Fake news inquiry raises concerns over targeting of voters in Brexit referendum | Politics


The parliamentary committee investigating fake news has published excerpts of interviews with individuals connected to Leave.EU and SCL that it says raise concerns about how voters were targeted in the Brexit referendum.

In one clip, the founder of SCL, Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, can be heard comparing Donald Trump’s political campaigning strategy to that of Adolf Hitler.

The committee chair, Damian Collins, said the interviews provided “a unique insight into the private thoughts of key people at Leave.EU and SCL” and that some of the statements would “raise concerns that data analytics was used to target voters” concerned about immigration.

Material from the interviews, conducted by Emma Briant, an academic specialising in propaganda, has been published by the digital, culture, media and sport committee in connection with its inquiry into fake news.

In another excerpt, Leave.EU’s former communications director, Andy Wigmore can be heard saying that the group sent Nigel Farage to locations identified as prime campaigning targets by insurance actuaries.

Wigmore also apparently told Briant that Leave.EU copied strategies shared with them by Cambridge Analytica, the firm at the heart of the Facebook data harvesting scandal, as part of preliminary work. Leave.EU never formally hired the company.

“Some of the things they [Cambridge Analytica] did tell us, which we did copy – no question about that – was about these small clusters: you need to find out where these people are and what matters to them,” Wigmore said.

“What we were able to deduce from that – remember, as an insurance company, you have actuaries who work for you. Actuaries are brilliant: they’re mathematicians. If you give them a problem, and you say right we want to … here’s some stuff, give us probabilities, they came up with the probabilities of the areas that were most concerned about the EU.

“We got that from our own actuaries. We had four actuaries, which we said: ‘Right, tell us what this looks like from our data.’ They [the actuaries] are the ones that pinpointed12 areas in the United Kingdom that we needed to send Nigel Farage to.”

In response to a request for comment, Wigmore accused the committee of being “complicit in creating a fake news agenda” intended to undermine the result of the EU referendum.

He denied that Leave.EU had used Cambridge Analytica “in any way”, and said “we discovered we were better at understanding what they suggested we do based on our own experiences of marketing insurance products”.

He also said: “No actuaries were employed on our campaign – but we understood how they approached pricing and marketing so applied that to our marketing during the referendum.”

In a separate interview with Briant published by the DCMS committee, Nigel Oakes, the founder of SCL, can be heard comparing Trump’s campaigning strategy to that of Hitler. The Trump campaign was a client of Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 US presidential election.

In his interview with Briant, Oakes explained how an electorate could be motivated to support a particular candidate by attacking minority groups.

Oakes presented Hitler’s demonisation of Jews as an example of this strategy, asserting that Hitler “didn’t have a problem with the Jews at all, but the people didn’t like the Jews … So he just leveraged an artificial enemy”.

He continued: “Well that’s exactly what Trump did. He leveraged a Muslim … I mean, you know, it’s … it was a real enemy. Isis is a real, but how big a threat is Isis really to America?”

A spokesperson said: “Nigel Oakes has never worked for Cambridge Analytica and did not work on the Trump campaign in any way whatsoever.

“Mr Oakes was speaking in a personal capacity about the historical use of propaganda to an academic he knew well from her work in the defence sphere. These are comments that have already been reported on in the media in the past few years.”

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