In their heyday, Cambridge Analytica and its parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) became notorious for using Facebook data to influence the outcome of elections until the notoriety forced them to shut down in May.
Add racism to the sins of their CEO Alexander Nix. The Guardian reported earlier this month that email exchanges in 2010 showed Nix used the “n-word” to refer to now Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Senator Lucille Moe. The racist slur came after their Barbados Labour Party rejected an offer to manage their election campaign. “We were not comfortable working with them so we took a decision not to engage their services,” Moe later told the Guardian.
Several other Caribbean Community (CARICOM) were approached, according to Ron Saunders, Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the United States., who was communication director of the ruling Antigua and Barbuda Labor Party’s campaign leading up to elections on March 21 in which it won 15 of the 17 seats in parliament, without Nix’s help. Writing in Caribbean News Now on March 22, Saunders cited the following:
Dominica — The United Workers Party (UWP) hired SCL to manage its 2009 election campaign and “someone other than the UWP” paid the $1.5 million bill.
Saint Lucia — SCL offered “help” to run the government’s re-election campaign for free with the proviso that it was awarded a $1.9 million project.
St. Kitts-Nevis – SCL managed the successful re-election campaign of the Labour Party, the tactics including a sting against the then opposition leader.
St. Vincent and the Granadines – SCL was hired for the campaign against Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves in 2004-05 and returned five years later to help defeat a constitutional reform referendum.
“It is clear that external forces, intent on achieving their own objectives, have been operating in the Caribbean for some time using the Internet and social media to condition opinion through the manufacturing and distribution of false information,” Saunders warned.
“However,” he added, “they could not succeed without the collusion of political parties that, in their own desire to attain power, engage them for such nefarious activity. It is a frightening and worrying development that should be curbed quickly or democracy in the region will be undermined and unsuspecting Caribbean electorates will be the victims.”
Obviously, the racism and the notoriety of Nix and his people have not deterred them. The Guardian reported that they have morphed into Emerdata Limited and that at least one unsuccessful overture was made, recently, in CARICOM, to the opposition Saint Kitts and Nevis Labour Party, a senior party source told The Guardian.
In their previous incarnation, Nix and company boasted of helping to put Donald Trump in the White and winning the British referendum on leaving the European Union. They claim to have worked in more than 200 elections in countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic, India and Argentina, Huffington Post reported in March.
Their techniques were described to the U.K. Observer and The New York Times by whistleblower Christopher Wylie and by Nix himself, who spoke to reporters of Britain’s Channel 4 posing as prospective clients. They included bribery, fake news and websites and blackmail, including using sex workers.
As an example, Nix explained, “We’ll have a wealthy developer come in, somebody posing as a wealthy developer. They will offer a large amount of money to the candidate to finance his campaign in exchange for land, for instance. We’ll have the whole thing recorded on cameras, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the internet.”
Another tactic was to “send some girls” to a candidate’s house to seduce him, which, Nix said, “works very well.”
It is possible that such low-tech tactics are used in the small nations such as those in CARICOM but Nix and his cohorts have experience in much more sophisticated operations. Wylie told the Observer, “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles and built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.”
The Guardian described one less sophisticated approach: “During the 2010 election in Dominica, for instance, staff pretended to be anthropology researchers from a fictitious London University, complete with a fake logo. As part of its pitch for a campaign in St.
Lucia the same year, SCL offered to create an NGO from scratch to praise and endorse the party it was working for.”
Whether it is Cambridge Analytica and SCL or Emerdata Limited, CARICOM nations must be on the alert against these techno-mercenaries. Politicians who seek to do business with people with racist tendencies and no scruples about election interference for pay must be shunned by their people.
The thirst for power must be weighed against the damage which would be inflicted on the culture and values of one of the most democratic parts of world.