Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media










I’m trying to get through this but with every paragraph I finish the screaming in my head gets louder.

For everybody who doesn’t want to read the whole thing – do, it’s really eye-opening – here some key paragraphs:

Robert Mercer very rarely speaks in public and never to journalists, so
to gauge his beliefs you have to look at where he channels his money: a
series of yachts, all called Sea Owl; a $2.9m model train set; climate
change denial
(he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute);
and what is maybe the ultimate rich man’s plaything – the disruption of
the mainstream media
. In this he is helped by his close associate Steve
Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he
gives to the Media Research Center, with its mission of correcting
“liberal bias” is just one of his media plays. There are other bigger,
and even more deliberate strategies, and shining brightly, the star at
the centre of the Mercer media galaxy, is Breitbart.

It was $10m of Mercer’s money that enabled Bannon to fund Breitbart – a
rightwing news site, set up with the express intention of being a
Huffington Post for the right. It has launched the careers of Milo
Yiannopoulos and his like, regularly hosts antisemitic and Islamophobic
views, and is currently being boycotted by more than 1,000 brands
after an activist campaign. It has been phenomenally successful: the
29th most popular site in America with 2bn page views a year. It’s
bigger than its inspiration, the Huffington Post, bigger, even, than
PornHub. It’s the biggest political site on Facebook. The biggest on

But there was another reason why I recognised Robert Mercer’s name:
because of his connection to Cambridge Analytica, a small data analytics
company. He is reported to have a $10m stake in the company, which was
spun out of a bigger British company called SCL Group. It specialises in
“election management strategies” and “messaging and information
operations”, refined over 25 years in places like Afghanistan and
. In military circles this is known as “psyops” – psychological
operations. (Mass propaganda that works by acting on people’s emotions.)

Cambridge Analytica worked for the Trump campaign and, so I’d read, the Leave campaign.

In the course of the US election, Cambridge Analytica amassed a
database, as it claims on its website, of almost the entire US voting
population – 220 million people – and the Washington Post
reported last week that SCL was increasing staffing at its Washington
office and competing for lucrative new contracts with Trump’s
administration. “It seems significant that a company involved in
engineering a political outcome profits from what follows. Particularly
if it’s the manipulation, and then resolution, of fear,
” says Briant.

One of the things that concerns Howard most is the hundreds of
thousands of “sleeper” bots they’ve found. Twitter accounts that have
tweeted only once or twice and are now sitting quietly waiting for a
trigger: some sort of crisis where they will rise up and come together
to drown out all other sources of information.

Like zombies?

“Like zombies.”

Many of the techniques were refined in Russia, he says, and then
exported everywhere else. “You have these incredible propaganda tools
developed in an authoritarian regime moving into a free market economy
with a complete regulatory vacuum. What you get is a firestorm.”

The last sentences:

(…) a quote by Marshall McLuhan, the great information theorist of the
60s. “World War III will be a guerrilla information war,” it says. “With
no divisions between military and civilian participation.”

By that definition we’re already there.

I’m gonna break it down further because seriously, holy shit.

1. Billionaire white man is spending millions to “disrupt mainstream media.” He’s very conservative and backed Trump with $13.5 million in donations, and has close ties to Steve Bannon.

2. He funded with $10 million, which is now more popular with U.S. Internet users than HuffPo or PornHub.

3. He also has a large stake in a company that specializes in psyops, also known as propaganda and other forms of psychological warfare, refined in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Russia.

4. This company lent its software both to the Leave side of Brexit and Trump’s presidential campaign.

5. This company claims to have a database with information on almost every eligible voter in the U.S. 

6. This information is then used to target people with ads, websites, and headlines in a way designed to control their thinking and change their minds on political issues.

7. There are thousands, maybe millions of cookie cutter “news” websites and Twitter bots designed to spread a specific message to make it seem legitimate and drown out actually legitimate news.

Other important quotes:

“Jonathan Albright, a professor of communications at Elon University, North Carolina, who had mapped the news ecosystem and found millions of links between rightwing sites “strangling” the mainstream media, told me that trackers from sites like Breitbart could also be used by companies like Cambridge Analytica to follow people around the web and then, via Facebook, target them with ads.”

“The system, according to Albright, amounted to a “propaganda machine”.” 

“The danger of not having regulation around the sort of data you can get from Facebook and elsewhere is clear. With this, a computer can actually do psychology, it can predict and potentially control human behaviour. It’s what the scientologists try to do but much more powerful. It’s how you brainwash someone. It’s incredibly dangerous.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that minds can be changed. Behaviour can be predicted and controlled. I find it incredibly scary. I really do. Because nobody has really followed through on the possible consequences of all this. People don’t know it’s happening to them. Their attitudes are being changed behind their backs.

“It has specialised, at the highest level – for Nato, the MoD, the US state department and others – in changing the behaviour of large groups. It models mass populations and then it changes their beliefs.”

“There are different arms of SCL but it’s all about reach and the ability to shape the discourse. They are trying to amplify particular political narratives. And they are selective in who they go for: they are not doing this for the left.”

““Look at this,” he says and shows me how, before the US election, hundreds upon hundreds of websites were set up to blast out just a few links, articles that were all pro-Trump. “This is being done by people who understand information structure, who are bulk buying domain names and then using automation to blast out a certain message. To make Trump look like he’s a consensus.””

Hydra and Project Insight are real. Terrifying to know.

… so that’s what happened to 4chan. I could tell it was being used as a testing pool for propaganda – free human test subjects! – but I was stuck using forensic linguistics to catalogue “insincere posters” and check for patterns in the things they said. It’s already known that people are paid to post on there, but the overarching motive was unclear.

I have been witnessing this happening on Facebook and Reddit with my own eyes and struggling to describe it in coherent words that don’t sound alarmist, but I’m not sure there are any.

^ This has been happening for a very long time. I would estimate this started around 2006, aka, “the summer that never ended”, but it was absolutely in motion by 2009. I’ve been watching it happen. My friends have been watching it happen. It’s not “oh no, this is happening”.

We finally found the wallet. This has been the proverbial serpent in the frog garden for a decade. It has devoured the internet.

Yeah, 2006 sounds about right. I was talking about this with my partners the other night.

The rise of Facebook is a linchpin because it’s the best implement anyone’s ever had for delivering individually tailored propaganda to a large number of people. (Peter Thiel was its first funder…)

Account signup opened to the public in ‘06 and the userbase started expanding dramatically around 2009-10. This was also when they started turning a profit. I don’t have a timeline for the development of their manipulative algorithms, but it seems a reasonable inference that that’s when they figured out how to get people hooked and also convince them to buy things, so…

When you follow the link, this is at the header:

“This article is the subject of a legal complaint on behalf of Cambridge Analytica LLC and SCL Elections Limited.”

Smoke where there’s fire? Or is there a legit libel case in there that’s worth the attention legal action draws to the claims?

Either way, god this is depressing.

Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media