Anti-Choice Campaigners Use Same Tech As The Trump, Brexit And NRA Campaigns

As Ireland moves towards a plebiscite on revoking the restrictive 8th Amendment of Bunreacht na hÉireann, some observers have noted the increased presence of anti-abortion campaigners in Dublin city, and quite possibly in other places around the country, with very obvious non-Irish accents. Indeed, I’m aware myself of a local B&B on the north side of the capital where a number of “mature students” from the United States with suspected ties to a pro-life grouping in Chicago are being accommodated. Not for the first time, this faith-based foreign intervention into our constitutional affairs has come to the attention of the domestic press in the US, as can be seen in this piece from the New York Times:

Of the eight members of the anti-abortion Irish Center for Bio-Ethical Reform who protested outside the offices of The Irish Times on a recent weekday, only three — including the group’s leader, Jean Engela — are Irish. The others include Americans and a Hungarian.

The protests — relatively small but highly visible here in the Irish capital — are an emblem of the strong emotions as the country prepares to vote in late May…

After recent revelations about the misuse of Facebook data to sway Britain’s referendum on European Union membership in 2016, and the United States presidential election later that year, fears are growing similar tactics might be used in the referendum campaign.

The Save the 8th Campaign, an anti-abortion group, has hired Kanto Systems, a London-based political consultancy, to help run its campaign.

Kanto Systems’s founder, Thomas Borwick, was chief technology officer for the Vote Leave campaign in Britain, and developed a canvassing app for Cambridge Analytica, the data-mining organization that exploited Facebook data on behalf of the 2016 Trump campaign.

The Times of London reported that the Pro Life Campaign, Ireland’s largest umbrella anti-abortion group, has retained uCampaign, a Washington firm that has developed apps for the Trump campaign, the National Rifle Association, the Republican National Committee and Vote Leave.

The NYT notes that the Pro Life Campaign failed to respond to requests for a comment. Mashable reported on uComment in late 2016:

The Trump campaign, the Brexit “Leave” campaign, the National Rifle Association and pro-life Catholics all have at least one thing in common: Their apps.

Behind many of the apps of the conservative movement is one company, uCampaign.

uCampaign burst onto the Republican tech scene when it developed an app for Ted Cruz during the early days of the Republican presidential primary race last year. Cruz gained some buzz for using technology to fundraise and send voting reminders amid a not-so-digitally inclined GOP field.

Since then, the company has pitched itself to conservative candidates and interest groups as a developer that understands their values — unlike those other left-leaning tech companies.

It’s a reality that Thomas Peters, founder of uCampaign, doesn’t try to hide.

“We’re a center-right company,” Peters told Mashable. “It’s easier to do things like work with the Republican nominee.”

Of course, the data-exploiting activities of the presidential campaign of Donald Trump in the United States and the isolationist Vote Leave campaign in the United Kingdom are rather better known through the recent exposes of the UK firm Cambridge Analytica and its unacknowledged Canadian associate AggregateIQ.

uComment for the NRA in the United States
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6 comments

  1. The 2012 Obama campaign mined FB, extracted the same dataset and social graph, employed the same fine-grained, targeted messaging as the 2016 Trump campaign did with CA. Not seeing much outcry about that so it doesn’t appear to be the strategy or tactics that are objectionable.

    Then again I’m not sure that using words to persuade people to your perspective is such an abhorrent practice.

    1. Yes, and that itself is troubling. But it is the data-mining aspect of the particular Brexit and Trump campaigns linked to the close nexus of right-wing interests around both which is so shocking.

      Listen, as an Irish republican I believe that the heart and minds war is the one we should be waging, using whatever technology or know-how is available. But then I represent the politics of insurgency in relation to the British paracolony in the north-east of my country. All is fair in liberating the Six Counties if the methods are non-violent.

      In normal everyday politics I find such matters problematic to say the least.

      Of course, it is a slippery slope from one to another.

      But I’d rather a hundred organised keyboard warriors pursuing the reunification of Ireland than young men and women out in the fields and highways and byways of the Occupied Six.

      So, I take two views of the data-mining scandal.

      1. But they ALL do it. ALL of them mine data. It is out there for sale. That is how Zuckerberg, Google et al built and continue to build their empires, by selling the data (yours and mine included, whether we are in the EU or not). The left and the right are both buying and using it. Both, left and right are using apps and constant web advertising to win “hearts and minds,” in the U.S. and here in Europe, actually all over the world. This singular focus on the right and labeling it as a scandal, while thousands of “organised keyboard warriors” do the same for the left, is a bit preposterous, sorry (I am a leftie, but fair is fair). If anything, the right is slightly disadvantaged, as it is MSNBC news that pops up unsolicited on every Microsoft computer and browser default page world-wide. Yahoo and Google change their search algorithms regularly to suit media favour (who is currently mostly representing “left” viewpoints – don’t know for how much longer) and manipulate the information stream to the public to suit their individual social engineering endeavours. They try to gain public favour by restricting and/or banning right-wing content producers from social media. Of course this is just a farce, as they just keep popping back up a little later. These multi-national corporations are reactionary and imperialist in nature, follow their own agenda, put up a nice facade to avoid mainstream media scrutiny, all while having no problem selling their data to the right, left, and anyone else willing to put up the cash. Too bad we Irish Republicans have nothing but little of that to offer.

      2. I concur.

        The amassment of so much data about individuals, the development of accurate psychological models of individuals from this data and then knowing how to manipulate those psychologies is the nightmare of 1984. Except the Oligarchs and not the State are Big Brother.

        It will be interesting to see if the privacy regulation push goes anywhere. As usual the solutions are obvious but entrenched oligarchical interests would be threatened. History demonstrates that it takes blood in the streets and/or massive economic collapse to effect such foundational re-alignments. With 60% of the US broke we are getting closer to such a tipping point.

        Brexit is now the dominant force supporting re-unification, that was clear from the North Down Brexit results alone. Either the Tories buckle and remain in the CU/SM or NI and Scotland are leaving the Union within 5 years. DUP being the face of Unionism is alienating GenYZ PULs. Even without Brexit NI has at most 15 years before demographics alone flip the numbers. On some level Unionists know this, despite their denials, there wouldn’t be any discussion of 50%+1 not being a sufficient margin of victory if they didn’t.

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