Thursday, 3 June 2021

Political Grooming - How it Operates, Why it Works, How to Disarm it - a Brief Overview

Political Grooming - How it Operates, Why it Works, How to Disarm it -  a Brief Overview

encouraging a cohort of voters to not vote, convincing them not voting is cool, in order to give another group an advantage ; behavioural modification driven by online and real world grooming operations informed by harvested behavioural surplus data.

behavioural surplus : data you are not aware that you provide, data which reveals more about your vulnerabilities, biases and psychological state than you yourself are aware of.

A rough and ready flow chart outlining the flow of behavioural, personal and situational data collected by the  commercial surveillance systems, across the digital commons, a system that has given rise to Surveillance Capitalism, which is also being leveraged by entities intent upon manipulation and psychological grooming for adverse political, ideological and economic exploitation of the targeted populations.

In Brief, regarding Facebook (applicable to every online platform)

It's quite simple.

There  are three data sets.

The general data set, that includes your insurance, your driving licence, your loans, mortgages, any court judgements, what cars you have owned, where you went to school university, what grades you got, what you buy on your debit card or credit car - these are external to Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, and can be bought by anyone with the funds to pay for it.

The data sets that Facebook has are two fold.

1. One part is the content you create. That is the bit you part own.

2. The other part is their records of our total online behaviour - everything we have liked, everything we have been angry at, or sad, or caring, those buttons. Every ad we responded to. Every ad on every other web page we responded to. How long it took us to respond. Every page we ever visited. How long we spent on each page, what time of the day. Where our eyes lingered on that page. everything we buy. everything we search for. how we react to content that is presented and represented in slightly different forms to see which one triggers a response or a reaction. Every quiz, survey or competition. Every game we played.

All this and more. Facebook owns it. You do not. You cannot access it, ever. You have no rights over any of it. 

Facebook never sells that data. That's it's golden egg.

In essence they hold enough behavioural data to know our psychology better than we do and they hope that they can use that data to predict our future behaviour better than we ourselves could. 

That is what they sell to their advertisers. That prediction. What you will do or buy, next, after they have targeted you with ads.

3. What Facebook sells is an advertising system that categorises all that information into thousands of data points that advertisers can aim at, and then gives the advertiser real time ability to tweak ad content, to test it to see what gets the best results.
Predicting behaviour is the game, modifying behaviour is the game, in order to make more sales from advertising more accurately.

4. The harsh part is that this is also exploited by entities with seriously malign intent.  The political grooming gangsters on all sides.

Because there are no Laws defining grooming, it's the wild west. 

Anything goes?

"Is it ok to manipulate people to extract their money, just not for politics?

But there are also clear shortcomings. Focusing on disinformation itself as a target for regulation brings an obvious problem. By calling for interventions based on ‘harmful’ content, the report asks the Government to step into the dangerous territory of regulating lawful political conversations between people. Are private companies to be mandated to police these communications on the Government’s behalf? There are numerous good reasons why this is deeply undesirable (not to mention incompatible with human rights laws).

The biggest oversight, however, is in diagnosing disinformation as essentially a problem with Facebook, rather than a systemic issue emerging in part from the pollution of online spaces by the business model that Facebook shares with others: the surveillance and modification of human behaviour for profit.

