How Silicon Valley caused Brexit: A theory

21 Mar|Tom Hodgkinson

Trump adviser and donor Perter Thiel, the Facebook and PayPal billlionaire

Brexit would not have happened without Facebook’s behaviour modification technology, writes Tom Hodgkinson

As you know, the Idler is not a political magazine in the sense that the Spectator or the New Statesman are political. We have no party allegiance and if anything retreat from the whole sorry affair, as the Epicureans of ancient Athens were taught to do. We believe in the power of philosophy and art and friendship to improve our everyday lives, not politics.

Having said that we can’t help but survey the last two years of British politics and weep. My own attitude to Brexit was: yes, there are problems with the EU and no one likes seeing self-important officials eating complicated canapés and drinking fine wines in glassy tower blocks in Brussels, all paid for by our taxes. But the alternative will cause mayhem, so it would be better to campaign for reform from within the EU rather than having a hissy fit and leaving it.

In the same way, we should maybe have stayed in the Roman church in 1535 and attempted to reform it through tact and diplomacy, rather than smashing up everything we’d been working on for the previous five hundred years – i.e. the cathedrals, monasteries, churches and charitable society.

But there is an anarchist inside all of us, and it is this anarchist that Boris and the Leavers exploited.

It was easy enough to do. A billionaire called Peter Thiel, a hard right libertarian and Trump supporter, had invested £500,000 dollars in a social network called Facebook way back in 2004, and joined its board. He sold a load of his shares in 2012 for over $1 billion but is still a board member. It was his money that helped Facebook create a behaviour manipulation system. The Leavers poured money into Peter Thiel’s company and influenced the minds of key voters, the sheep-like masses on Facebook. This much has been shown by the indefatigable Carole Cadwalladr at the Observer. In the US, something similar happened and voters sent Trump to the White House. Did the millions of dollars spent on Facebook advertising help? Probably!

Now governments are starting to crack down on the power of companies like Facebook and Google. But they are about fifteen years too late. Obama, David Cameron and practically everyone else myopically allowed Big Tech to do whatever they wanted. They were afraid of being labelled “Luddite”. The result is that Silicon Valley, aided by us, the easily manipulated people, has destroyed – or “disrupted” to use their annoying word – not only politics but also journalism, childhood, the high street, small businesses, musicians’ incomes, bookshops, record shops, literature, taxi firms, friendship and freedom.

My point is that Brexit would not have happened without Facebook. So instead of blaming the poor manipulated MPs and wimpy prime ministers, blame Peter Thiel and his behaviour modification scam.


These comments were mailed to us after the above piece was sent as a newsletter. We like to publish a selection and reserve the right to edit them for clarity. Feel free to drop us a line with your views. Write to [email protected]. To receive editor Tom Hodgkinson’s free weekly newsletter, click here.

Not true! Living away from the South-East as I now do it is obvious that Brexit has huge support round here from people who believed neither Facebook nor Boris Johnson. Intelligent people, surprisingly: lawyers, teachers, doctors, scientists, economists – yes, economists. When will the cosmopolitan élite realise that, away from the smog, Brexit has deep roots and has nowt to do with social media? This was the line peddled by Laura Kuensberg in her TV documentary a couple of years ago (poor, working-class white northerners who do not know which side their crust is larded or what’s good for them). The Commons is a shambles of occasionally well-meaning but too often self-serving MPs who, like Vince Cable, want to block what the country voted for. But then, of course, we didn’t know what we voted for; had we the special knowledge of the cognoscenti we would have voted Remain.

– Richard WD Coupe

I adore Brexit as the unelected, unelectable, rotten, fascist EU is utterly inflexible and finished. Don’t forget all those glass towers of Babel also in Strasbourg – you could not make it up. 27 countries with 10 minutes to speak, honestly realise this and you will understand the vital importance of Brexit, and the saving of democracy in Europe. They do not even do double book keeping, nor have signed off their record books for 20 years now, and it is our money I am talking about. Thieves on a Putin scale – no we can no longer stand around and just go on paying.

– Corinna Croft

I enjoy reading these emails, even though I do not understand everything as German native speaker. Today I have to write, because I agree with your message! But what are the consequences? You are arguing against Facebook and in the same mail (!) you have a link to the company. That’s not understandable for me.

– Axel Plitt

Why are you Remainers so arrogant and dismissive of other people’s opinions? I have never had a Facebook account. I am young, well educated and voted Leave. Perhaps for your homework you need to write 500 words making a positive case for Brexit such as many of us articulated in the lead up to the vote. This may help remind you that other viewpoints do exist.

– Stephen Montgomery

Your interpretation of the Leave vote is sad, from a usually independent voice. I voted Leave with reluctance, understanding the difficult consequences, as I believe in representative democracy. People died for me to have a vote and it should count. We should be able hold our elected leaders to account. The EU is in the process of breaking our parliamentary democracy and we should mourn its passing.

The EU is an anti democratic deliberately opaque structure, whose success has rested on keeping member states in ignorance of the creeping erosion of their sovereignty, whilst hoping to buy their submission through a variety of social and economic hand outs. Read a history of the EU, or the text of the Maastricht or Lisbon treaties, published on the EU Europa website, or anything written by the Spinelli group of MEPs close to the heart of the Project, and you will soon see that ‘reform’ was not on offer. Indeed, since the referendum the EU has doubled down on efforts to set the scene for a fully United Europe. Read about the recent Aachen treaty between France and Germany and be very worried about the concentration of power into this over mighty European block.

There are some who support this direction of travel, and they at least are honest about their objectives. For those who see value in the continued existence of the UK as a sovereign nation, remaining in the EU is an inconsistent and lazy position to adopt.

