Christopher Wylie, the whistleblower who leaked information on Cambridge Analytica’s work with Facebook and influence in the US election, has claimed the Vote Leave pro-Brexit campaign broke campaign financing law, enabling it to spend more than was allowed to in the 2016 referendum. Wylie claimed the campaign was “highly effective” in delivering results for the Leave vote.
Wylie appeared earlier today before the UK Parliament Commons culture committee and gave fresh testimony on how Cambridge Analytica was involved in political ad campaigns for 2016’s EU referendum in the UK. He said he was integral in setting up AggregateIQ (AIQ), a data company used by Vote Leave, and said that it is essentially just a Canadian branch of Cambridge Analytica, masked to look like a separate company.
Wylie also speculated that Vote Leave’s campaign director Dominic Cummings opted for AIQ as Cambridge Analytica was already being used by UKIP’s Leave.EU campaign.
One of the key reasons Wylie was invited to speak before the committee was to establish whether the Leave campaign had breached campaign financing rules. Wylie claimed that Vote Leave, which spent about 40 percent of its budget on AggregateIQ during the referendum, broke campaign financing laws by coordinating with other smaller campaigns, such as BeLeave, to make additional payments to AIQ. He also raised questions about how Vote Leave obtained the data it used for its targeted ad campaigns, telling the committee “My question is where did you get that data? How do you create a massive targeting operation in a country that AIQ hadn’t previously worked in in two months?”
Wylie suggested that AIQ may have obtained data by illegal means. “This is a company that has worked with hacked material, this is a company that will send out videos of people being murdered to intimidate voters, this is a company that goes out and tries to illicitly acquire live internet browsing data of everyone in an entire country.”
He says this data and spending was used to fuel an “incredibly effective” targeted ad campaign. Wylie claims that Aggregate IQ targeted between five and seven million voters which it believed to be persuadable, with very high conversion rates. Comparing the campaign to an average ad campaign, which he said has a conversion rate of one or two percent, he said AIQ’s ads had a much higher conversion rate.
Talking about the types of tactics used, Wylie said Cambridge Analytica and AIQ created psychological profiles of those prone to believing in conspiracy theories, and targeted them with ads and fake news. He gave an example from the US of how a persuadable voter might be shown a story about Obama stationing troops in Texas in preparation for a hostile grab for power to serve an unconstitutional third term. That voter might then question why the story wasn’t being reported by the mainstream media.
Wylie alleged that “cheating” may well have swayed the result of the referendum. For now Cambridge Analytica and AIQ continue to refute his claims and his allegations of cheating remain unproven. However Wylie submitted documents to the committee which he says provide evidence of his claims, and the committee will discuss these files today with Wylie with a view to publishing them in part over the next few days.
Meanwhile it was revealed at the start of the hearing that Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has responded to the committee’s request for him to give evidence, proposing to send Facebook’s chief product office Chris Cox in his place. Damian Collins, the Conservative chair of the committee, reiterated that he wants to hear from Zuckerberg himself. “Given the seriousness of these issues we still believe that Mark Zuckerberg is the right person to give evidence, and would like him to confirm if he will make himself available to the committee,” he said.