‘Surveillance capitalism’, as it’s known, involves gathering as much data as possible about as many people as possible doing as many things as possible from as many sources as possible. These huge datasets are then algorithmically analysed so as to spot patterns and correlations from which future behaviour can be predicted. A personalised, highly dynamic, and responsive form of behavioural nudging then seeks to influence that future behaviour to drive engagement and profit for platforms and advertisers. These targeted behaviour modification tools rely on triggering cognitive biases and known short-cuts in human decision-making. Platforms and advertisers extensively experiment to find the most effective way to influence behaviour."
Cambridge Analytica unapologetically laying out how they did it.
apt youtube comments:  "F**ing amazing. She talks about mind-f**ing us as if it's the most normal thing." 
"This is disturbingly Orwellian. And rather like Trump, sociopathic. Plus an example of business, I suspect, unaffected by ethics or principle."
Hence the relative ease with which Brexit was sold as a blow for English citizen's 'freedom', the relative ease with which Trump was portrayed as a Saviour who would clean out corruption, the relative ease with which Corbyn was painted as a communist terrorist loving economic disaster zone, the relative ease with which COVID portrayed as a hoax, and the manner in which Vaccination for COVID19 slandered as as a global sterilisation project, and much  else besides. 
These are all examples of deliberate grooming campaigns that were aimed at a small percentage of the population to trigger behavioural changes such as voting for Brexit, without understand the implications, or not voting at all, or refusing to wear a mask or wearing a yellow star and believing in each case that the person targeted was taking independent sovereign action that is political activism at it's best and highest. 
Then those small groups are given prominence in media and used as scapegoats, and the rest of the population targets their dismay at those who were groomed, rather than turn on the groomers and their masters. I think that is a quite basic yet solid explanation of what is being done. 
Here's a little more detail. 
Influence and indoctrination has always been and will always remain a key component of all Hierarchy of Power and Violence Systems. A key task of all rulers is to habituate the populations being ruled to being ruled, to thwart emergence of an evidence based, critical analysis that grounds a popular solidarity that might be effective enough to dislodge the ruling class through occupying the available democratic legislatures and passing Laws that regulate Wealth and Industry, and that seek to prevent the harms they often cause.  
The many are potentially more potent than the few. 
The Wealth Party is a minority political and economic Hegemon that must habituate the much larger general population to accepting the dominant position of Wealth, without the population fully understanding what that really means. Indeed they must misunderstand the situation. I use the term 'grooming'' to define and outline this practice. This 20 minute video from a Channel 4 documentary explores some of the tactics of political grooming with real world examples.

Political grooming and sexual grooming, ideological and  religious grooming, gang grooming, cult grooming  - it is all the same activity, in different arenas. As a society seeking to build a genuinely healthy politic, we need to protect the groomed and confront and disarm the groomers. 

Grooming is a tool that predators use to gain the trust of a target, and ultimately to manipulate that trust to gain sexual, monetary, political, emotional, psychological or other advantages.
Adults can and do groom other adults. Sometimes adults may use other adults to help them in their grooming. It is a much more common behaviour than most will admit. 

Grooming almost always involves leveraging a power disparity. The target may or may not be aware of or perceive that power disparity.

Grooming usually involves the close study of existing vulnerabilities in the target. The groomer must understand in some detail the nature of the vulnerability, the ways in which the target behaves due to that vulnerability. The groomer has to be able to trigger the vulnerability, and adjust the triggers according to the desired outcome. To do that the groomer must understand the target better than the target understands him or her self. That alone implies a power disparity.

Other power disparities that come into play are wealth, reach, access to or control of resources, social position, position in an existing hierarchy, position within a group, command of a group of people.

We have seen in recent and not so recent history the techniques that what we call propaganda. Propaganda is political grooming, and it has operated via mass media, or pamphlets, where news papers publish opinion, with a twisted or spun narrative to distort, misinform, trigger or other wise mislead and manipulate whole demographic groups - the targeting was not individualised. 

Now with digital media, the targeting can be much more focused, to a small group of individuals via smart phones and computers,  in any given geographical area, even to a given individual, in ways the people being targeted cannot perceive. Individualised targeting.

The same people who operated global psychological micro targeting grooming operations in 100 elections, across 68 Democracies to bolster right wing political entities are directly involved in COVID19 misinformation and disinformation.

"The former lead psychologist of Cambridge Analytica – the notorious digital analytics firm which disseminated fake news on behalf of the Brexit and Donald Trump election campaigns – is advising some of the leading pandemic disinformation platforms in Britain and is connected to COVID-19 conspiracy theory groups in the US, South Africa and elsewhere, Byline Times can reveal.

