Cambridge Analytica style tactics are already being used by anti-choice groups in Ireland


We've seen a number of Irish journalists wondering if Cambridge Analytica style tactics could be part of repeal referendum. In fact they already are and have been for over a year - we are going to demonstrate this in what follows.

But first its useful to understand that Cambridge Analytica is not just a for profit company but also an ideological tool for the hard right and far right. It's owned by the billionaire Mercer family who also funded the far-right site Breitbart. Journalists already understand that Robert Murdoch buys newspapers for influence over elections as much as to make profit out of them. He’s credited with making sure the Tories got elected in the UK and playing a major role in elections elsewhere through running scare stories on election Day. Cambridge Analytica and similar are the same sort of ‘duel investment’ but in the social media world.

To return to Ireland. March 8th 2017 saw #Strike4Repeal take place in Dublin, 1000s of people took part in a day of civil disobedience demanding a referendum to Repeal the 8th amendment. Very quickly after the day a professionally made video where ambush interviews were conducted on mostly young people to make them look clueless appeared all over Irish facebook - a lot of money was spent pushing it. What do we mean by ‘ambush’, well here's how two people interviewed described the experience
A: “As a person who had a microphone shoved near their group I can testify that this video is preposterous. My friend was asked a question (not shown) and then her answer was cut short. It turns out that the only people not willing to participate in sensible debate are the video makers. I didn't sign a release form for my image to be put out, nor did my friends or anyone else in the video. Unethical and ludicrous”
B: “I saw a group of young protestors being interrogated on camera by the alt-right - I got blindsided. At first the questions seemed normal, then escalated into 'should a woman abort a child if she doesn't like its gender?' rapid fire queries”

A crew of two posh sounding young English men came to Dublin to shoot this ambush video but they were not working alone. They clearly had local anti-choice contacts but they revealed on Twitter they were funded from North America. Shortly after the video was circulated the crew became officially part of Canadian alt-right Youtube channel called the Rebel - its funded by an oil industry billionaire. Perhaps the Rebel spent 100,000 promoting this video online, perhaps the funding was from elsewhere in America, we don’t know and there is no way of finding out unless Facebook reveals this.

This is the video - It appeared on ‘FlipsideIreland’ a Facebook page that was was set up for this purpose and has almost no other content. This is a ‘dark ad’ tactic familiar from the Cambridge Analytica coverage of the sort of method that was used in the Kenyan election. The Strike4Repeal ambush video has a million views, 100,000 euro minimum in paid-for reach. Who paid?

We do know a little bit about how that reach was obtained. We tracked the ad and we saw that they were paying to reach people & friends of people who followed the National Ploughing Championship page. Some 87,000 people in rural Ireland follow that page so its probably quite an effective audience to target. We'd take that as a demonstration that ad placement was advised by local anti-choice campaigners. The National Ploughing Championship page is a great way of reaching rural Ireland but not something a Canadian or Brit would know about

Facebook could tell journalists who paid - and they should ask. Save 8 should certainly be asked which of their campaigners was advising this group even before the campaign was even set up.

We said the video crew moved on to work for The Rebel - they were in fact the crew for hate preacher Tommy Robinson. After the alt-right Finsbury park van attack in 2017 in which one person was killed and 8 injured the then UK counter-terrorism police chief said said there was “no doubt” that far-right material posted online by Tommy Robinson drove Osborne to target Muslims. In fact the Srike4Repeal ambush video crew fell out with the Rebel in the rows that swept that Youtube station after coverage of the far-right rally in Charlottesville last August. There was another far right vehicle attack there which killed one women and wounded many. None of this sounds very 'pro-life' does it but it's going to get worse as we dig deeper.

[The Times took up and covered this story shortly after we had published it followed by Channel 4 News about a month after we published, see video - It may be that our exposing this far right connection and subsequent media coverage was a major part of the reason Facebook & Google banned advertising]

As journalists should already be aware there are deep links between the anti-choice movement in Ireland and the far right here and elsewhere.  Infamous British far-right personality Nick Griffin even tweeted in support of the Save 8 rally falsely claiming “Massive #pro-life rally in #Dublin 100,000 (out of total population of only 4.8 million) marched to defend the 8th Amendment & the unborn children of #Ireland who #GeorgeSoros & the liberal elite want to” blah blah blah.

But here is a video of another Irish based anti-choice campaigner welcoming the Brevik murders back in 2011  … He was photographed on the 2012 Rally for Life

Fast forward to the last couple of weeks and we have an alt-right student distributing placards with the (obscure) fascist BUF logo on them on the Dublin International Women’s Day march. A far-right page publishes a video with these logos at about 2am and then next morning anti-choice Save 8 spokesperson McGuirk finds the video online & tweets it out. He’s immediately told it's a far right smear but refuses to delete or correct his initial tweet suggesting pro-choice people were marching with fascist signs. 

This isn't the first such video McGurk discovers, there were two more, one targetting a sex worker, the other an extract from a young black migrant women 'on a rant' on the day the terrible news about 'Migrant X' emerged.

We suspect these videos will appear again in the last week of the campaign but this time with a massive paid reach pushing them out from some obscure new page that no one has a clue who is funding - journalists need to consider how they will cover this.
Back to Cambridge Analytica - the Save 8 campaign has already admitted a connection through a company called Kanto. From a piece published in The Times (Ireland edition) "Mr Borwick has also worked with Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining company owned by Robert Mercer, a reclusive right-wing billionaire who bankrolled the Trump campaign and several “alt-right” operations including Breitbart News" 

If you watched last night's C4 expose you'll have seen Cambridge Analytica CEO saying "we’re used to operating through different vehicles, in the shadows, and I look forward to building a very long-term and secretive relationship with you.” Another staff member told the undercover team “if we are working then we can set up fake IDs and websites, we can be students doing research projects attached to a university, we can be tourists, there’s so many options we can look at.”

So far only The Times (Irish edition) has made any effort to cover the dirty tricks that have already emerged. Even pro-choice journalists on the Irish papers seems far more motivated to write opinion pieces on campaign messaging than to expose this. Which is what happened with both Trump & Brexit - mainstream media mostly ignored the available evidence of a vast dark ads campaign, allowing these ads to do their work without a cost to those behind them.

Lets end with a key point from the Channel 4 undercover video of Cambridge Analytica where they explain. “we just put information into the bloodstream of the internet.. & then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again… like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’, because .. the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’"

The next question as they say is indeed "who put that out"?