Christopher Wylie, who helped found the voter-profiling firm Cambridge Analytica, said that clothing preferences had been key to helping Steve Bannon build his insurgency. Today at a conference in Britain organized by the fashion industry website The Business of Fashion, Mr. Wylie explained that clothing preferences were a key metric for Cambridge Analytica, whose business was constructing and selling voter profiles drawn from Facebook data.
Fashion data was used to build AI models to help Steve Bannon build his insurgency and build the alt-right, he said.
Preferences in clothing and music are the leading indicators of political leaning, he said. The narratives of the great American brands, which play on the myths of the West and the (mostly male) frontier are also the narratives of the Republican right. Those who choose to spend on the former are susceptible to the latter. He mentioned Wrangler and L.L. Bean in particular as brands that Cambridge Analytica aligned with conservative traits. (Kenzo, by contrast, which is designed by Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, the avant-garde duo behind the retail store Opening Ceremony, appealed to liberals, he suggested.)
Fashion brands are really useful in producing algorithms to find out how people think and how they feel, Mr. Wylie said.
Assessing value systems, and goals and priorities, via the clothes people wear has been a part of professional life for years. The dress for the job you want adage is an expression of fashion profiling. Calling someone a Gucci person or a Celine person is fashion profiling; opting for Levis over Rag & Bone makes a statement about associations and history and opens one up to fashion profiling albeit in a manner that generally leaves much unsaid. Cambridge Analytica preyed on that human reality via algorithm, using data from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users without their permission.
Mr. Wylies revelations suggest a more informed and aggressive use of the fashion data that was regularly mined by political candidates themselves during the 2016 primary. Purchases made through each candidates online store were used to identify potential issues that could galvanize a voter. For example, if an individual bought an infant onesie from Hillary Clintons campaign website, it was a clue that said person might be influenced by emails about maternal health. If someone bought a beer mug from Rand Paul, he or she might respond to emails about saving manufacturing in America.
Image courtesy of nytimes.com