The major breaking market story du jour crosses over into the responsibility of Big Tech, the still hotly-debated 2016 election and the depths that our society has allowed itself to be dragged into by moneyed interests having a powerful voice in politics. Facebook shares are selling off in the premarket and Trump campaign officials are announcing impromptu divorces from their wives (and, as is being speculated, their financial assets).
You’ve probably heard by now that Cambridge Analytica, which is backed by the borderline-psychotic Mercer family and was formerly chaired by Steve Bannon, had a decisive role in manipulating voters on a one-by-one basis – using their own personal data to push them toward voting for Donald Trump in the last election. They did this with a backdoor data-gathering operation that had been quietly shut down after it had harvested the information from up to 50 million people. Cambridge weaponized this information by turning out highly personalized newsfeed content aimed directly at households in critical voting districts.
It’s William Randolph Hearst’s yellow journalism on steroids. There are going to be hearings, fines and maybe even arrests before this whole story is told. The electorate has always been swayed by advertising throughout American history, deceptive or otherwise. But this operation took things to a darker, further extent than anything the free world has ever seen before.
My comment, however, is that it takes two to tango. You have to start out by being credulous in order for this sort of thing to work.
Lots of people have had their brains turned into mashed potatoes through years of exposure to hyper-partisan cable news and a lack of reading, learning and contact with the world outside of their own immediate friends and family. They don’t buy books, they don’t travel, they have very homogenous life experiences, they revere the past and fear the future and consistently make poor choices for themselves.
And then a data analytics company scrapes at the outer layer of what they post about themselves online and pushes their emotional buttons on a key topic or two. The rest takes care of itself. We have a legion of zombies in this country who refuse to accept that they’ve been conned. Partly, the con is their own fault – similar to many of the supposedly sophisticated investors who bought into Madoff’s flawless investing prowess or the Jobsian aura of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos.
Willful ignorance and self-delusion are not the province of one end of the political spectrum or another. Wealthy people are every bit as susceptible as working class people, those on the coasts are just as likely to allow themselves to be toyed with as those in flyover country. It’s just a question of which buttons to push for which group of people.
Dull intellects can be tricked easily when you barrage them with “facts” that confirm their own fears and suspicions. Sharp intellects can be conned when you use their own sense of superiority against them – you are brilliant and successful so these are the outsized investment gains you deserve.
But in all cases, the con is never one-sided. It takes two for a manipulation to be successful.
“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.” Allegedly a quote by Mark Twain. Or was it? Maybe I’m just fooling myself because I want him to have said it. See how that works?