Trump campaign sought to ‘deter’ 3.5mn black Americans from voting with algorithmic suppression in 2016 – report

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Trump campaign sought to ‘deter’ 3.5mn black Americans from voting with algorithmic suppression in 2016 – report
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28 September 2020
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Millions of Americans, disproportionately black, were targeted by algorithmic voter suppression methods deployed by then-candidate Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign to keep them away from the voting booth, a new report claims.

Project Alamo,” the digital arm of the Trump campaign, amassed a vast hoard of information on nearly 200 million Americans, using the database to target voters in 16 battleground states, according to an investigation by the UK’s Channel 4 News.Voters were divided into eight “audiences” for the purpose of targeted Facebook ads, with one category – titled “Deterrence” – consisting of people the campaign “hope don’t show up to vote.” Details of the alleged algorithmic voter suppression campaign were revealed after an unnamed entity allegedly leaked over 5,000 files, amounting to nearly five terabytes of data, from the project to Channel 4.

Their analysis showed black voters were significantly overrepresented in the “Deterrence” category, sometimes by as much as 300 percent: in Wisconsin, where they make up just 5.4 percent of the population, they made up 17 percent of “Deterrence”-classed voters. A total of 3.5 million black Americans were put in this category in the leaked files. Along with Asian, Hispanic, and ‘other’ groups, they reportedly made up 54 percent of the group to be targeted with vote-discouraging propaganda.

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Deterrence” voters were seen as those leaning toward Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton but not guaranteed to support her, according to the report. While they were unlikely to be persuaded to vote for Trump, they might be persuaded to stay home – at least, Project Alamo apparently thought so.

The meticulous digital campaign was reportedly crafted by a team from UK data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica alongside a team from the Republican National Committee. While Cambridge Analytica is no more, two members of the team are reportedly working on Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. The data-mining firm infamously harvested information from millions of Facebook users without their knowledge or consent using innocuous-looking personality quizzes, giving them a comprehensive profile of the electorate.

Channel 4’s investigation appeared to frame Project Alamo as a campaign of racially-motivated voter suppression, noting that black turnout fell in 2016 for the first time and pointing to a Cambridge Analytica memo admitting to spending $55,000 in just the state of Georgia to bombard black voters with a video of Clinton saying black children were “super predators” who had to be “brought to heel.” However, the outlet was unable to dig up most of the ads allegedly used to deter black voters, many of which were reportedly “dark posts” that disappeared when Facebook was no longer paid for them.

Nor could Channel 4 provide proof that it was the Trump campaign’s Facebook ads that convinced “Deterrence” voters to stay home – as opposed to voters’ own memories of Clinton’s “super predators” remark, her husband’s mass incarceration of black men for low-level offenses, the Clinton Foundation’s mishandling of billions of dollars in donations intended for Haitian earthquake victims, or even Clinton’s failure to campaign in certain key swing states. Several of the 2016 non-voters they spoke to reported they rarely came out for elections, and the possibility that black voters might have felt less driven to vote for the profoundly problematic Clinton than to re-elect Barack Obama, the first black US president, in 2012 went unmentioned.

Brad Parscale, who served as digital director for the Trump campaign in 2016, insisted in an earlier interview with PBS Frontline that he was “nearly 100 percent sure” they “did not run any campaigns that targeted even African Americans.

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Blamed for Clinton’s loss – alongside Cambridge Analytica, Russia, Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and countless others – Facebook has spent the last four years scrambling to reposition its platform as immune to election-meddling efforts. In 2018, it teamed up with pro-war think tank the Atlantic Council to “protect” the integrity of democratic elections around the world, and even popular users and pages with non-mainstream political views have found themselves unceremoniously deleted for running afoul of its increasingly strict censorship.

The social media behemoth has pledged to freeze political advertising in the week leading up to November’s elections and severely curtail the dissemination of political content after the vote, focusing on premature declarations of victory in an effort to prevent social unrest. Nevertheless, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg is still accused of being secretly on Trump’s side, and Facebook was subject to an advertising boycott earlier this summer led by the Anti-Defamation League, a pro-censorship advocacy group, for allegedly permitting “hate” to run rampant on its platform.

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