Monday, February 27, 2017

The Big Faker and his big date with Big Data

Steve Bannon, the white supremacist-turned-squatter-on-a-president's-shoulder, says the Trump administration's war with the news media has only just begun, and it's "going to get worse."

Right you are, Steve. You just don't understand which side of the conflict will get the worst of it.

Donald Trump doesn't understand. Otherwise, he would cease using pimply-faced laments to explain away his problems.

He shrinks in the public estimation every time he uses the term "fake news."

Yes, every time a little more helium escapes from the polyurethane construct that he is.

Each time he says "fake news," he reminds skeptical Americans of how small he is, seeing the presidency as a battle royal in the sea of balls.

He thinks he is brand the press in his a childishly churlish way. Wrong. He is branding himself. "Fake news" is his baby, his trademark. It's the only coin that will ever bear this president's face.

Fake news? Think back to the schoolyard phrase: "He who smelt it dealt it."

The comeback is too appropriate. If anything has been a purveyor of fakery, it has been the lie-filled Trump enterprise, possibly abetted in the campaign by some genuine geniuses about data mining.

Read all about it in Motherboard, the science-heavy online magazine affiliated with VICE.

The report concerns the frontier termed Big Data, and the firm Cambridge Analytica, pioneering the craft of reading the minds of social media users.

The game is psychometrics, which uses a psychological profile from one's preferences to ascertain with uncanny precision one's tendencies, including how one votes.

Swiss reporters Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerus write that it's done by mining one's online activities to measure what's called the "big five" personality traits: openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. ("Are you easily upset?")

Cambridge Analytica, the writers assert, could have been the Trump campaign's ace in the hole in targeted messages to likely Trump voters, and in targeted messages to discourage potential not-Trump voters, suppressing the vote – truly music to any Republican strategist's ears.

(A pelt on Cambridge's wall: its contractual role in the campaign to pull Great Britain from the European Union.)

One route to our brains can come by way of "dark posts" on social media seen only by the targeted users – information, true or false, that either would further the fury in those potential Trump or Brexit voters, or seed ambivalence in others. (Cambridge denies using Facebook or discouraging the vote.)

Hard to know exactly what was being shared, but we can trust that most of it was specious or completely bogus. Yes, fake news.

No wonder the Trump campaign paid Cambridge Analytica $15 million for its services.

Oh, and who got a cut out of all that action? Steve Bannon, who sits on the Cambridge board.

Now, we aren't going to credit these activities with all the bad information that circulated on the Internet in 2016 like a kindergarten classroom recycling the sniffles.

Regardless of where it emanated, the most-viewed piece of fake news, based on a compilation by CNBC, was the Facebook post, "Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president." Yes, that would be a shock for anyone who has read the pope's lips since Trump's rise.

Also on the list: "WikiLeaks confirms Hillary sold weapons to ISIS" and "ISIS leader calls on American Muslim voters to support Hillary Clinton."

Trump, too, was targeted by false allegations online. However, for him to make fake news from anyone else an issue is like Pringles accusing Doritos of being junk food.

One last, and very disturbing, thought: Cambridge Analytica, founded by GOP mega-donor Robert Mercer, reportedly is angling for contracts with several overseas governments. Will U.S. taxpayers one day pay to have their minds read by Team Trump's Big Data team?

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:

No comments: