Lies, damned lies, and Politics

Mark Twain’s popularised this famous quote “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But this sentiment behind statistics seems relevant to the use of lies in modern political campaigns. A discussion which is becoming even harder to discern because of the use of technology. Some of this technology is influencing whole populations in subtle barely detectable but effective ways.

Observing the Election/Brexit debate in the UK and the potential impeachment proceedings in the US is fascinating to watch. Both technology platforms and traditional media are being used to either promote a particular agenda or suppress a different viewpoint.

Deep fake technology

Technology in itself is agnostic to a political cause, but governments and pressure groups can harness the power of technology in a powerful way so to manipulate and persuade entire populations.

Watch this Deep Fake video of Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson both endorsing each other 🙂

Over the last three years, we have seen the exponential rise of graphics and computing power that means that fake video can be made of a politician speaking with his/her mannerisms and phrases and it is becoming harder to notice the real from the fake.

It is notable that this technology has progressed so far in the last 3 year years that I am sure if it was as main stream as it is currently is today then Donald Trump “Locker room” talk could have been easily dismissed as a fake.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the real from the fake other than the message that is being communicated is out of character. In a sound bite culture where the politicians don’t go into detail on policies but just use sound bites of policy i.e. “Get Brexit Done” or “TIme for real change” this type of technology is extremely dangerous in the political arena.

Print and Social media

Artificial Intelligence can produce articles from a combination of basic facts and by learning writing styles used by the author to create quite a convincing article. So even the articles in the print media can be faked to such an extent that they become indistinguishable from a genuine article. This technology is so effective the creators have been reluctant to release it for fear of misuse.

Social media is being manipulated in real-time. Fake social media accounts can antagonise and mislead a population with inflammatory posts.

The American and UK elections are fertile ground for such technology. In the Summer of 2017 a group of tech-savvy political Labour activists who understood the power of Tinder used it to influence voting in a local election.

To send its messages, the bot would take over a Tinder profile owned by a Labour-friendly user who’d agreed to the temporary repurposing of his or her account. Eventually, the bot sent somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 messages, targeting 18- to 25-year-olds in constituencies where the Labour candidates were running in tight races. It’s impossible to know precisely how many votes are won through social media campaigns, but in several targeted districts, the Labour Party did prevail by just a few votes. In celebrating their victory, campaigners took to Twitter to thank their team—with a special nod to the Tinder election bot.

How Political Campaigns Weaponize Social Media Bots

Disinformation campaigns

Both parties in the UK election are using disinformation campaigns:

The Conservative Party went as far as creating a fake website of the Labour party Manifesto. Labour Party as noted above has used social media bots to promote its message. They have also produced a number of documents that seem to show the NHS is up for sale. Ironically this has also been linked to a Russian disinformation campaign. However it is notable that the conservatives have not refuted the allegations.

Propagation of fake news.

It seems there is an entire industry across the world that will promote any message or suppress any group or throw dirt at any opponent for a price.

TrendMicro’s produced a paper which shows how fake news can be propagated. It showed underground services that can remove content, discredit journalists and promote false news on social media. It is well worth a read.

Lack of objectivity in the traditional press

A case study carried out by Professor Robertson of the University of the West of Scotland (UWS) regarding the Scottish referendum and reporting by the BBC and other mainstream media showed an intrinsic bias. You can listen to the full analysis in this short documentary.

The tactics involved:

  1. Repetition of bad news especially about the economy
  2. The spokesman then has to make a defensive comment.
  3. When then led to a negative closing statement.
  4. Then subtle repetition of bad news in the economy throughout the broadcast..
  5. Use of establishment sources rather than independent sources. (Journalists have a choice regarding their sources but the establishment sources which is the preference for journalists are inherently biased.)

The UK faces challenges for press Objectivity which seems to be driven by pretty similar forces to the US:

  1. Billionaires that own the press set the agenda. Subtle repetition of negative news to dissuade and confuse people.
  2. The bias of News producers to political parties
  3. The bias of privately educated white men that dominate the media
  4. Corporate advertising revenue censors the content.
  5. Intelligence services manipulate the press.

History of disinformation

The history of disinformation are Millenia old from the serpent in the garden of Eden, “did God really say?” To the original Trojan horse to the creation of false news and rumour.

It was the Russians that perfected the use of disinformation for propaganda purposes in the Cold War. The extent of which is still not fully understood by the West at least according to one of the former KGB defectors Lt. Gen Ion Michal Pacepa whose book “Disinformation” gives a fascinating insights into the Soviet use of disinformation.

In the mid-1930s—half a century before Gorbachev’s glasnost—the official Soviet encyclopedia defined glasnost as a spin on news released to the public: “Dostupnost obshchestvennomy obsuzhdeniyu, kontrolyu; publichnost,” meaning, “the quality of being made available for public discussion or manipulation.”5

Pacepa, Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai. Disinformation: Former Spy Chief Reveals Secret Strategies for Undermining Freedom, Attacking Religion, and Promoting Terrorism.

In the West, Glasnost is defined as

Glasnost was taken to mean increased openness and transparency in government institutions and activities in the Soviet Union (USSR). Glasnost apparently reflected a commitment to getting Soviet citizens to discuss publicly the problems of their system and seek solutions.

There seems to be plenty of circumstantial evidence of interference of Russian interference in both the US and UK elections for some time. It remains to be seen what the outcomes will be of the current political environment.


In the UK as we seem to be moving towards the Brexit precipice, the situation in UK seems disturbingly similar to 1930’s Britain. Where Labour and Conservatives turned their back on Europe and allowed the collapse of the Spanish government and the rise of Nazi Germany in 1930’s. Similarly today with the current Brexit debate which is fuelled with misinformation and distortion we are heading to a turbulent political and economic future.

One thing is for sure is that technology is going to be used in ever-increasing measure and if we are not vigilant we will find ourselves under an authoritarian state.

2 Responses

  1. Michael Kennedy says:

    Whistleblower Zhang and the political manipulation going unchecked on Facebook.

  1. December 23, 2019

    […] facing AI today are questions that have been debated for centuries. In the language of AI there are Deep-fakes, bias in algorithms, explainability of AI decisions, the privacy of our data which all have trust as […]

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