Many of these platforms and groups have direct ties to hard-right politicians in the Conservative Party and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

Patrick Fagan, a behavioural and consumer psychologist, was head of psychology at Cambridge Analytica from October 2017 to May 2018. He worked on “local and presidential political campaigns in Europe, Africa and North America”, according to his own website

He is currently the chief scientific officer for Capuchin Behavioural Science, which claims to “apply a range of scientific behavioural methods including psychometrics, implicit testing, eye-tracking, facial coding, EEG, and more to deliver measurable commercial results”.

This is organised, institutionalized psychological abuse  - to exploit, exacerbate and maintain neurosis for political gain. There is no other way to describe it more accurately without delving in deeper, and looking at the evidence of how this dynamic operates.

"The grooming (gaslighting) of human vulnerability is one of most vile things any human being can do to another."

Elements of grooming

Friendship-forming: The groomer will work to determine a target’s candidacy by asking questions about the target’s life and gauging their vulnerability, seeking contact information such as social media handles, email addresses or phone numbers.  

The undertaking research, accessing any available data about the target in order to build a multi point profile of the target all form part of this stage - the object is to find points of interest to pretend to share and to then form bonds around that 'shared interest'. This is all designed to form a link into the target's psyche at some level.

Relationship-forming: The predator works to gain the targets trust, often through sharing interest, n concerns or by fulfilling an apparent need. The predator may also share information that “only the wise can know. The 'you are not a 'sheeple' play. "I know what others do not  know, and now so do you. We are linked by what we know that others do not. We are special, you are special." 

Getting the target to take some action is part of strengthening the relationship. Share this information, attend a meeting, spread the word and get positive feed back for doing so. Indeed the positive feedback can be manufactured to encourage the target to do more.

Threat-gauging: The predator will engage in a risk assessment to determine how accessible the victim truly is - the predator will check a target’s relationship strength with friends, family, and roommates, colleagues, associates and avoid overt contact where others might intervene, or alternatively to start to undermine those relationships. One of the difficulties of the digital domain is that an individuals feed can be tailored to exclude others who might be protective of the target.  The echo chamber or bubble effect can come into play. Two people in the same room on different laptops seeing entirely different feeds of information or misinformation. The groomer might be able to see both laptops, aware of their differences and then be able to use that to drive them apart, or bring them closer together, which ever suits the groomers agenda.

Isolation: The predator will begin distancing the target from friends or family, from social groups, from previous affiliations. This can be done in multiple ways, including surprisingly positive methods such as compliments and favors. The predator may tell the intended victim that they feel an especially strong connection to them, or that they understand each other in a special way that no one else can get. Control is the predator’s intent. By appearing calm and concerning, the predator is seeking to increase their influence over the victim to advance their agenda. The use of 'shared fear' follows this pattern too. Presenting with false empathy is another tactic in this play book.
Exploitation: In this phase, the predator will start to use the target to meet their needs. Predators will solicit  victims for money, will ask them to accomplish morally questionable things for the project, just to fill an emotional need, the political groomer will suggest the target might vote in a particular way, or engage in harassment of the opposition, to pile on to approved targets online. Predators can suggest meet-ups, and propose actions to be taken. Like mobbing a public building, or wearing a yellow star - the groomer will of course frame those as 'liberation activism', as an act of courage and commitment.

Maintenance: Once the victim is doing what the predator wants, the predator will work to keep them under control through various means. These methods can include gas-lighting (telling the victim their feelings are crazy or unreasonable), destroying the victim’s self-esteem, or continuing the isolate the victim from their loved ones.

Grooming is more common than most understand.

Grooming is a common tool for con-men, pedophiles, political leaders, cult leaders, and those with a narcissistic personality disorder. The results to a victim can be catastrophic, in terms of loss of self-esteem and personal safety, psychological trauma, and harm to the victim’s financial resources and personal wealth.  

