A political group founded by incoming national security adviser John Bolton was an early customer of Cambridge Analytica, the political consulting firm in the spotlight this week for its role in Facebook’s latest data scandal.
Reports from the New York Times state that the group hired Cambridge Analytica to develop psychological profiles of voters with data harvested from millions of Facebook accounts. The committee, known as the John Bolton Super PAC, first hired the firm in August of 2014, just months after the firm was created.
The Times goes on to report that between 2014 and 2016, Bolton’s group spend upwards of a US$1 million on survey research – a campaign term for polling.
The Guardian later obtained email documents which revealed that the project was intended to create advertisements to attract different voters based on their personalities.
The project was specifically designed to direct targeted YouTube videos to varying “psychographic” profiles of American voters, and involved Bolton appearing onscreen endorsing candidates in New Hampshire, North Carolina and Arkansas ahead of the 2014 midterms.
Depending on the personalities of the voters the videos were targeted at, Bolton adopts widely different tones. For example, the ad for Tom Cotton of Arkansas is set to a backdrop of military conflicts around the world, while an ad for former North Carolina Senate candidate Thom Tillis shows grassy meadows and groups of people on the National Mall.
According to the emails obtained by the Guardian, the former campaign targets voters “high in neuroticism,” whereas the latter was intended for “conscientious” voters. Cambridge Analytica claims to be able to separate voters by the “Big Five” psychological traits – openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.
Cambridge Analytica came under fire earlier this week for its part in a massive data scandal involving an academic researcher, Facebook, and data from 50 million users. The firm began obtaining the data from over 50 million Facebook users in 2014 through an app developed by a British researcher from Cambridge University, Aleksandr Kogan.
Kogan received permission to mine data from Facebook users who signed up to use the app he’d developed called “thisismydigitalife.” Facebook claims he agreed to use this information for academic purposes rather than commercial, but later passed that information along to Cambridge Analytica.
The firm then allegedly used the data from those accounts to market its services to political campaigns on the basis of “psychographic profiling,” and assisted with campaigns such as Ted Cruz’s run for the 2016 Republican nomination and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as well.
John Bolton, a controversial figure who’s advocated for a pre-emptive strike on North Korea in the past, was brought on this week as President Trump’s national Security adviser. He is the third person to hold that role since Trump took office in January, 2017, the first two being Michael Flynn, followed by H.R. McMaster.