Christopher Wylie burst on to the international scene last year in a series of explosive articles in The Observer and The New York Times. Here was a charismatic, gay, vegan whistleblower for the digital age. Pushed by journalists, academics and tastemakers as the central node in a networked international conspiracy, the Wylie story supposedly showed that democracy could be ‘hacked’ by a coterie of dark money billionaires, Breitbart editors, Russian agents and tech weirdos. It also neatly explained away the problem that so many people voted for Brexit and Trump.
Overnight, Wylie, ‘the data scientist who came in from the cold’ was a paradigm-shifter; a ‘genius’, somebody ‘terrifying to behold’, and a new entry on the TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world.
In a world with low standards for critical thought and even lower standards for internet stardom, Christopher Wylie had created a powerful personal brand. This week he leveraged it into a new job with the Swedish fashion retailer H&M. Wylie has voiced very advanced and decided views on the harvesting of internet users data in the last year:
‘It was a grossly unethical experiment because you are playing with an entire country, the psychology of an entire country without their consent or awareness… It’s like Nixon on steroids.’
It just happens to be a pleasing and fortunate circumstance for him that his new job at H&M will involve using ‘data analytics and artificial intelligence to better understand what its customers want.’ TIME magazine’s panegyric to Wylie argued that ‘He has given us a chance to do something about [unfair data harvesting] before it’s too late.’ But the system Wylie has inveighed against on a weekly basis in quality newspapers turns out to be a system he is quite comfortable finding a position in. It’s hypocrisy on steroids.
You might have expected reporters to treat Wylie and his ‘revelations’ with more caution. A cursory glance at his career suggests a character out of a picaresque novel, not a sinister le Carré narrative. Using his wits and his gob, Wylie has spent the last decade trying to sell suspect data practices to various politicians and political campaigns in Canada, Britain and the United States. More often than not he was told to get lost, or when he did find work in politics, he was quickly found to be a charlatan. Former colleagues were scathing: ‘Chris Wylie thinks he’s Edward Snowden, when he’s actually Walter Mitty.’
After the shock of Brexit and Trump there has been a conspiratorial turn in liberal thinking. Unable to deal with verifiable explanations for these events, liberals have seized on the Wylie brain-rot (‘Trump is like a pair of Uggs or Crocs basically’ according to him) rather than face their own role in these events. Apparently Facebook posts and fake news conned millions of jackasses into voting against their own interests; never mind that the exact same data operations were pioneered by Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012.
This insidious nonsense ought to be sent to the slaughterhouse in a covered trailer. Instead, the people who espouse it are the toast of the liberal world. Paradoxically this leaves some of the world’s finest news organizations as the biggest hawkers of fake news.