The key to election success, hacking your serotonin.
By Philip Ingram MBE
As the general election campaigns build, what techniques are the political parties likely to use in order to persuade you, the voter, to back them? In 2017 the Conservative Party took a catch phrase and rammed it down every channel possible and when people became bored with it or laughed at it, they rammed it some more. “Strong and Stable,” can never be used in a political context again.
Labour however, won the young vote, heavily influenced by social media by coming up with catch phrases like “for the many, not the few,” and promises to throw endless amounts of money at everything that would stimulate an emotional response, the NHS, education, the railways and more. These were messages that people wanted to share, they struck a chord with their values; or did they?
There is a fascinating paper, written in 2014 by Victor Danciu at the Bucharest University of Economic Studies, with the title, ‘Manipulative marketing: persuasion and manipulation of the consumer through advertising.’ What has this got to do with serotonin or election campaigns I hear you ask?
It is that behavioural response that is triggered by the release of chemicals in the brain, with serotonin being one of them alongside dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. These are the “feel good quartet” of compounds responsible for our happiness. Political campaigns, like any marketing activities are designed to stimulate these compounds.
Serotonin is released when you feel significant or important. Dopamine motivates us to take action toward goals, desires, and needs, and gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them. Oxytocin creates intimacy, trust, and builds healthy relationships and endorphins are released but the body when stimulated in the right way such as laughing, and they help to alleviate anxiety and depression.
Victor Danciu talks of non-manipulative advertising and manipulative advertising. He says, “non-manipulative persuasion through advertising consists in simply presenting the product or service, in the best possible light. This type of advertising is truthful, that is the facts presented are real, the information is giving in a clear, logical manner, in order to convince by informing.” Just think, how many political campaigns have you seen that would fit into this bracket?
He describes manipulative advertising as, “deceitful advertising which uses facts, but deceptive facts. It uses confusing, misleading or blatantly untrue statements when promoting a product.” Remember the product in an election is a perception, a belief, a political party or an individual. In 2017 the independent newspaper reported that, “ Nigel Farage was forced to admit the Westminster terror attack was unrelated to immigration, following comments he made on Fox News that appeared to link the two.” Remember in politics, every public comment by every politician is designed to send a message, it is marketing and advertising, and this was manipulative advertising.
Manipulative advertising uses facts, arguments in a way designed to have an effect on consumers emotions in a misleading and deceptive manner. Photographs are photoshopped to make the subject look more appealing, the right music is added to stimulate an emotion and humour is used in some adverts to make people laugh. All of these are stimulating the “feel good quartet” and when that happens it is natural to think positively about what is being offered.
In a similar way emotions can be stimulated when negative arguments are pushed out like cuts in police numbers, austerity, hospital waiting times. The key here is not that these are being highlighted, but how they are highlighted.
A full tool set of linguistic, visual, auditory techniques are used in order to influence the thinking of the person receiving the messages. These are not always obvious, Danciu says, “the most important and effective linguistic manipulation is that of subliminal advertising which aims at the subliminal seduction of the customer.”
Dr Michael Kosinski who gained his PhD from Cambridge University, specialised in Big Data. He has shown that analysing a big data profiles on individuals can give insights as to how people think, what they like, what they don’t like and even potentially how they probably vote. This technique is called psychodemographic profiling and he explains how this can be used to develop targeted marketing or messaging, designed to drive a behavioural response in an individual.
Now, combine Danciu’s research with Artificial Intelligence or AI, to ensure the messaging is delivered in the way you want it with the messages you want to hear using language that has had an impact on you before and that is what Dr Kosinski describes.
It is no accident that health professionals or recent hospital patients will see more political messaging about the state of the health service or new investment coming. It is no accident that police officers and people in high crime areas will see more political messaging about police cuts, or reinvestment to recruit more police.
In the United States, ahead of the 2020 presidential election, the Trump campaign has already swung into action to prepare to get President Trump e-elected for a second term. His team is building “a digital operation unrivalled by Democrats in its use of data-mining techniques and algorithms,” the Los Angeles Times reported in June.
The Spectator magazine said of the upcoming general election, “the most pivotal campaigning will take place, increasingly the answer is online. Digital campaigning has risen in importance with each election.” “Personal data is now as important a commodity as oil,” Dean Armstrong a leading QC told The Telegraph this year.
Michael Kosinski found in his research, that a basic profile just based on social media likes can predict your behaviours. An advanced profile, based on what websites you visit, what news you read, your job, your politics, your purchases, and more, would mean such a company knows you better than you know yourself. Combine that with the data of your friends and families and an extremely comprehensive understanding of what makes you and your loved ones ‘tick,’ can be known. This type of profiling has already been abused as the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal highlighted.
With the right data, people can be targeted at an individual level in a way they know it will have the biggest psychological effect, utilising the “feel good quartet” again. Most people will say “I haven’t been influenced by anything; I know my own mind.” I just go back to Danciu comment, “the most important and effective linguistic manipulation is that of subliminal advertising which aims at the subliminal seduction of the customer.”
The potential for undue influence is summed up by a caveat the UK’s secret intelligence agency, MI6, put on many of their human intelligence reports, referred to as CX reports. The caveat says, “this individual may be trying to influence as much as inform.” Influence operations are centuries old, what makes them personal is the ability for computers to develop such detailed profiles and thereby predict behavioural reactions to certain stimuli. Be mindful for your serotonin being hacked!
Kim and Donald , who got trumped?
The historic meeting in Singapore between Kim Jong Un the North Korean dictatorial leader and Donald J Trump the quoted leader of the free world is certainly raining more than one or two interested eyebrows around the globe today. Was it Kim and Donald playing their game of Top Trump if so who got trumped?
