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that Pfeffle knows all about, along with his adviser Dominic Cummings:

Instead of stuffing an ideology down people's throats via TV and radio, a spin doctor has to tailor different messages to different social media groups.

A country of 20 million, the chatty digital director of Vote Leave, Thomas Borwick, told me, needs 70 to 80 types of targeted message. Borwick's job is to connect individual causes to his campaign, even if that connection might feel somewhat tenuous at first.

In the case of the vote to leave the EU, Borwick, who seems to approach such challenges like a Rubik's Cube, claimed that the most successful message in getting people out to vote had been about animal rights. Vote Leave argued that the EU was cruel to animals because, for example, it supported farmers in Spain who raise bulls for bullfighting. And within the "animal rights" segment Borwick could focus even tighter, sending graphic ads featuring mutilated animals to one type of voter and more gentle ads with pictures of cuddly sheep to others.

I'd heard of similarly varied messaging used by spin doctors across the world. The challenge with this sort of micro-targeting is that it requires some big, empty identity to unite all these different groups, something so broad these voters can project themselves on to it - a category such as "the people" or "the many". The "populism" that is thus created is not a sign of "the people" coming together in a great groundswell of unity, but is actually a consequence of the people being more fractured than ever, of their barely existing as one nation. When people have less in common than before, you have to create a new version of "the people" for every election. As too many concrete policies and coherent ideologies would risk alienating parts, these pop-up people need to be united around a leader's personality and a vague feeling, such as "take back control" or "optimism". Facts are a hindrance rather than a help: you are not trying to win a rational debate with floating voters; you want to say whatever gets more attention in fragmented social media groups, where the more outrageous you are the more likes you'll get. Indeed there is something of a rush in throwing a middle finger up to facts, farting at glum reality. Trump and Johnson are both products of this environment.

Identify the hot buttons (animal rights, climate "scepticism", ecologists are fascists, etc) of different groups of people, hook them into a larger narrative around some vague aspiration unconnected with reality : this was always to some extent the MO of politicians on the hustings. But it's now a cyberworld-scale industry that really works. Which Pfeffle has reason to know.


Things are going to slide, slide in all directions
Won't be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
L. Cohen

by john_evans (john(dot)evans(dot)et(at)gmail(dot)com) on Sat Jul 27th, 2019 at 03:20:55 PM EST
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