What's psychologically wrong with Kanye West

Populism & Social Media: The Future of Choice?

Notorious liars are beyond belief. An unpleasant quality of them is to accuse of lying those who come to them with the truth. "This guy's a liar," Donald Trump said of his party adversary Ted Cruz after he called him a liar. And he clashed with Hillary Clinton in a televised debate about whether she could confront him with earlier statements.

"She has already been convicted of the lie in many ways," lamented Trump, "this is just another lie".

"Well, I'm just quoting ..."

“There is no such quote. You will not find a corresponding statement from me. "

But. Naturally. It's not difficult at all. The classic media had already started to subject Trump's words to an intensive fact check. Every time he made a televised debate, his allegations were checked for accuracy. Fact checkers have never been so busy in an election campaign, said Forbes magazine, confidently adding that they were "the real winners of the election."

During an exchange of blows with the Republican rival Marco Rubio, the following dialogue took place:

Rubio: “He employed Polish workers. And he paid a million dollars or so fine to ... "

Trump: »... that's wrong. This is wrong. Totally wrong."

Rubio: “That is a fact. People can check it out. I am sure you are already googling it. Check it out. 'Trump Polish Workers', they will find the receipt for a million dollars for illegally employed workers on one of his construction sites. He did it."

At that moment, Rubio believed, by calling on Google as the authority of the truth, to be particularly clever. After the debate, Google Trends actually saw a significant increase in the search terms "Polish workers". People really wanted to know. But instead of encountering the one truth, as Rubio promised them, the search engines showed each user a different hit list. Depending on the digital profile that they had left on the network by then and that flowed into the algorithm during the search. This is where the problem starts. When one truth becomes many.

As more and more details about Trump's Clever Campaign became known and it was said that even government-affiliated Russian hackers and bot networks might have helped him to victory, one begins to suspect the influence of data on complex political processes. Potential Trump voters are said to have been targeted on the basis of psychological data and Clinton supporters were even prevented from voting. The driving force behind such methods is said to be the ominous company Cambridge Analytica, as the Swiss magazine writes in a much-discussed research. Cambridge Analytica's board member is Steve Bannon, who has just been named Trump's chief strategist. A new discussion has broken out about the seductive power of filter bubbles in the age of the network.

Did Trump win thanks to a psychological “target acquisition” that made sophisticated use of social networks with its likes and friends locks? What chance would one still have of independent knowledge? Can we still defend ourselves at all against a range of offers tailored to us, which only passes on more and more of the information that corresponds to our habits and interests? We live in the spotlight of our desires and think it's great. Why want to change it?

It was the pop star Kanye West, an expert in self-marketing, who couldn't hide his fascination for Trump's "futuristic" method after his victory over Hillary Clinton. “I like this apolitical way of talking about politics,” he said at a recent concert in San Diego, adding, referring to his own celebrity, that drawing attention is stronger than any other skill. Trump's communication has proven that it can launch a politically correct campaign.

Trump's election victory and the successes of right-wing populists in Europe have various causes. The most momentous could prove to be the transformation of groups of voters into political consumer communities that put their desires above arguments. Populism is the result of 15 years of socialization of the population through online shopping.

The world of goods on the Internet differs from traditional department stores in one respect in particular: online shops make less effort to impose things on customers that they don't even ask for. Instead, they are curious about their counterpart: Who are you? They want to know. Are you male, female? Why do you come to my shop? What do people like you like? What do you desire most of all when you are looking for shoes at the beginning of the month, in winter and in the morning at ten o'clock while you should be working? If the department store was a social place that generated needs, the online shop is a personalized representation of one's own wishes. And the fulfillment of these wishes is only a search query, a click and a credit card number away on the Internet. Delivery is free of charge, exchange guaranteed. The customer is the Sun King.

In the US, Amazon has had a higher market value than retail group Walmart since last year. According to the Federal Association of E-Commerce and Mail Order (BEVH), online sales in this country have increased almost sixfold since 2007, and the forecast for 2016 has just been revised upwards to 53.9 billion euros. In the meantime, every eighth euro in Germany is spent in e-commerce, says the BEVH.

In the past few years, Amazon and Co. did not go to great lengths to make their website more beautiful or their brand more lovable. Instead, logistics processes were developed that enabled deliveries only in a day and now in a few hours, because they were based on data-driven forecast models. Amazon calculates in advance which goods are most likely to be bought where, when and by whom. The shipping containers and warehouses are filled using this data.

In the meantime, the political strategists have understood: what works with goods, also works with elections. The same instruments that were developed to optimize online advertising and screen personalized data sets for possible needs have fallen into the hands of political opinion leaders. This raises the question of whether societies now know less about themselves as a result. Are networks only getting smarter, but not individuals?