2 Hours after the 13-second historic handshake between the 2 leaders they signed a Joint Statement that stated:
- The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
- The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
- Reaffirming the April 27,2018Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
- The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
The text of the statement is not as strong as Bill Clinton got in November 1994, but nothing came of that agreement and nothing in the Joint Statement is as groundbreaking as President Trump made out in his press conference. However, the one positive is that it is a start and like eating an elephant, you have to do it one bite at a time.
President Trump’s post-summit press conference was interesting, he said some truisms and the most profound was, “The past does not have to define the future – our adversaries can become friends.” This is something politicians across the globe should listen to and in particular Sinn Fein and the DUP in Northern Ireland.
However, try as he might he had some veiled threats pointed at Chairman Kim when he said, “Chairman Kim has an incredible opportunity to seize…” and highlighted, “I had 300 sanctions, very big and very powerful ones, I didn’t apply last week as I thought it would be disrespectful….” Trying to suggest that he was leading the talks. Chairman Kim won’t like that.
There are lots of things that Chairman Kim will like. He hasn’t actually made any new concessions. The suspension of joint exercises between the US military and South Korea has been a long-standing desire and he has been given that assurance, without the South Koreans having been informed apparently.
More importantly to Chairman Kim, he has been given legitimacy and it is based on his possession of Nuclear weapons. He will see the possession of his nuclear weapons as the reason he has been able to get the US President to come to meet him, the reason why he believes the world now sees him as being at the top table alongside President Trump.
So, what is Trump’s motivation? President Trump genuinely wants to be seen as a good guy, as someone who when he threatens another nation, they back down and he gets the glory. He sees North Korea as an opportunity, an opportunity that may see the world moves closer to peace, an opportunity for him to grandstand on the world stage, an opportunity for him to continue his rhetoric against his predecessors, an opportunity to achieve something on the scale Obama did when he found and had Osama Bin Laden killed, an opportunity to have his ego stroked with the smell of a Nobel Prize. He is a bit like Muttley in ‘Chase the Pidgeon’ when offered a medal by Dick Dastardly (now I’m showing my age).
What does Chairman Kim want? Legitimacy and an easing of sanctions so he can increase his wealth, he wants to be seen as an equal on the world stage. He has got most of that already! China and Russia are likely to increase sanction busting trade relatively quickly to ensure they remain in favour with Chairman Kim and in the knowledge that to preserve the negotiations, America will turn a blind eye.
He also wants to court increased favour with other like-minded world leaders. He admires Xi Jinping who he will see as a grandfatherly figure and is pleased with President Putin, after all as Trump stated Xi has been sanction busting already and Putin has put a fast internet connection into North Korea. The one thing he doesn’t want is to give up the very weapons that have put him on the world stage, but he knows he can string negotiations along, eking out concessions and he can hide technology whilst putting a show of destroying it on.
So, who are the other players and what do they want? President Moon Jae-in of South Korea was elected on a promise of seeking Korean reunification. He wants peace on the peninsula and all Korean people to be free. He has been the warm-up act for Trump and has arguably contributed most to facilitate the current position and cooperation with Kim Jong Un.
Xi Jinping is next, he wants the US focus off his border region, he doesn’t want the prospect of a nuclear conflict near his borders and certainly doesn’t want a regional conflict of any kind as he is not ready yet. He wants the US military presence in the South China Seas area to decrease rather than the escalating presence with 3 carrier groups that has happened because of Kim Jon Un’s activities. Xi has developing ambitions around the Spratley and Paracel islands that he wants to be able to get on with quietly.
Xi Jinping wants to strengthen his hand in negotiating away any trade barriers with the US and wants his long-term plan to progress without interference. By positioning himself as a “Grandfather” figure to Kim Jong Un, keeping Chairman Kim sweet with trade, he can keep President Trump sweet with promises of keeping Chairman Kin in line. It is not by accident that Chairman Kim went to meet Xi Jinping twice before this meeting.
Then we have the final player. One not immediately associated with North Korea, but one who has been developing his relationship with Xi Jinping and with Kim Jong Un, but we don’t know why. He keeps popping up in many global scenarios and it is President Putin of Russia. Last year TransTelekom a major Russian telecommunications company that owns one of the world’s largest networks of fibre optic cables and is a full subsidiary of Russian national railway operator, Russian Railways who are owned by the Russian Federation put a fast internet connection into North Korea.
Around the same time, the North Koreans went from having a small nuclear capability with short-range missiles that failed more often than not, to have a hydrogen bomb capability with ICBMs that worked more often than not. None has explained how that technological advance happened so quickly in a country under strict international sanctions.
Meanwhile, in Beijing, Xi Jinping hailed ties with Russia as he held talks with President Putin who was on a state visit ahead of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with the Chinese leader calling Putin his “most intimate friend “and presenting him with the Friendship Medal. The dots start to join up!
We have a new world order developing – and it is those countries who can plan 20+ years out as they have predictable political conditions versus those countries tied to prime ministerial or presidential elections every 5 ish years. Add in a pinch, nay glug of ego with a sniff of Kompromat that may or may not exist and we have a recipe for changing political times.
The Alternative War espoused in JJ Patrick’s book of the same name has just taken on new dimensions. Donald Rumsfeld was so right when he said “you don’t know what you don’t know” and the reality is you can’t see it unless you open your eyes. So in the game of Top Trump, Kim trumped Donald but Xi and Vladimir are yet to play.
Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer who has served in the Middle East and Cyprus and visited the Far East, having recently walked the path in Singapore the 2 world leaders took. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE