Yesterday, as a comment to a post entitled Sarah Kendzior: The Kremlin Spokesman’s Odd Referral, a reader kindly asked a key question: “Where do you feel Bannon fits into all of this?”
It’s a critical question, to be sure. Steve Bannon’s no small figure, so to speak: he plays a role as ideologue, but that’s not all. Bannon has been affiliated with Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that may have a role in microtargeting of illicitly-obtained information in support of Trump.
Here’s my reply to yesterday’s comment:
Good morning, and thanks for your comment.
It’s such a key question, isn’t it? Bannon plays a key role for Trump as an ideologue (fomenting and focusing white nationalist ire against blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, Jews), but has he had a different responsibility, also? Perhaps so – as someone who helped Russia target lies and hacked information to particular communities, to (1) bolster the worst of Trump’s base and (2) to confuse, dispirit, and suppress the vote among those true to America’s democratic ideals.
Over at Brookings, Kate Brannen wrote on this, at the Just Security website, and her assessment seems persuasive to me. Connecting the Dots: Political Microtargeting and the Russia Investigation.
So much more to learn, of course, and sadly I think none of it good.
My best to you —
Here’s the overall issue concerning Cambridge Analytica, of which Bannon was vice president of the board, and of which the extreme Mercer family were principal owners:
This week, new reporting shined a light on one focus of the congressional investigation: determining how the Russians knew which voters to target with their disinformation campaign. A report from TIME’s Massimo Calabresi on Thursday provided new details:
As they dig into the viralizing of such stories, congressional investigations are probing not just Russia’s role but whether Moscow had help from the Trump campaign. Sources familiar with the investigations say they are probing two Trump-linked organizations: Cambridge Analytica … and Breitbart News.
Cambridge Analytica is the data mining firm hired by the Trump campaign to help it collect and use social media information to identify and persuade voters to vote (or not vote), through an activity known as political microtargeting….
Kate Brannen asks the fundamental questions about Cambridge Analytica’s operation:
After sifting through these stories and publicly available information, here are a few open questions:
1. How sophisticated are Cambridge Analytica’s capabilities? Is the company really revolutionizing electoral politics, manipulating people through their social media data? Or are their services being exaggerated — by the company and by its critics?
2. Was Cambridge Analytica involved in voter disengagement efforts aimed at Democrats in key states? How successful were these efforts?
3. Were the Russians also carrying out voter disengagement efforts aimed at Democrats? Were they targeting the same voters, or same sort of voters, as Cambridge Analytica?
4. How precisely were the Russians able to target American voters? How were they able to identify these individuals? As Warner puts it: “How did they know to go to that level of detail in those kinds of jurisdictions?”
5. What, if any, were Russia’s capability gaps where they may have needed to seek outside help to conduct their disinformation campaign more effectively?
6. Did Russia extract voter rolls from state computer systems? Where exactly?
7. If Russia did have access to voter rolls, how did they use them for microtargeting?
8. If Russia had online voter rolls, what would it need from the Trump campaign or another third party to put these into effect?
9. What role did far right U.S. news organizations play? Did they knowingly take “any actions to assist Russia’s operatives”?
We’ve so much more yet to learn…