As many in parliament think as you do, Remain will eventually prevail… and you should ask yourself what kind of EU you wish to remain in; the kind where MEPs are assured by the Court of Human Rights that to account for their expenses (cE5000 monthly on top of E8000 tax free salary) would infringe their privacy; or where Junkers appoints his own successor (Martin Selmayr) over the protests of the EU’s own watchdog; or where many of the same people who conspired to impoverish Greece during the 2010 euro sovereign debt crisis ( Merkel, Verhofstadt, Junkers, Tusk, et al) ensuring German and French banks where repaid before spreading their liabilities over the other countries in the eurozone, still dominate the European scene.

I could go on. It is a corrupt ideological project which I believe will bring about exactly the rise in extremism we all fear. People without representation tend to rise up eventually, and this rising may take many ugly forms.

Brexit was an opportunity to put the breaks on this ‘European Empire’ (to quote a French finance minister recently on the Today programme) and repatriate powers so that we can run our own society. An opportunity to raise the standard of our elected representatives (sorely lacking) by ensuring they and their policies are accountable to the electorate. An opportunity to encourage the dynamic imaginative changes necessary to address the problems so evident in our communities. To unleash the talents and ambitions of your generation to being about a better world!

Instead, the status quo will prevail (both under Remain or Mrs Mays flawed deal) entrenching protectionist markets, making life easier for big business, (only 6 % of our companies trade with the EU but they are the big ones who will always prefer less friction on borders), making things jollier for the City boys who work in globalised financial markets, making travel smoother for those owning second homes in Tuscany, but really of very little benefit to vast swathes of the rest of the UK. And that’s before counting the toll that access to cheap labour takes on our domestic jobs and investment in training.

The ‘idling’ theme of the Idler does not obviate the need to use your articulate and intelligent voice and fully inform yourself of any subject rather then repeat received judgements. Since tentatively voting Leave (without the influence of Facebook, Instagram or any other social media) I have made a point of reading, at source, as much as I can around the subject of the EU and its treaties. I am now more firmly convinced that leaving it is an essential step. You may not agree but you should base your arguments on genuine investigation rather than casting aspersions on the millions who voted to Leave, and knew full well what Leaving meant, Facebook or no. And for the record every radio and TV outlet was pumping the airways full of Project Fear. And they voted Leave despite this.

There is always a benefit in seeing the other side of an argument. And every so often one changes one’s mind….

– Nicola Keane

I would believe that you were not a political magazine if you quoted less from The Observer and The Guardian and more from The Times and possibly the Telegraph… However, I agree with your comments on Brexit as a reluctant Remainer. Unfortunately I need to add that our MPs generally are in favour of Remain whereas our referendum asked for exit, leading to obvious conflict.

– Paul Bailey

I really disagree with this caricature of Peter Thiel. He’s definitely not a saint, but he has actually been a very individual voice in the Silicon Valley world, and has been something of a thorn in their side for a number of years. He has to be given the credit for biting the hand that’s fed him by criticising Google and Twitter and Facebook and all the other consensus monkeys. To reiterate: not a saint, but not Lex Luthor either.

I write with respect. Please understand that many of us on the Leave side are genuine boho allies with a distaste for mass corporate government, and voted for Leave out of the pastoral (as opposed to statist) tradition of the Left. It was with William Morris and Orwell in mind that I cast my vote and there are millions like me. In the angry caricatures evident in your newsletter and the writings of many others, such individual voices are being silenced and crushed and forgotten. In doing so you contribute to, rather do battle with, the yuppeigeddon that we are all trying to fight.

Time to admit that the Guardianaista left does not at all speak for liberty and free thought. It merely trades on the history of civil rights and reform in order to consolidate a very useful, but insidious, consensus. Anti-Brexit caricatures are merely tools in this propagandist war on the human soul.

I would subscribe if I felt that my worldview was welcome and that I wasn’t paying to be jeered at and insulted. Like many liberal-minded Leave voters, I have been looking for a home, a place of understanding and mutual respect. I am proud of my Leave vote because I feel it was a necessary blow to the smug inevitability of neoliberal consensus. I completely respect someone’s right to disagree, but what is infuriating is the way that many Remainers seek pious absolution for their own privileged and troubled consciences by resorting to generalisation and snobbishness.

Regardless of what you might think to to this email, I am an idler of the old school. I loaf and sing and drink champagne like the best of them, and I don’t need a rubber stamp from Hampstead elites to feel a pride in standing up for bohemianism and free expression. I simply can’t understand why some on the Remain side keep turning this into an ‘us vs them’ ideological battle. Perhaps that cozy consensus matters more to them than genuine liberty of the soul. But I wouldn’t want to resort to caricature.

– James Black

The problem isn’t canapés and alcohol abuse. The EU was designed to be profoundly anti-democratic from the get-go (see, for example Professor Brigid Boyce’s “The democratic deficit of the EU” in, I think, the Hansard Journal for 1994 – and bear in mind she is a Europhile). There was and is absolutely no desire amongst the Eurocrats for meaningful reform: see how they treated David Cameron prior to the referendum. It is probably best that you avoid political comment altogether.

– David Radlett

“The Idler is not a political magazine”… Well, it is now. After this highly political and partisan piece about Brexit. And no, I’m not a Brexiteer and not even from England but from Denmark. But this is not the point, the point is that this is not and Idler piece but a piece of banal politics. You should only have critisised Facebook et al, that is highly Idler relevant, but leave the narrow Brexit discussion to the Guardian.

– Søren Nielsen

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