The outcome of the forthcoming Bundestag election has not only been decided by posters, events and television debates. Those who want to score points among the voters must address them personally and offer solutions for individual problems. The US election has shown that a speech-based approach allows a new quality of influence on electoral decisions. We explain whether similar strategies also pose a threat in Germany and whether we can defend ourselves against it.
If you are familiar with an article from the Swiss magazine “Das Magazin”, Donald Trumps surprising election victory can be traced back to one thing: the systematic evaluation of online data and a tailor-made voter approach. “Our election campaign will be as modern as never before in 2017”, as CDU and Junge Union write. And former SPD secretary general Katarina Barley announced that her party was planning the most modern election campaign ever. Are American practices threatening us?
The US Internet election campaign, especially by Donald Trump, was roughly based on two strategies: psychometry and targeting.
Fans of the “Schwarzwaldklinik” series are rather conservative, while followers of “The Walking Dead” are generally more concerned about immigration. This may sound weird, but statistically, such generalizations are strikingly frequent. Behind this is the so-called psychometry procedure. After that the character image of a person is determined by five different factors:
Personality can be derived through targeted tests, but also through the daily online behavior. Not only Facebook-Likes, but also online purchases, visits to web pages as well as movement and communication patterns allow astonishing accurate conclusions. According to the psychometrist Michal Kosinski, one can conclude from 68 data points of a person, like visited sites, surfing times and purchase habits already with 95-percent accuracy on their skin color. Almost the same are the hit rates for sexual orientation (88 percent accuracy) and political attitudes (85 percent accuracy). But also intelligence, religious affiliation, alcohol, cigarette and drug consumption were exactly calculated.
Broad target groups such as women over 40 or residents of a particular small town are associated with high scatter losses. On the other hand, it is more promising to define small groups on the basis of personality profiles and to address them in a targeted manner. This would make possible, for example, to search for older, conservative swing voter from Berlin who are dissatisfied with their life situation, or for young environmentalists in Hamburg. In the next step, tailor-made election messages are formulated for the most important groups, in order to specifically manipulate them. According to “Das Magazin” (03.12.16), Trump exactly puts on this tactic. His team, for example, after the third Clinton-Trump debate, sent 175,000 speeches of his arguments tailored to different target groups, including via Facebook. Thus he gave the impression that he would speak to every man out of his soul by announcing exactly what many expected.
Can all this be transferred to the German election campaign at all? Our CEO, Christian Bennefeld, is well aware of this: “Every Internet user now has comprehensive personality profiles available, which can also be used for election manipulation.” In Germany, we have stricter data protection laws on paper – but they are not worth of anything. “Clearly spoken, users like Google and Facebook give green light for a person-specific total monitoring by the agreement of the terms and conditions.
In the course of time these profiles, which politicians are interested in, are thus comprehensively and unambiguously assigned to individual persons and groups of persons. In principle, it is easily possible for parties to collect such personality profiles on a large scale. For this purpose, however, they have to gain access to the data – and this is only possible via the data collectors!
“The popularity of individual parties in the Bundestag election will not possibly influence it decisively, but one or other percentage point – perhaps the decisive one – can already make a difference,” says Bennefeld.
The target group is identified by micro-targeting and “filter bubbles”. They can be manipulated by showing only what is presented in the almost unrestricted range of messages, opinions, things, what gets their approval and what satisfies them. Anything that could provoke criticism or its contradiction is blocked. An almost prefabricated opinion is offered which they only need to connect to.
In fact, the German parties are increasingly focusing on the personal conversation at the doorstep. Sounds old fashioned, but it’s not that far from the “modern” Internet. The electoral assistants usually know exactly with whom they are dealing with beforehand. Whether conservative or rather left, single or family fathers, well-earners, unemployed or pensioners – before ringing the doorbell they have the right topics ready. “Not only Internet professionals have opportunities to counter this profile,” advises our CEO.
An effective and user-friendly solution is our eBlocker: The smart device is plugged into the router in just a few minutes and automatically prevents the tapping of personal data streams on all websites. And the best: The protection works without any software installation on all devices, whether it is a PC, smartphone, tablet or game console.Back to Category Overview