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How Trump used Psychometric Profiling

News. Psychologist Michal Kosinski developed a method to analyze people in minute detail based on their Facebook activity. Did a similar tool help propel Donald Trump to victory?

The company behind Trump’s online campaign—the same company that had worked for Leave.EU in the very early stages of its “Brexit” campaign— was the big data company Cambridge Analytica. According to the CEO Alexander Nix: “Pretty much every message that Trump put out was data-driven.”

Cambridge Analytica seems to build it data analysis on work from psychologist Michal Kosinski, who worked at Cambridge University. In 2012, he proved that on the basis of an average of 68 Facebook “likes” by a user, it was possible to predict their skin color (with 95 percent accuracy), their sexual orientation (88 percent accuracy), and their affiliation to the Democratic or Republican party (85 percent). But it didn’t stop there. Intelligence, religious affiliation, as well as alcohol, cigarette and drug use, could all be determined. From the data it was even possible to deduce whether someone’s parents were divorced. You can test yourself on the university’s website Aply Magic Sauce.

The method was based on the standard technique of psychometrics called “Big Five.” These are: openness (how open you are to new experiences?), conscientiousness (how much of a perfectionist are you?), extroversion (how sociable are you?), agreeableness (how considerate and cooperative you are?) and neuroticism (are you easily upset?). Based on these dimensions—also known as OCEAN —you  can make a relatively accurate assessment of the kind of a person – including their needs and fears, and how they are likely to behave.

In the article Nix explains how his company works. Cambridge Analytica buys personal data from a range of different sources, like land registries, automotive data, shopping data, bonus cards, club memberships, what magazines you read, what churches you attend. In the US, almost all personal data is for sale at data brokers. Cambridge Analytica aggregates this data with the electoral rolls of the Republican party and online data and calculates a Big Five personality profile. Digital footprints suddenly become real people with fears, needs, interests, and residential addresses.

Trump’s striking inconsistencies, his much-criticized fickleness, and the resulting array of contradictory messages, suddenly turned out to be his great asset: a different message for every voter.

The Democrats did similar things, but there is no evidence that they relied on psychometric profiling. Cambridge Analytica, however, divided the US population into 32 personality types, and focused on just 17 states.

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Written by the two German journalists Hannes Grassegger and Mikael Krogerusand first published in Das Magazin