In today’s context, social engineering has now moved on – dramatically. It refers to the manipulation of people into performing actions they wouldn’t normally do. It’s a type of confidence trick, but unlike back in the day when propaganda was largely in print newspapers, there are now serious consequences of social media being used as the vehicle to distribute computational propaganda via psychological warfare strategies originally designed by the industrial military complex. Brexit was one of them.
Social engineering is really the hacking of human beings. It’s not new but what is new is the spectacular take up rate of social media across the world, and it brings with it some unique challenges.
The hints of social media being used for geo-political change arrived most notably in the 2010 US Congressional elections, where 61 million Facebook users saw a “social” message encouraging them to vote, with a link to polling station information. People saw a clickable “I VOTED” button, like a counter showing how many people had clicked on it and the profile pictures of six of their Facebook friends who had done so. Facebook’s project saw users who saw their friends’ faces more likely to vote than those who saw the message alone. Hundreds of thousands of votes were attributed to this one action by Facebook.1
As most democratic elections are usually (but not always) won within a margin of about 5 percent, social media has become the latest battleground to garner votes. For instance, in the 2015 general election in Britain, 10 parliamentary seats were won on less than one percent of the vote. One Conservative won his seat on a margin of just 27 votes. And social media had a lot to do with these results.
As for Britain’s 2016 EU referendum, 72.2 percent of eligible voters, nearly 34 million turned up at polling stations. A total of 70 per cent of all voters, and 82 per cent of 18-24 year olds, expected the UK to stay in the EU. However, since the unexpected Brexit result there has been an epic media post-mortem on why this happened. Much was blamed on certain demographics such as age, location, education and even religion. But the truth of the matter was that something else happened, which is currently being fought out in both the courts and in the shadows and more recently with the announced involvement of the Electoral Commission.
In the case of the EU referendum, only 2.5% of the electorate were identified as the crucial targets needed to cause an historical moment in British history. And so the strategy for bringing about Brexit was constructed.
By April this year it was becoming clear that illegal social media campaigns had played a significant role in Brexit. More recently though, research has uncovered a number of illegal game plans that were both scandalous and steeped in corruption whilst giving the lie that Britain has a functioning democracy, which it can no longer claim. To deflect the illegal strategies from within, mainstream media has firmly laid blame at Britain’s customary mortal enemy, Russia. These reports have now reached the point of frenzied delirium. There may be some small truth in them, but as I’ve said before, there’s a big difference between influence and control. Russia does not control Britain.
About the Author
Graham Vanbergen’s business career culminated in a Board position in one of Britain’s largest property portfolio’s owned by one of the world’s largest financial institutions of its type. Today, he writes for a number of renowned news and political outlets, is the contributing editor of TruePublica.org.uk and Director of NewsPublica.com.
1. – Facebook “I VOTED” – hundreds of thousands voted after seeing this button: https://www.forbes.com/sites/sebastianbailey/2012/09/24/how-facebook-could-swing-the-election/#759bc6d48389
2. Computational propaganda report – university of Oxford: http://comprop.oii.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/sites/89/2017/06/Casestudies-ExecutiveSummary.pdf
3. The great British Brexit robbery – The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/07/the-great-british-brexit-robbery-hijacked-democracy
4. When you can’t trust the data – Imperva report: http://www.thedrum.com/industryinsights/2017/10/10/when-you-can-t-trust-the-data-what-next