Mindf*ck, Inside Cambridge Analytica’s Plot to Break the World by Christopher Wylie:
Mindf*ck – what a f*cking title.
Also, forewarning – your mind literally will be f*cked by the time you have finished reading.
“Mindf*ck is a terrifying joyride through the new corridors of power. Plunge deep inside the wave of extremism that is sweeping the globe and discover why Brexit is only the beggining. Hostile actors are coming for your data, and they want to control what you think”
As soon as I found out that Profile Books would be publishing Christopher Wylie’s personal account of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, I knew I had to get my hands on it. Published on the 8th October 2019 it went straight to the top of my TBR and I had finished by November 1st. With the next British election announced for the 12th of December – just one month away – ‘Mindf*ck’ feels like an incredibly timely and important book.
This book takes the reader on the entire spectrum of emotions, from deep empathy with Christopher, to absolute terror at how democracy has been changed forever and is now perpetually at risk.
Christopher Wylie feels like an exceptionally relatable author. Throughout the entire book I felt like I understood him, and his confusion at how he ended up where he did. Key to this I feel, is the tone on the book. Although this is a deeply academic subject, and Wylie does not shy away from that, he is also prepared to have a bit of a laugh with the reader. Early on he says “Bannon and I were clearly on the same wavelength, and the conversation that day flowed so naturally, it felt as if we were flirting – but not, because that would be gross”. I LOVE that Wylie uses phrasing like that throughout the book – his personality really shines through.
Another way that Wylie connects with the reader is humility, through the book he acknowledges the vast array of support he received. Additionally, in the Acknowledgement section he says “I want to especially acknowledge all the women who supported me in this journey. It was women who made this story possible”. For me as a reader, this really helped transform Wylie into a person, instead of viewing him as a monster.
Maybe the main reason that I feel empathy towards Wylie is because he is so young. He is a similar age to myself, so I fully understand the sometimes naive belief in the strength of a great idea and trust in authority.
“It is amazing how easy it is to get drawn into something you are interested in. We were a British military contractor, working on big ideas, with a growing team of mostly gay and mostly liberal data-scientists and social researchers. So why had we started working with this eclectic mix of hedge fund managers, computer scientists and a guy who ran a nice right-wing website? …. I did not see the contradiction in what I was going”
Although I massively empathise with Wylie that doesn’t make the subject of the book any less terrifying or nauseous.
One of the main findings of Cambridge Analytica’s work is that “when respondents were angry, their need for complete and rational explanations was also significantly reduced” – this is how they poisoned elections on both sides of the Atlantic.
Make them angry, make them scared, feed them lies, and watch it go viral.
We have seen the effects of this first-hand here in the UK. We’re 3 years post-Brexit vote, none the closer to solving the issue, but more divided, more angry, more frightened than we have been in decades. With our second general election in as many years only a mere month away, I am genuinely concerned for the legitimacy and sanctity of our democracy. Our electoral laws are not fit for purpose, but what have we changed? What is there to stop the same interference?
“Data crime can often behave like pollution – it’s everywhere generally, but nowhere specifically”
Now, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t somewhat cynical about this book. I can’t help but feel like there has been some tidying of the edges to paint Wylie in a slightly more positive light. HOWEVER, I feel like this account is so important to help us move forward democratically that everyone should read it.
At one point Wylie mentions “I felt for sure it was something that people would be talking about for decades” – I’m not going to disagree with him, but I can’t help but feel it will be for a different reason…
‘Mindf*ck’ in Facts:
Author: Christopher Wylie
First Published Date: 2019
Publishing House: Profile Books, Random House