He’s the gay pink-haired vegan who hung out with Steve Bannon and major Republican donors. He’s the Canadian wunderkind who dropped out of school at 16 to work for the leader of the Canadian opposition party. He’s the bitchy, prescient, intellectually dazzling amoralist who may or may not regret creating Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that helped get Donald Trump elected as President of the United States.
He’s 28-year-old Christopher Wylie, and he’s either a hero or an opportunist, or both.
In a new interview with The Guardian, Wylie has come forward as the man who provided the tools that Cambridge Analytica used to rile up angry white conservatives on Facebook in the months leading up to the 2016 election, thus inflicting psychological warfare on the American electorate. And while Wylie developed those tools after years of independent study and experimentation with data analytics, social psychology, and social media, he was only able to bring those tools to a wider audience by, at one crucial point, partnering with Steve Bannon and a right-wing billionaire who wanted to reverse the LGBT rights movement. It was through his meetings with Bannon and the billionaire, Robert Mercer, that he was ultimately able to create Cambridge Analytica.
After reading through The Guardian’s profile of Wylie, you’d be forgiven for labeling him as amoral or solely motivated by his own ideas — a motormouthed intellectual opportunist using any means necessary to raise his ideological profile, in this case an interview with The Guardian. After all, his friends have described him as “Machiavellian.” But you could just as easily see him as a young man who regrets the mistakes he made as a kid — albeit mistakes that changed the course of human history.
There’s no doubt that Wylie knew he was supporting and working with the right. When he first met Bannon, the latter man made no bones about his sympathies for the country’s “oppressed” conservative young white men. Wylie even described him as “smart,” and “the only straight man [he’d] ever talked to about intersectional feminist theory.”
Bannon also told Wylie that he thought gays like Wylie and Milo Yiannopolous would encourage other gays to follow in their alt-right footsteps — and Wylie accepted this as unbothersome. (Bannon, of course, had grossly misjudged all gays to be as callous and as directionless as Yiannopolous.)
But now Wylie is coming forward and attempting to right his own wrongs. By revealing his identity via The Guardian, he’s breaking a non-disclosure agreement and risking being sued. He’s also bravely subjecting his pink ‘do to the judgment of gays across the country. (We approve.)
However, he’s also exposing the behemoth known as Facebook as being a major, almost criminal, liar. Just a month ago, Facebook’s UK director of policy, Simon Milner, told a select committee inquiry into fake news that Cambridge had never acquired any Facebook data, but Wylie has shared with The Guardian a letter from Facebook’s own lawyers admitting that Cambridge Analytica has acquired Facebook’s data illegitimately.
Additionally, Wylie is exposing that Cambridge Analytica engaged in likely illegal activity in its attempts to trawl the psychological profiles of American and British Facebook users. (Most amusingly, Wylie tells The Guardian about a Cambridge Analytica employee who calls himself “Dr. Spectre” and doubles as an associate professor at a major Russian university. It sounds straight out of a James Bond movie.) Oh yeah, that’s another thing: Wylie is revealing that Cambridge Analytica shared all of its most cutting-edge psychological profiling techniques with a major Russian corporation that reported directly to Putin. We’re sure that had NO bearing on the 2016 election.
Thus, Wylie is at least helping to turn the tide against the villains — and the Republican billionaire backing them — as they attempt to erode our relationships, our well-being, and our democracies.
“I think it’s worse than bullying,” Wylie tells The Guardian. “Because people don’t necessarily know it’s being done to them. At least bullying respects the agency of people because they know.”
But there’s no doubt that if Wylie had just turned down that fateful meeting with Mercer and Bannon, we possibly wouldn’t even be in this mess.
As he puts it, “I just think if I’d taken literally any other job, Cambridge Analytica wouldn’t exist.”
Whether or not the world forgives him, we can at least be glad he’s on our side now.