On Friday, January 25, the Internet Governance Lab hosted Dr. Emma L. Briant at a roundtable discussion where she presented her work on the “Propaganda Machine: The Hidden Story of Cambridge Analytica and the Digital Influence Industry.”
Dr. Briant, currently a Researcher at George Washington University, had been studying the Anglo-American propaganda strategies for nearly ten years when news broke that Cambridge Analytica (CA) had harvested data from 230 million US voters including illicitly through Facebook to coordinate a polarizing political campaign. Her work, which was previously focused on the role of propaganda in counter-terrorism, had already introduced her to executives at CA’s UK-based parent company SCL Group; she embarked on a journey to uncover the murky world of digitized propaganda by private companies.
In her presentation, she delved into the origins and expansion of SCL and its many offshoots, its impacts on democracy, national security, and global inequality and human rights issues. She questioned the push-back in popular discourse to narratives of the danger posed by companies like CA and SCL as well as the complicity of academics in fueling this push-back. Most importantly, she raised critical issues with the extensive use of these companies by democratically elected governments, especially in the west. She also offered recommendations and suggestions for governments on how to keep their enabling of such companies and the incentivization of their illicit activities in check.
Dr. Briant’s work, which she plans to turn into a book expected in 2020, has been used extensively by the UK Parliament’s Fake News Inquiry and the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and covered by the media. Based on interviews with critical executives from SCL and her prior work on propaganda strategies, Dr Briant draws a picture of a propaganda machine that has been allowed to become capable of destabilizing the world.
Dr. Briant’s earlier book titled Propaganda and Counter-terrorism can be found here.