and irresponsible accusations of Russian interference. The problem of Trump being president is not down to a few evildoers, it’s down to a structural problem in American politics.



Those Russians are what CA calls a “targeting team”. Another question is, where is/was CA’s targeting team for the US election or other elections they have interfered in around the world. There have not been any whistleblowers among the hundreds of people who would have been involved. Ockham’s razor, anyone?

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Major powers meddling in foreign elections is nothing new. I promise you that every country engages in it, and now so too do some independent organizations, notably WL. The extraordinary thing in this case is not that Russia ran interference, but that the candidate who won may have been complicit, if not directly then by openly courting their aid, and that the second largest social media company in the world opened itself up to being used as a platform for the uncritical dissemination of political propaganda to the point of ridiculing and suing those who warned it would happen.

That said, Cory is correct to be severely skeptical of CA’s purported toolset when all they really are is a mercenary propaganda and dirty tricks shop.


So what was CA’s crime? Just making FB more toxic? I mean, they did definitely do that.

Every time things get posted that make people distrust statistical work, I feel like we need reminders that there are ways to use statistics responsibly, and links to some examples, so that people don’t just turn to even worse science, just because statistics can’t be trusted…


And it’s worth pointing out that this is a major problem, whether the Russian interference had an actual influence on the election or not. Even if the "Internet Research Agency"s actions had no effect, there was still likely an attempt at meddling in which the Trump campaign took part.

Edited to add a comma.



Yes, some Russians with ties to Putin (like every other wealthy Russian) appear to have paid for a tiny amount of laughably crude Facebook memes. And it’s entirely possible that Russian state employees were responsible for the DNC hack. And Trump is mixed up with Russian gangsters, and quite possibly used those contacts to hire some online propagandists. It’s possible that all of this was organised with the knowledge and approval of Putin, and that Trump was aware of that.

But so what?

What do the establishment Democrats think will be the result of these investigations? Trump is obviously not going to be impeached, and the possibility of an effective indictment is microscopic. The president is probably immune to prosecution and Trump has the pardon power and control of the federal justice system.

The establishment Democrats and their media surrogates are devoting all of their attention and resources to an issue that has virtually no possibility of a productive outcome and zero relevance to the daily concerns of the majority of the electorate. Even from a purely tactical point of view, it’s daft.


Masha has been reliably accurate from the beginning of this:


All evidence that mounts against him and/or his campaign and associates is valuable. A non-trivial segment of the Americans who voted for Trump were independents and disaffected conservatives. To them, he was the Bernie of the GOP, and they voted for him because they believed he wasn’t accountable to other rich people. That was all a load of horse hockey obviously, but a lot of them swallowed it anyway. Getting them to stay home or vote for an independent is just as important as getting progressives to vote against the GOP in both the mid-terms and 2020. And as 2016 demonstrated, every little bit counts.

I agree with you insofar as the media and Dems should be more focused on getting true progressives elected instead of moving further to the right. But I disagree with the sentiment that they should take the heat off the investigation. At some point Trump is going to do whatever it takes to the DoJ brass to get a lapdog to fire Mueller. At that point the pressure needs to be on Congress to reappoint the special counsel.

Also, while it may not be material, I doubt very much happens in Russian intelligence without Putin knowing about it.

My issue with that is that I don’t think that the Russia story is having much influence on anyone except for MSNBC Democrats.

Folks who aren’t Democratic partisans are unlikely to much care about the Russia investigation. “Trump is corrupt? Same as all the rest of 'em. He used dirty tricks during the election? Who doesn’t?” Etc.

Drop the investigation? No; the Congressional committees should continue to investigate as hard as they can, even though it is unlikely to ever produce anything beyond some not hugely effective political ammunition. Mueller fired, Mueller not fired: either way, Trump is still president and you still have Nazis killing people in the streets.

The Russia story does not justify the media focus that the Democratic establishment are giving it. Maddow has reported on almost nothing else for a year now; it’s beyond parody.

It’s an important issue that would justify an occasional update and maybe even a main segment if there was a truly major development in the story. But the saturation coverage it’s been given is completely over the top, and is displacing reporting on the many much more important issues that are currently relevant.

And also:

  1. Describing Russian involvement as an “attack”, or even “worse than Pearl Harbour”, as assorted Dems have done, is (a) stupid, and (b) really fucking dangerous. Propaganda and espionage are not war, and the militaristic posturing of some of the Dems is seriously out of hand. They are deliberately attempting to maximise hostility between the world’s two largest nuclear powers.

  2. In a time of fascism, the neo-McCarthyite nonsense coming from some Dems is also really fucking dangerous. A lot of them are ignorantly or deliberately blurring the line between modern Russia and the Soviet Union, and then turning their renewed Cold War anticommunism against the American left. I long ago lost count of how many times I’ve seen centrist Dems accuse Bernie of being a Russian agent. Masha Gessen also gets that accusation fairly regularly these days.

  3. An age of fascism is also a very bad time to enthusiastically promote the idea that the secret police are paragons of virtue and justice. The FBI-worship coming from the centrist Dems is horrifying to leftists aware of the history of that agency.

  4. Corporate Democrats are actively using Russia as a scapegoat to obscure their own corruption and incompetence.

  5. The delusion that the courts or Congress are going to magically make Trump go away and return everything to how it was before is the main factor discouraging the middle class from meaningful resistance to fascism.

I don’t think anything major happens in Russia without Putin’s approval, but I also doubt that he spends his time micromanaging the FSB.

It is still uncertain that official Russian intelligence officers had any involvement at all; much of the existing circumstantial evidence is also consistent with a gangster-based operation.


I haven’t seen much of what I’d call FBI-worship. I’ve seen centrists and leftists decrying the POTUS’s blatent interference in the FBI’s investigation of his campaign and administration. And that’s a real danger. An Executive willing to disrupt law enforcement to hide their own corruption is as bad a sign today as it was when Nixon did it, and Trump has even less shame than Tricky Dick.

I think Russian elements sometimes act on their own to curry favor with Putin. But I don’t think interference in the major elections of foreign nuclear powers happens without Putin’s direct cachet. Again, it doesn’t really matter, but while I’m certain Putin doesn’t micromanage the FSB, I am reasonably confident he sets their policies on major strategic operations. He’d be an incompetent autocrat if he didn’t, and the one thing Putin is not is incompetent.

The line between the two is so blurred that it makes no real difference. The gangsters answer to the intelligence apparatus which answer to Putin. That’s how autocracy works. Independent organized crime is a liability to authoritarianism.


I have…

There’s plenty more like that floating around.

Yeah, it is.

That’s a horse that bolted long ago, though. Trump has no hesitation in openly using his power to interfere in the legal system, and US police forces across the country are heavily infested with white supremacists.

Yes, but…

There’s an assumption here that it began as a major strategic operation.

If I recall correctly, the Podesta hack was blamed on an extremely simple phishing scam. That doesn’t say “elite FSB cyber ninjas” to me; it looks more like a routine scam that happened to luck into the ludicrously weak IT security of the DNC and Clinton campaign.

Combine that with a gangster mate of Trump lending him the use of his spam farm and you’ve got a theory of events that wouldn’t necessarily rise to official attention until it started to get coverage in Western media. At which point, yes, Putin would take an interest.

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