Groomers can also incite their targets to engage in harm causation behaviour.  The Genocide in Rwanda is one extreme and horrific example. Groomers operating for extremist groups such as the KKK the British National Party or ISIS and all such extremist groups groom targets in order to use them for their activities and they call it 'recruitment.'

Emotional Hi-Jacking.

This is a simple example of what emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman calls an emotional hijacking (or hijack): a situation in which emotions overrule our typical thinking processes.  Part of the tactical tool kit of the groomer is to trigger emotional hijacks, or amygdala hacks.

Someone bumps into me in a supermarket, spills me items on the floor and keeps moving on, and I react, angrily or someone makes a snide comment about my post on a thread I are following and I react, without thinking and fire off a nasty comment. 

What happens is that the amygdala, a pair of almond shaped brain organs that sit between brain stem and cortex inhibit the cortext because they are triggered by a sense of threat, and they cause fight or flight hormonal cascades that ready the body for action.

We might liken the amygdala's action here to an emergency override of the mind, springing into action whenever we feel anxious or threatened and activating our fight, flight, or freeze response. As the amygdala is activated the person then interprets the event or trigger as a threat, and it stimulates a hormone cascade that prepares the body and brain for an immediate and aggressive reaction or a freezing reaction.  Either way the reaction is quicker than thinking it out. 

The reaction of the amygdala is not entirely innate - the default setting is trust - however it is profoundly influenced by experience, not least trauma; unresolved trauma has chronic influence, influence that may be life long until the person resolves the issue or learns to feel safe again.

Emotional hijacks can work to our advantage or disadvantage. 

In the case of a real emergency, the amygdala response can produced a hormone cascade that will energise a person's body to present with the courage to defend loved ones against an attacker who's bigger or stronger - the effect of the cascade is to reduce thinking about the risks, increase immediate readiness to act,  which means the thinking part of the brain goes offline, and a direct perception takes over that is much quicker than thought. 

"I did not think about the risk, I just jumped into the situation and took the attacker down, and stopped the assault on my partner. It was only afterwards when I thought about it that I saw the risk, and then I felt shock and terror."

However, when it is being deliberately triggered by an agency that is grooming the target, it can also move the target  to engage in risky, irrational, and even dangerous behavior in everyday situations.

An advertisement or piece of content that angers a person, or attracts them and stimulates them to press a provided link, often known as click bait, is an example of how amygdala hacking is often deployed in neural marketing.

How grooming happened in the Brexit Campaign

Here is a rather useful tweet that outlines some of the dynamics of the grooming operation what was run by Leave.EU, funded by Aaron Banks, and run by Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ. I suggest you go read it through before continuing to read this piece. It is just one small part of the whole, and it serves as an indicator - extrapolate this activity to hundreds of thousands of people and one can see societally impactfull outcomes emerging.

Some of the basics.

1. Lots of people use social media -Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube and many others. Most people are linked to a number of friends, many people are linked to other accounts, some of which are real, some of which are bots through casual friend acquisition, adding, taking part in groups and so on. All these accounts are linked.

2. Anyone who wanted  to gather data can do so by issuing an App that might be a questionnaire, a quiz, a game all offering a reward of some kind, where participation demands or implies an acceptance of Terms and Conditions - those terms and conditions contain permissions to gather data, the targets data and the data of the targets connections. Who ever reads the Ts & Cs? Nobody does.

And example : Targeting football enthusiasts:

This is a graphic from an app used to gather data from the target, and by the permissions the target did not read, it accessed the data from the targets connected accounts.

There are literally hundreds of ways to attract bees to the flower. Quizzes, competitions, games, surveys etc can all be used to scrape data from people's online accounts. Anything that asks for a click and acceptance of terms and conditions is potentially a data scraping tool.

3. The data gathered would be the name, images, likes, dislikes and various other activity data that can be linked to other external data sets that are available commercially, and when combined all these datasets can draw a portrait of any given social media user.

