After last weekend’s revelations about Cambridge Analytica, Facebook data, and intervention in a number of elections around the world, the question is now being asked as to where this story goes next. Sure, there were interventions using all that harvested data on behalf of the Trump campaign in the USA, but why all the talk about the Brexit referendum? No-one had made the all-important connection.
Where were the interventions using that psy-ops-style targeting of voters? Where was the mass harvesting of voter data, and voters’ friends’ data, as happened in the USA? Where was the smoking gun that showed the Leave campaign behaving in an improper, and perhaps even unlawful, manner? Some of those questions are now being addressed - and, very soon, all of them will be answered. The first signs are already out there.
Just before the EU referendum, Vote Leave were already playing on voters’ fears by juxtaposing David Cameron talking positively about Turkey joining the EU (some time ago) with a brawl in that country’s Parliament. It wasn’t in the same league as the Nigerian intervention by Cambridge Analytica, which featured violence including bloody dismembering, but the message was clear: they’re violent and we’re letting them in.
Repeatedly, voters were told “Turkey: population 76 million is joining the EU [not true]. Our schools and hospitals already can’t cope!” The EU blamed for domestic problems, some invented (here in Crewe, no school has been oversubscribed, despite inward migration from Eastern Europe). The EU means violence. Fighting. We’re losing control.
Leafletting bundled Syria and Iraq in with Turkey. Foreigners. Brown people. Scary Muslims (tm). Violence. The EU is bringing them here. You know how to vote to stop this. And that was a mere taster for the next wave of voter manipulation revelations.
Yes, there is more to come. A lot more. MPs and MEPs are beginning to ask the questions, not merely for fun or to make mischief, but because they know some seriously improper behaviour has been taking place. Green MEP Molly Scott Cato has put it bluntly.
“The more we learn about the highly dubious and possibly downright illegal ways in which the Leave campaign manipulated voters, the less and less robust the result of the EU referendum appears. Unlike in the US, the investigations into electoral tampering in the UK are taking place behind closed doors so I am asking the Electoral Commission to tell us what they know. I am also questioning at what point interference in an election or referendum makes a result illegitimate”. And she is not alone.
One Tweeter observed “Labour’s Stephen Kinnock said that if Cambridge Analytica were proved to have been ‘in flagrant breach of our electoral rules, that would place a pretty huge question mark over the referendum result’”. Also, it’s not just about Leave EU, which boasted of using CA, then executed a reverse-turn and claimed they hadn’t.
As I suggested, this is also about Vote Leave, the official Leave campaign. It will also explain the shrill and persistent shouting down of dissent since the referendum, why we have been subjected to constant “You lost, get over it” taunts, why anyone wanting to debate the issue is abruptly told that the matter is closed. It isn’t. Stay tuned.