Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters
There was nothing spectacular about Eddie Bernays (so-called “godfather” of PR). The only thing that made him modestly interesting is because he saw the human mind as a petri dish for which to unleash experiments in manipulation. He was able to make women smoke and Americans to eat bacon for breakfast.
True evolution was kicked into turbo drive when psychology was merged with technology and compounded in potency with the utilization of metadata. And when this process merged with machine learning and artificial intelligence, an entirely new era of public relations emerged. The most impactful experts in the space of public relations are those that understand human psychology, impactful messaging, and the labyrinth of technological automation tools and tactics that can give a barebones fringe initiative the power and vigor of a multi-million-dollar campaign. Impossible? I disagree; impossible is nothing when you understand how this process works, and you have a dedicated team fully committed to an end result.
Consider the great idea turned cautionary tale we call the PAC. Political Action Committees once offered a powerful mechanism for change. By sheer volume in numbers and exponential spending, they could force even the most senior political figures to bend. The day’s where flooding CNN and traditional media with ads to force a shift in the narrative is over. Why? Because nobody is watching CNN or conventional broadcast media exclusively anymore. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram still offer a decent outlet for promotion, but a lot has changed since the elections of 2016.
After the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, most promotion centric big data analytics firms ran for the hills to mitigate being found out for using metadata for psychographic targeting. This “unfair” advantage offered the practitioner the ability to zero in on the psychological core of the target audience. The executives at Cambridge Analytica bragged about their next-generation capabilities to take metadata curated from their “1000s” of endpoints, run that data through various big data algorithms, and this would allow them to hyper-target their audience with precision on Facebook and other platforms.
Was the targeting part true? Sort of, but was Cambridge Analytica even remotely at the top of this game? No. The methods were clumsy, and their executives made a lot of noise without saying anything earth-shattering, though, admittedly, they were a solid source of entertainment for the life span of their company. Psychographic targeting is easy. You just need the right algorithm and the proper data and the desired outcome. The tricky part of this space is “predictive analytics.” When plugged into the political game, they can be obscenely powerful, the only problem is, few who offer this as a service are true practitioners. They are experimenting with their client’s capital, but I digress.
Weaponizing a user’s metadata against said user is common. It’s the entire business model of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. You get access to their nifty platform; they get to manipulate you when you’re on or off their platform by utilizing your metadata to psychologically steer you to buy things. You didn’t really think Google was free, did you? The truly narcissistic efforts by YouTube and other platforms is when they create the illusion of an advantage on their platform. In exchange for paying them a fee, they won’t bombard you with ads…as much.
Metadata is a truth serum that works on everyone. Your keystrokes will tell the algorithm your deepest fears, aspirations, and the details of those 3 a.m. proclivities that you hide from your friends, spouse, and pastor. Yes, Google and Facebook have the goods on you, and they’re not only not afraid to spill them, but they will pummel you with reminders of the mental snare they have wrapped around your psychological vulnerabilities. They show you ads that remind you of that 4 a.m. search that you forgot to anonymize in Cognito mode. They occasionally remind you to use the “privacy” features, though, in reality, they’re meaningless.
If corporations psychologically manipulate users and weaponize their platforms against their users as part of their business model, and governments utilize bottomless budgets for perception steering and influence operations initiatives, how are political organizations any different? Sal Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals is dead as disco, but organizations still try to use his tactics. Color Operations only work in third world countries. Technologically advanced populations willingly chain their minds, thoughts, and reality to the mobile device attached to their hand. If people are hell-bent on voluntarily perpetuating self-isolation, psychological enslavement, and self-destruction to Tweet, Snapchat, or Facetime foreigners they’ll never meet in person, isn’t it our responsibility to liberate them with a positive political movement by utilizing the same tools and tactics that led them into self-imposed enslavement?