External datasets include credit scoring, credit purchases, marital status, DVLA data, Insurance Data, Health Data and lots more. 

Data scraped from the app might include name, status, work/unemployed, likes football, does not like football, likes dog jokes, does not like cat jokes, posts about TV, posts about Environment, buys books online, buys clothes online and much else - pretty much everything that person does online is available.

Mixing the online data and external data and matching can build reliable profiles, user profile information, or UPI.

4. Then the data can be examined, sorted, categorised, and thus very specific characteristics to be targeted can be drawn up. 

There is a psychometric or psychology type categorising system called OCEAN which is used to lay out a spectrum of behavioural characteristics around 5 broad categories.

Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism.

Each of these represents a spectrum, thus openness can also describes lack of openness, as a minus scoring - or as a range between 0 and 10, with 5 being the median, 0 being the least open, 10 being the most open.

5. Now the more precise  targeting can begin, and be refined to hit specific characteristic groupings which might be associated with various political or apolitical positions, including contradictions..

This tweet provides an example. It is the same tweet I posted above.

6. In thinking about this one has to be aware that the organisations gathering data are huge corporations with near limitless budgets for computer power and man power to orchestrate their activity. They have every interest in protecting, enhancing and maintaining their revenue generating activities - giving advertisers precision tools to advertise at targeted groups with predictable outcomes  - by harvesting and instrumentalising the targets behavioural characteristics and activity patterns as a resource, with which they gain the leverage to generate the tools to give to the advertisers to access our psyches in the pursuit of sales.

Immediately obvious is the power disparity between these media companies, the advertisers and you or I, the individual regular users.

7. They make their income not by selling the data we create or the behavioural data that they hold about us, but by giving advertisers powerful tools to target specified characteristics contained, itemised and cataegorised within that data they hold about us, that they hold about any sizeable group of people.

Those tools allow the advertisers to be able to watch in real time the effect of their content as it is sent out and is reacted to, and to be able to tweak that content and refine it so that they are getting better results all the time, until they can predict outcomes based on what they know.

8. Facebook or Google or Apple will never sell your data, that is their golden egg - but they will not allow you to protect that egg, or claim ownership of the contents of the egg, or even get rid of your specific egg, because the data is not the content that you create, it is what your activity indicates about your behavioural psychology, the behavioural trail and scent you leave as you use the platform. It was known as behavioural exhaust, a side dish from your online activity.

It includes a range of data, such as eye tracking, how quickly you respond//react to different content, what you searched for, what you did when you found what you searched for, how long you remained at that destination - all of which provides clues to your psychological and behavioural characteristics, which can be used to predict what you will do when presented with advertising content aimed at you.

Thus the current situation is that Facebook and other platforms allow grooming operations to function with ever greater precision because there is no legislation that protects you or I from grooming.

Facebook, Google etc are not necessarily the problem, but as things stand they are enabling the grooming, they are enabling advertisers to exacerbate vulnerabilities in people in order to modify behaviour in order to generate sales or voting pattern shifts.

This grooming is given a false protection behind 'Free Speech' - the grooming is defined as 'advertising' - which generates revenue for the social media platform, which funds the free usage by us the users, enabling our free speech rights.

It is not a genuine legal protection, it is a deliberately misleading argument.

Free Market Libertarians have used it to protect the 'rights of Corporations' since the late 1990s.

How to disarm the weapon

The best defence is two fold a) an audience that understands grooming and how it works, who can individually and collectively disarm the grooming and then b) legislation that defines grooming for exploitation that would prevent such activity on any platform.

Which brings us  to this : the core problem, the problem that existed before Google and Facebook and the digital platforms arrived - organised, institutional grooming - was already a serious problem, dating back to the Bible, and probably further back.

The Daily Mail, The Telegraph, The Guardian or what ever News Media is in your region - there's a range of opinion, often reflecting established political polarities, and rarely wholly honest, and always selling advertising space.

