A recent Vanity Fair piece highlighted speculation among Washington Democrats that the Trump campaign’s data operation could point to collusion between Trump and Russia.
Cambridge purports to go beyond the typical voter targeting—relying on online clues like Facebook Likes to give a hint at a user’s political leanings and construct a picture of a voter’s mental state. The “psychographic” picture Cambridge ostensibly provides to a campaign is the ability to tailor a specific message based on personality type – angry, fearful, optimistic and so forth – rather than simply aiming ads at voters from likely convivial candidates.
Those purported capabilities have generated some speculation that there was a Russian link to the outfit, as Vanity Fair detailed. The Kremlin-orchestrated propaganda efforts on Facebook have evinced a level of sophistication surprising for a foreign entity, prompting speculation that Russians may have received some kind of targeting help. Such targeting reached voters in states where Clinton enjoyed a traditional advantage but went for Trump, including Michigan and Wisconsin, CNN reported.
As The Daily Beast and others have reported, Russian propaganda on Facebook and other social-media platforms passed itself off as authentic American voices; targeting refugees, posing as an American Muslim group and backing an Atlanta-based duo supporting Black Lives Matter. Depending on which cohort was being targeted, the efforts encouraged pro-Trump voters to intensify political participation, black voters to abandon Hillary Clinton for Trump, and Muslim voters to consider Clinton an Islamophobe.
The congressional inquiry is not the only one Cambridge Analytica is facing. The UK Information Commissioner, Britain’s privacy watchdog, in March began examining the firm’s role in the successful 2016 push to persuade British voters to “Brexit” the European Union. But Cambridge has said it never actually advised the Leave.eu campaign beyond initial discussions, despite Leave.eu’s own statements that the firm “will be helping us map the British electorate and what they believe in, enabling us to better engage with voters.”