Social media, especially Facebook, have never been so important for political decision-making as in the duel between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Although Trump himself mainly communicated via Twitter and emitted an uninterrupted stream of 34,000 tweets, this news channel, with a market share of 5.2 percent in the USA, is mainly aimed at the elites. But: "The media loves tweets," says marketing specialist Jayson DeMers, who advises US companies on setting up online strategies. The news media would be drawn to tweets "because they are short, easy to talk about and to present on a TV screen."

Trump tweets like "I want an apology!" Lots of people tweeted that I'm right! ”(Dated Nov. 23, 2015) have been the raw material for the Trump campaign. Facebook in particular advanced to become a sound amplifier with a market share of 42 percent. In the meantime, 44 percent of American Facebook users use it as a news medium, which it doesn't want to be. In the final stages of the US election campaign, social media analysts reported that Trump was way ahead of his opponent in this area and that there was a large number of traditional non-voters who responded massively to Trump's posts. Trump was able to reach ten million Americans directly on Facebook, Clinton got half of them. That didn't go well with election analyzes, which saw Hillary Clinton 77 to 90 percent ahead.

The fact that Trump's strong presence on social media encroached on the voting booth came as a surprise. Like crossing the blood-brain barrier: two circuits that seemed to function separately from each other turned out to be permeable. Obviously, people no longer choose what they think is politically correct, but what interests them. As in an online shop, you are looking for messages that express what you think. Not what is useful to you, or that gives you financial advantage, or offers altruistic validation. Instead, a large part of the population - albeit nowhere the numerical majority - opts for spokesmen who convey with every verbal derailment that feelings are more important than arguments.

The fact that the US Democrats still did not seem to understand this paradigm shift enraged Kanye West so much that he rumbled in what appeared to be a nervous breakdown: "We live in a new world, Hillary Clinton, in which emotions count . (…) Everyone in the Midwest showed you how they felt. "

Shortly after these words, the rapper broke off his concert in Sacramento, California, stormed off the stage and was admitted to a clinic with mental health problems. So he was not quite to himself, you could say, when he uttered in a kind of foolish moment what many thought: “A lot of people here today feel as if they have lost. Why? Because you have been lied to. Google lied to you, Facebook lied to you, the radio lied to you. ”West did not say exactly what the fraud was. Only that Barack Obama couldn't have made America “great again” because as a black man he had to be “perfect” in a racist country. "Perfection doesn't change a damn!" Should someone say that a pop star doesn't understand populism. With these words, the rapper gave the code of populism crystal clear: imperfect and oversensitive in his appearance, he touches the need for emotional fusion.

The data forge Cambridge Analytica claims to have developed the tools for this by refining individualized online advertising and proposing its psychological big data processes first to the Brexit activist around Nigel Farage, then to the Republican and Trump competitor Ted Cruz.

After his move to the Trump camp, they were available. Possibly with the success that is needed in such a close race for the presidency. Trump's campaign had $ 693 million available; Clinton spent twice as much at $ 1.3 billion. Trump made up for this disadvantage by investing primarily in Facebook advertising. However, the share of Cambridge Analytica in its election victory is highly controversial among experts. There is no evidence of the effectiveness of their psychometric method.

In psychometrics, a person's psychological profile is extracted from the data from personality tests to determine how a person will behave. How someone behaves can now be seen on Facebook for everyone, an ideal experimental field for psychometric tests, which the test subjects often do not notice at all because they are hailed as amusing online games or quizzes. The methodology has been refined to such an extent, the “Magazin” reported last week, that a fairly complete view of man can be put together from the analysis of profile photos, movement data, offline times and the number of contacts.

The Berlin data analyst Jannis Ritterspach believes, however, that almost all attempts to infer individual needs from the behavior of people on the Internet resulted in try-and-error practice. The only advantage of big data is that "you can achieve more with fewer resources because variations of a message can be conveyed more easily via social media."

According to the "Magazin", Cambridge Analytics bought up all the personal data on behalf of Trump that the company could get hold of: credit card data, Facebook data, health data and more. From this 32 personality profiles were obtained, on the basis of which tailor-made advertising measures were then fired at the US voters. The principle of the online shop adapted to his "Visitor" had landed in the election campaign.

How realistic is it to convince people with such methods? Tobias Preis should know. He teaches behavioral science at Warwick University in England and heads the Data Science Lab. In studies, Preis has proven the connection between price developments on the stock exchange and Google search queries. Whether you want to know how a market is developing or someone's life is only different in the resolution of the data. "Of course it is possible to use these methods on small groups and individuals."