Honesty sets us free. knowledge maintains freedom.

Here are a few web pages that I think are useful in helping to scope this domain out a bit more. - Election Hacking Happens.

"Election hacking is perhaps the most topical example of what the combination of hostile information-technological and information-psychological activities can mean in the modern information environment. It has government officials asking whether malicious information activities targeting elections could be the new normal.

When the news about the French election hacking broke, many recognized the timing was due to French legislation. The leaks happened just moments before the legally enforceable election silence started, making it impossible for the media to report on, and for the campaign staff to correct any falsehoods and disinformation.

But last-minute election hackings and strategically timed document leaks are more than just a media game. In fact, the leaks during the election campaigns both in the U.S and in France are textbook examples of how psychological operations can be applied to serve not only warfare, but whatever we call those illegal, malicious and democracy-threatening information influence activities. This includes not just hacking and leaks, but how this information is used in addition to fake news and other forms of illegitimate manipulation.

Psychological operations generally have two purposes: to change people’s behavior and make them react, or to have them not react. These reactions are largely based on emotions, which have always been at the core of all information-psychological influence." - Identifying Grooming

"How Predators Ensnare Good People

Grooming is a tool that predators use to gain the trust of a target, and ultimately manipulate that trust to gain sexual, monetary, or other advantages. You may have heard the term as it applies to children, but adults can also groom other adults. In fact, some adults may use other adults, and particularly women, to help them in their grooming.

As with other forms of manipulation, grooming is not a simple cut-and-dry technique. It plays on an individual’s insecurities and, even in a strong-minded person, can wreak havoc psychologically." - Ways to Disarm Emotional Hijacking

One of the reasons we react in a certain way is that we're wired to respond habitually and emotionally to certain triggers. This reaction has to do with the amygdala, the part of the brain that's been referred to as our emotional processor."  - Bullying as a Political Utility

Using unwarranted criticism and threats, the bully tries to control their target and subjugate them, without a thought for that persons’ contributions, reputation, well-being, health or self confidence. Sooner or later this person – the bully’s target – realises that they are not only being “managed” but bullied, and they will start to show signs of resistance to that. Often, anything said in the target’s self-defence will be distorted and used by the bully, too. Gaslighting involves attempts to either negate or redefine a target’s experiences, and abusers often use this method."

Confronting the Groomers - defining grooming as a criminal offence

I propose a legal definition of behaviour that we are all too familiar with.

Organised operations that target people’s cognitive biases, their social woundedness, their insecurities, prejudices and worries, their misunderstandings, cultural conditioning and fears, and do that through public and social media, through marketing, propaganda and media campaigns operating on an industrial scale, manipulating vulnerable people for ideological, religious, political or economic advantage.

This behaviour is grooming.

If we had legislation defining this and criminalising it, then media platforms would be unable to allow such behaviour to be allowed on their platforms as a revenue stream." - a guide to debunking misinformation and disinformation.

"Misinformation can also be intentionally suggested by “just asking questions”; a technique that allows provocateurs to hint at falsehoods or conspiracies while maintaining a facade of respectability. 

For example, in one study, merely presenting questions that hinted at a conspiracy relating to the Zika virus induced significant belief in the conspiracy .

Likewise, if you do not read past a headline such as “Are aliens amongst us?” you might walk away with the wrong idea. 

Where does misinformation come from? 

Misinformation ranges from outdated news initially thought to be true and disseminated in good faith, to technically-true but misleading half-truths, to entirely fabricated disinformation spread intentionally to mislead or confuse the public. 

People can even acquire misconceptions from obviously fictional materials. Hyper-partisan news sources frequently produce misinformation, which is then circulated by partisan networks. Misinformation has been shown to set the political agenda."

And yes, I have written a song about this.

"we know how to groom you" performed live, from my studio

also available on Reverbnation, as an .MP3 Download 

Kindest regards 

"Do what you love, it is your gift to universe."

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