Trump’s Manhattan Project of #PersonalData
Right now Governors and State Legislators are deciding how much data to turn over to the Trump administration, which claims to want the data to evaluate supposed voter fraud, though many believe it will be used for race-based voter suppression. We believe the Trump Administration wants data not just for voter suppression, but to feed the personalized-data-driven machine that propelled Trump to unexpected victory.
In 2016 both Brexit and the Trump victory surprised the experts and pollsters. Behind both surprises was a weaponized version of database mining built by a collection of British and American companies called SCL Group which designs data “analytics and strategy for governments and militaries worldwide”.
Brexit and Trump’s new technology, micro-personalized data, is far more powerful than the “big data” that Obama relied on in his election. This new micro-personalized data is so much more powerful than big data that we previously warned it could use individual voters’ own hot-button emotional triggers to turn voters into “vote pumps”. By exploiting the issues that are flashpoints for specific voters, micro-personalized data tools are highly persuasive in driving emotional support for a candidate, or if a particular voter can’t be persuaded to vote for that candidate, then these tools use personal data to send micro-targeted messaged again aimed at individual voters’ specific persuasion points to alienate them from the other candidate so that they don’t bother to vote, suppressing turnout. If a voter who told pollsters they were supporting Clinton nonetheless “liked” or viewed social media content on race or trade or jobs, they would be targeted by the Trump team with content based on that specific issue. Trump’s team developed a Manhattan Project of personal data while the Democrats were still fighting with TNT in the old days of big data.
Many of us wrote about this in OpEds earlier this year, and highlighted the role played by the most notable analytics company under the SCL Group called Cambridge Analytica. Steve Bannon, the White House Chief Strategist, has recently joined their board of directors. As a result, they’ve moved their headquarters to Arlington, Virginia, the home of our Pentagon.
After using their personal data tools to capture the Presidency, the Trumpists are now demanding unprecedented quantities of individual voter data from the States. This individual voter data is like the raw materials for building more — and more advanced — Manhattan Projects of micro-personalized data that the Trump administration can weaponize in elections including 2018.
Although the Democratic Party (and many non-Trumpist Republicans) did not realize before the election that Trump was developing a personal data weapon, we now know that Trump’s micro-personalized data tools are tremendously more powerful than other data approaches. Trump and Cambridge Analytica have already gathered approximately 5,000 data points on more than 200,000,000 Americans from public sources and now they are demanding non-public voter information from the States. But Democrats and non-Trumpist Republicans haven’t yet prioritized a personal data tool or defense of their own after seeing its game-changing effects in November 2016. The Democrats and mainstream Republicans were blindsided by Trump’s weaponization of data, and they can be blindsided again if they think that grassroots organizing alone will do the trick of defeating a sophisticated data-driven strategy of measuring and appealing to individual voters' implicit cultural biases and hot-button issues. Trump is asking for an unprecedented amount of private personal data, which is the equivalent of uranium for his Manhattan Project data weapon.
Concerns have been expressed about Trump’s voter data demands on the basis that certain categories of the data will be used for race-based voter suppression, but no one has woken up to the fact that any data — no matter how seemingly innocuous or race-neutral — is still fuel for the Trumpist’s data version of the Manhattan Project.
Trumpists armed with micro-personalized data tools are in a better position than ever to win unexpected local elections in 2018, even in the face of seemingly immense protests. The stakes for States deciding whether to turn over individual voter data to Trump are much higher than the State officials realize. Trump highjacked a conservative message of less government oversight and more sovereignty to the States, but with personal data of all Americans in a private institution, he doesn’t need to cooperate with States to have insights on how to bypass State officials to influence all of their citizens.