Yesterday I went onto YouTube and was served up a Tory election campaign advert at the start of a video I wanted to watch. It attempted to discredit Corbyn by depicting him as a supporter of terrorists such as the IRA, and hence a security risk. Material from interviews with him had been taken out of context and crudely edited together. It was like the work of an inept right wing Cassetteboy and smacked of desperation.
What made me laugh was where the ad was placed: on the video for a Novelist track. Novelist is one of the current rising stars of grime music. So the Tories are now trying to promote their party by hitching onto a predominantly working class, predominantly black, anti-establishment, anti-police urban youth culture.
The Tory’s algorithms must have missed the whole #Grime4Corbyn movement, and the fact that in 2016 Novelist dropped Street Politician, a track spitting white hot rage against the government and the police. Its chorus is a loop of David Cameron’s voice repeating over and over “keeping people safe is the first duty of government”. Think NWA’s Fuck Tha Police updated for generation Brexit.
Targeting an anti-Corbyn advert via a Novelist video is like trying to flog the Communist Manifesto in Fortnum and Mason. Who out there searching for grime vids would be tempted to vote for Theresa May on the basis of badly produced scaremongering about Corbyn? Most grime fans will be too young even to have have any memories of the IRA. Maybe the bots missed the sarcasm of the Cameron sample, reading it as a straightforward call for tougher policing.
There has been a lot of debate recently about the use of big data to influence elections. Both the Leave and Trump campaigns have claimed that part of their success was due to using data analytics to target adverts tailored to appeal to specific groups of undecided voters. For the 2017 election, the Tories reportedly hired social media experts (so we haven’t had enough of experts after all) including Craig Elder, Tom Edmonds, and Jim Messina. It has been claimed that “All three are highly rated for their ability to target adverts to specific demographic segments.”
But it wouldn’t take much AI to figure out that I am not remotely in the Tory swing voter demographic. I work in a university education faculty, a position from which supporting the Conservatives would be an act of self-harm; I’m on the Guardian website every day; I’m forever tweeting my dismay at May; my YouTube searches are mostly for 90s dance music and minimal techno. I’d need a lobotomy to vote Tory.
Is this the best they can do? Perhaps artificial unintelligence is to be expected from a party whose leader would struggle to pass the Turing test.