Price cannot understand how Cambridge Analytica proceeded, but he thinks it would be approached like this: From the large number of people, only a few would be filtered out and psychologically 'measured'. For example through those personality tests that seem like a fun game to people, or through text analysis of tweets. The results are compared with other personal data, and on this basis a computer program learns which criteria must be met in order to recognize a certain personality type. For example, it can be recognized by his vocabulary or how he expresses himself on Twitter. This ideal profile is compared with incomplete profiles in order to complete them.

The principle can then be applied backwards. If you know, so Preis further, which words a certain personality group uses frequently on Twitter and who they follow, you can write tweets in a language that each group feels intuitively addressed by. So you can rave about American cars and know that you can reach conservative men who are extremely extroverted. The only thing missing is the political messages.

What of this can be transferred to German conditions? So far, the parties have only given limited information about their digital strategy. "We will inform the press at a later date," said the CDU headquarters. The Junge Union, on the other hand, has already started. Konrad Clemens, JU Federal Managing Director, is also the campaign manager for the new Internet platform "connect17" for the upcoming election campaign. Potential campaign workers can register there and state their skills and interests (“I help in the social media team”). At the same time, your Facebook and Twitter accounts are queried. The information from the volunteers is transmitted to the 299 election campaign leaders nationwide. This participation center should be closely interlinked with social media - perhaps with the option of coordinating waves of enthusiasm and shitstorms in the networks.

With the »connect17« project, the JU can now see centrally where helpers are still missing. This is intended to simplify the planned door-to-door election campaign.

Years ago, the SPD North Rhine-Westphalia used the same recipe to make Peer Steinbrück Prime Minister. The idea: an interactive center. 4000 volunteers were also recruited. But then the problems began. The party did not know how to integrate its volunteer army into its structures. Maybe it was too early.

In the upcoming federal election campaign, the online guru Jim Messina, who helped Obama and the Briton David Cameron to victory with the support of data analysis, is primarily advising the Social Democrats on optimizing the doorstep campaign. According to Tobias Nehren, head of the digital campaign, “you have been working intensively since 2015 to organize the most modern election campaign that the SPD has ever made”.

Nehren thinks little of the methods of Cambridge Analytics. Fortunately, such targeting approaches are not feasible in Germany. "Neither the data basis nor the data protection allow that." The law forbids the trading of personal data without the consent of the person concerned. In Germany, this hurdle means that election workers would have to march from door to door before every online campaign to collect data and to find out - as was practiced in the grassroots campaign (»SPD from door to door«) what people expect from politics. A former advisor to the SPD says that in 2013 it was known pretty precisely where potential SPD voters who were inclined to stay at home lived.

Such data-driven technologies are not yet ready for a decision at the CDU. The entire campaign is still in the process of finding. In any case, a »potential analysis« based on various data sources should help door-to-door fighters to plan their approach more precisely. Clemens still leaves open which data sources this will be.

In this country, Trump's Twitter thunderstorm was often perceived as incoherent. As the insane, irritable, sexist lie gossip of an impostor who says something different every day. "That was exactly an advantage," says Tobias Preis. This chaotic communication strategy makes it possible to address individual filter bubbles.A party with a consistent line finds its limitation in not being able to speak to everyone because that would deter others, especially regular voters. But what if it is technically possible to disproportionately often send different messages to those who want to hear them the most?

The answer to this question is given through the combination of social networks, artificial intelligence and targeted advertising. However, the lack of reliability of this concept must be compensated for by an overarching story, the grand narrative of a power struggle. Trump got this narrative by changing the rules as an outsider and embodying the desire that something new must begin after eight years of Democratic reign. He made it his principle to appear completely incoherent and to make any comparison, be it with his previous life as a real estate tycoon or with previously made claims, impossible. From the point of view of traditional media, which check political statements for their logic, this was difficult to understand, from the perspective of a decentralized media society it is brilliant.

To speak of a "post-factual age" is misleading. The world is no longer not interested in the truth, but has become hyper-factual. According to IBM, 90 percent of all data ever created was created in the past two years. Never before has there been more knowledge on the Internet, never before more available sources of information, never before easier ways of accessing information. Rather, the problem is sheer abundance. Nobody can handle the amount of data. Filters are therefore the only way to cope with the excessive demands of the network as an individual. Only machines can sort the information.

However, it is the same machines that provide even more information. According to estimates, one third of the Trump offensive is to be carried by so-called "bots", computer programs that automatically post posts in order to either reinforce their own posts or to crush those of the other side. As artificial echo chambers, they suggest an interest in topics that doesn't even exist.

