'Freewheeling and profane ... Wylie covers plenty of ground, explaining in illuminating and often scary detail how Cambridge Analytica exploited the data to create Facebook pages that would needle "neurotic, conspiratorial citizens", propagating an outraged solidarity.'
Jennifer Szalai, New York Times
What if you could peer into the minds of an entire population? What if you could target the weakest with rumours that only they saw?
In 2016, an obscure British military contractor turned the world upside down. Funded by a billionaire on a crusade to start his own far-right insurgency, Cambridge Analytica combined psychological research with private Facebook data to make an invisible weapon with the power to change what voters perceived as real.
The firm was created to launch the then unknown Steve Bannon's ideological assault on America. But as it honed its dark arts in elections from Trinidad to Nigeria, 24-year-old research director Christopher Wylie began to see what he and his colleagues were unleashing.
He had heard the disturbing visions of the investors. He saw what CEO Alexander Nix did behind closed doors. When Britain shocked the world by voting to leave the EU, Wylie realised it was time to expose his old associates. The political crime of the century had just taken place - the weapon had been tested - and nobody knew.
In this impactful, if somewhat self-serving, debut, Wylie recounts his work for political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica and his decision to go public with evidence that the company illicitly harvested Facebook data to target U.S. and U.K voters. Wylie joined behavioral research company SCL Group in 2013 and helped to develop "microtargeting" tools to combat the spread of religious extremism online. After securing an investment from right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer, SCL Group formed a subsidiary, Cambridge Analytica, to apply its methodologies to American voters. Wylie describes the company's efforts to suppress African-American votes, elicit racist reactions to survey questions, and violate U.S. election laws restricting the types of work foreign nationals can do for political campaigns. By his own account, Wylie was detached from the real-world consequences of his job, but the "toxic" work environment and his qualms over the firm's "race projects" caused him to leave in 2014. Dismayed by then presidential candidate Donald Trump's use of phrases ("build the wall" and "drain the swamp") first tested by Cambridge Analytica, he decided to blow the whistle when he was contacted about the firm's role in the 2016 Brexit campaign. Wylie's analogies can be glib (as when he compares the rise of jihadism to the popularity of Crocs footwear), but his warning that the online and real worlds are now inextricable, and that "segregation rests at the heart of the architectures of the Internet" is frightening. This lucid call to action should make an impact.