In a masterpiece of investigative reporting by Carole Cadwallr on the aggressive infiltration and subversion of democracies worldwide by Cambridge Analytica, a troubling story emerged.
Having extensively researched their operations, assisted by internal whistleblowers, she exposed how a small but powerful political consultancy, cut adrift from democratic oversight and shielded by opaque corporate governance, essentially rigged elections. Whilst I believe Cadwallr is ill-informed and mistaken on Russiagate and Julian Assange, her work bringing the scandal of Cambridge Analytica to public attention is nothing other than heroic and I, albeit begrudgingly, as a supporter of Assange, admire her for that.
The work earned her an Orwell Prize and forms the basis of a new model of understanding ostensibly democratic elections, a democratic theory reconfigured for the data age. Internet society at once liberates the best instincts of humanity, whilst simultaneously empowering its worst pathologies. In its infancy a vibrant, lively community characterized by unfettered peer to peer interaction, a data commons as such, the web, as of late with the triumph of social media, has seen a regression in dynamics. The surface internet, monopolized by Silicon Valley corporations, operates in a way akin to empire. It is in this context that Cambridge Analytica was able to operate with a toxic culture of impunity.
One aspect of the mechanics of democracy in the Information Age salient to the Cambridge Analytica scandal is that citizens are treated as data sets. They are no longer a vibrant pastiche of individuated opinions and pluralistic interests but dehumanised items, alienated from basic humanity by a rigged system which views us as tasty numbers.