Thanks to cvirtue for pointing me at this impressive piece of reportage from The Guardian, published a few days ago.
I won't kid you: this is long, dense, and hard to quite absorb. But it's one of the most important articles I've seen this year. In it, they dug into the details of why Britain voted to leave the EU, when all the polling had indicated a narrow win for the Remain side.
Slightly to my surprise, this story is not primarily about Russia, although there are hints of their involvement. Rather, this is the story of a couple of rather shadowy military-tied companies named Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ, and an American billionaire named Robert Mercer, doing what appear to be some pragmatic experiments in just how far you can sway a populace simply by crunching the data and manipulating them directly. And yes, Steve Bannon is right at the heart of the whole thing, as the sometime VP of Cambridge Analytica.
This is a story about Brexit rather than Trump, but they don't shy away from drawing the connections there: indeed, this is one of the first times I've seen direct connections between those stories, rather than claims that they reflected some sort of zeitgeist.
I can't say I've digested all of it yet, but the general takeaway seems to be that this is an example of weaponized propaganda, being driven by the American corporate world as much as anywhere. And the evidence of last year is that, yes, it can tilt the playing field at least a few critical percent.
Of course, last week also had the comforting news of the French election, where these tactics (deployed late in the game) seem to have entirely failed. That suggests that this stuff can't entirely swing the game -- Le Pen was losing badly, and she still lost badly. But in a close election (which describes damned near everything at the national level in the US nowadays), it can be solidly effective.
Bookmark it, read it, and stick it in the back of your mind. We can't let it distract too much from the Russiagate scandal, but this is a strong indication that the Kremlin are by no means the only bad guys here. If we're going to be effective in fixing things, we need to understand the full scope of the battlefield...