The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s reports on lessons learned from the Euro Referendum misses the main lessons and seeks to continue controversies on matters of minor importance such as ‘purdah’.
I did not vote for the report because the LESSONS MISSED include:-
Referendums outcomes are decided by the side that tells the most plausible lies.
It’s significant that two of our witnesses also led campaign in referendum on the Alternative Vote, and the north East Devolution referendums’ are Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive, Vote Leave, William Norton, Legal Director, Vote Leave. Everyone knew about the message of NHS money on the Red Bus and Osborne's threat of chaos. Few read official briefings. It was the hyperbole that won it.
The PACAC report covers cyber security poorly and with what appears to be a rudimentary understanding of the issues.
PACAC refer only to practical, tangible events such as the website crashing. This may well have been the result of an attack but the much more troubling issue is the continuous use of online data to target and manipulate. An elite group is shaping world politics to suit their private beliefs, their behaviour having untold and unquantifiable affects.
Although the Committee has no direct evidence, it considers that it is important to be aware of the potential for foreign interference in elections or referendums. The report on lessons learned from the website crash described it as “technical in nature, gaps in technical ownership and risk management contributed to the problem, and prevented it from being mitigated in advance”.
However the crash had indications of being a DDOS (distributed denial of service) ‘attack’. We understand that this is very common and easy to do with botnets.There can be many reasons why people initiate a DDOS: commercial, political etc. PACAC does not rule out the possibility that the crash may have been caused by botnets.
Lessons in respect of the protection and resilience against possible foreign interference in IT systems that are critical for the functioning of the democratic process must extend beyond the technical. The implications of this different understanding of cyber-attack, as purely technical or as reaching beyond the digital to influence public opinion, for the interference in elections and referendums are clear. PACAC is deeply concerned about these allegations about foreign interference.
The use of algorithms and artificial intelligence was probably a significant but invisible element in the campaigns.
The journalist Carole Cadwalldr has exposed the influence of American billionaire Robert Mercer and Cambridge Analytica in manipulating voters’ opinions.
There is the absence of evidence of Russian cyber influence or other invisible campaigning from other countries because the Electoral Commission has not investigated.
We are living in new age of propaganda. “psyops” – psychological operations and cognitive warfare will that determine the result of future elections and referendums.
Damian Tambini, director of the media policy project at the LSE, says electoral Law isn’t fit for purpose. He calls for a parliamentary commission to urgently review it. He says “It’s totally covert. And people don’t realize what is going on.”
PACAC Report – Cyber Security
The implications of this different understanding of cyber-attack, as purely technical or as reaching beyond the digital to influence public opinion, for the interference in elections and referendums are clear. PACAC is deeply concerned about these allegations about foreign interference.
Reasons why PACAC should investigate further
Issue is wider than EU Referendum
There is evidence to suggest that this is a much wider issue than the EU referendum. Evidence from analysts, below, suggest that this type of targeting was used in the last General Election and as recently as the Stoke By-Election. Furthermore the billionaires involved intend to extend the areas they cover to encompass the rest of Europe.
Lack of transparency regarding foreign election funding
This is wilful manipulation of the media and unchallenged use of foreign funds to influence our electoral processes.
An investigation by PACAC could raise the issue that this type of work has yet to be declared by any group as ‘services-in-kind.’
Broadcast advertising is restricted in the interests of fair play as it traditionally had a wide reach and great impact. Recent shifts have proved unfair advantages are now to be gained from targeted online activity bringing into question the requirement for tighter regulation.
Extent of available expert evidence was not considered fully during this EU report
The issue is also wider reaching than one- off, concrete events pinpointed by the Committee such as the website crashing during the referendum campaign.
Damaging News Sites
CNSnews is owned by the Media Research Center. They promote themselves as "America's media watchdog", an organisation that claims an "unwavering commitment to neutralising leftwing bias in the news, media and popular culture".
Receives a large bulk of its funding from Robert Mercer - Trump's single biggest donor.
Started his career at IBM, where he made "revolutionary" breakthroughs in language processing - a science that went on to be key in developing today's AI.
Became joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets.
One of its funds, Medallion, which manages only its employees' money, is the most successful in the world - generating $55bn so far.
Since 2010, Mercer has donated $45m to Republican political campaigns and $50m to rightwing, ultra-conservative non-profits. He funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute.nThis is a billionaire who is trying to reshape the world according to his personal beliefs.
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.
Regularly hosts antisemitic and Islamophobic views, and is currently being boycotted by more than 1,000 brands.
Phenomenally successful: the 29th most popular site in America with 2bn page views a year. It's bigger than the Huffington Post.
It's the biggest political site on Facebook and Twitter.
In 2014, Bannon launched Breitbart London, telling the New York Times it was specifically timed ahead of the UK's forthcoming election. It was, he said, the latest front "in our current cultural and political war". France and Germany are next.
Robert Mercer's is reported to have a $10m stake in Cambridge Analytica, a small data analytics company 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 Pakistan ie: Mass propaganda that works by acting on people's emotions.
Cambridge Analytica worked for the Trump campaign and the Leave campaign.
How these Companies are used for Manipulation of Media and Politics
Jonathan Albright, a professor of communications at Elon University, North Carolina mapped the news ecosystem and found millions of links between rightwing sites "strangling" the mainstream media.
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.
Cambridge Analytica boasts that it has psychological profiles based on 5,000 separate pieces of data on 220 million American voters - its USP is to use this data to understand people's deepest emotions and then target them accordingly.
Andy Wigmore, Leave.EU communications director said Cambridge Analytica had worked for them and taught them how to build profiles, how to target people and how to scoop up masses of data from people's Facebook profiles.
Facebook was the key to the entire campaign, Wigmore explained. A Facebook 'like', he said, was their most "potent weapon". "Because using artificial intelligence, as we did, tells you all sorts of things about that individual and how to convince them with what sort of advert. And you knew there would also be other people in their network who liked what they liked, so you could spread. And then you follow them. The computer never stops learning and it never stops monitoring."
They hadn't "employed" Cambridge Analytica, he said. No money changed hands. "They were happy to help."
Services-in-kind were not declared to Electoral Commission. A foreign billionaire influenced the referendum without that influence being apparent.
Wigmore confirmed "Nigel Farage is a good friend of the Mercers. And Robert Mercer introduced them to us. He said, 'Here's this company we think may be useful to you.' What they were trying to do in the US and what we were trying to do had massive parallels. We shared a lot of information. Why wouldn't you?" Behind Trump's campaign and Cambridge Analytica, he said, were "the same people. It's the same family."
Sam Woolley of the Oxford Internet Institute's computational propaganda institute believes one third of all traffic on Twitter before the EU referendum was automated "bots" - accounts that are programmed to look like people, to act like people, and to change the conversation, to make topics trend. And they were all for Leave. Before the US election, they were five-to-one in favour of Trump - many of them Russian. Last week they have been in action in the Stoke byelection - Russian bots, organised by who? - attacking Paul Nuttall.
You can take a trending topic, such as fake news, and then weaponise it, turn it against the media that uncovered it.