This requires the construction of large, interrelated botnets, the nodes of which pretend to be real people and have painstakingly created fake identities. They simulate being different people in different places. In Germany, the parties have agreed not to use such information age cluster bombs. However, according to insiders, there will be no regulation. And how a party should react when bots are infiltrated into the network on its behalf makes some communication strategists sweat on their foreheads.

While Jürgen Habermas had hoped in 1962 that the dispute between critical publicity and that which was merely organized for manipulative purposes is open ”, it is clear today: The matter has been decided - in favor of manipulative communication that is truer, the more active it appears, and thus plebiscite legitimacy pretended.

In such a system, power arises from the ability to channel the flows of information and desires of individuals. And not, as in the past, a program to create an ideology for everyone. "Geert Wilders hardly ever goes to talk shows in the Netherlands," says Job Janssen, who in 2013 made the first cautious steps in the data-driven election campaign for the Social Democrats. "Wilders tweets constantly." The AfD does not yet have the critical mass in Germany that would be necessary for this. But it could happen soon.

Janssen also believes that lies are not taken so badly from the populists by their followers. Because they felt lied to by all politicians as a corrupt elite. The untruths of one's own candidate were just a part of that.

Reason cannot defend itself. That is why intellectuals often react paralyzed to demagogues. Because to refute lies means to trust in the persuasiveness of facts, as has been the case with the Magna Carta since the abolition of the judgment of God by King John Ohneland in 1215. But facts are not something that comes to you. You have to know where to find them. The Western Enlightenment established a culture of reasoning in which it is more important to know where the answer to a question is than the answer itself.

With the Internet, this development comes to an end, facts are replaced by data. Truth becomes a condensate of data that certifies a thing the more data relates to it. Historian Jill Lepore concludes that nothing is as unclear in the 21st century as the question of whether people have acquired what they know through belief or knowledge of the facts, or whether anything can still be said that has actually been proven .

The case of the 28-year-old Edgar M. Welch illustrated this in a terrifying way. A rumor got him in his car and drove six hours from his hometown of Salisbury, North Carolina to Washington DC. The father of the family had an AR-15 submachine gun with him and headed for the "Comet Ping Pong" pizza restaurant. Because there was one thing that bothered him. When he entered the Comet, he fired into the walls and onto a desktop. The guests fled outside while he searched the place for hidden rooms. Welch later stated that he wanted to dig a place for sex slaves because he read about it on the Internet. He had come "to save her". Welch allowed himself to be arrested without resistance after finding no clue. Nobody was injured. But the episode shows what effect untruths spread across the internet can have when they are politically instrumentalized. Welch jumped at articles circulated by Trump's support network.

It was about a crude conspiracy theory according to which the Clintons and other members of the government were integrated into an international pedophile ring. This fictitious message, which consisted of no more than a headline and related to alleged New York police investigations, found its way through several Republican news platforms to a level that made it the "Pizzagate" campaign.

Although the allegations were soon refuted by reputable media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post and a fact-checking website such as Snopes, they did not lose their strength. On the contrary. The social networks have been "flooded" with further wandering details.

According to an investigation by the US media portal »Buzzfeed«, in the final phase of the Trump election campaign, sovereignty was transferred from the market-leading media to guerrilla websites, some of which had only been registered six months earlier. The “Ending the Fed” (ETF) web portal was particularly successful. Registered since March 2016, the website was responsible for four of the ten most successful lies and was able to compete with the two most renowned US newspapers "Times" and "Post" in terms of its click rate on Facebook within a very short time. It is not possible to identify who operates this site. In the last three months, the 20 biggest fake stories received more attention than the 20 most popular articles from 19 leading US media. Although this comparison is not entirely clear and the media power of newspapers like the Wahington Post is narrowed to their online presence, the trend is significant. The established media gradually lost its reach, while the circulation of false claims exploded from August onwards.

In another data analysis, »Buzzfeed« found that Trump's messages almost always referred to the same sources, not including serious media. Instead, he picked up Twitter rumors or reported what was announced on the "Breitbart" agitation platform. In doing so, Trump added brand value to the company owned by his closest advisor, Steve Bannon.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg thinks it's "a pretty crazy idea" that his network could have influenced the election campaign. In fact, a Facebook user doesn't live in one bubble, but in several. And they intersect several other bubbles. "Social foam" is what Peter Sloterdijk calls it in his practically unread "Spheres" work. Through the intersections, the flow of political messages seeps as a trickle into one's own pond of opinion. This socially controlled narrowing is not an accident of Facbook, but its functional principle. Meanwhile, both Twitter and Facebook are looking for ways to flag false reports.

There are already initial studies showing that fake news spreads faster than true news. Likes are not a concept of truth, but they have a steadily increasing value. What if the falsehood is worth more than the truth? Reason cannot defend itself.