MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – After photos surfaced of suspended Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix with President Rodrigo Duterte's campaign insiders, Duterte's social media director said he remembers Nix's talk but denies working with Cambridge Analytica's parent company, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL).
Jose Gabriel “Pompee” La Viña, who helped craft Duterte's social media strategy for his 2016 presidential campaign, was one of those pictured with Nix when the latter visited the country in 2015 for "research."
During Nix's visit, he also delivered a talk about new techniques in election campaigns. At that time, Nix was the director (and still is) of SCL.
La Viña said that was the only time he ever spoke to Nix.
“Honestly, I like what I heard from him but we couldn’t afford a consultant like him,” he told Rappler.
Despite being pictured next to Nix, he said he didn’t realize it was the notorious political consultant, partly because “I’m bad at names.”
“I didn’t know he was famous or maybe he wasn’t yet, but I was definitely impressed by his presentation,” he said.
He also said he was just invited to the event by the National Press Club (NPC), which hosted the event with Nix.
Also in the photo with La Viña was his cousin Peter Tiu La Viña, who was Duterte's campaign spokesperson and head of media. The photo was posted on Tiu La Viña's Facebook page. (READ: Did Cambridge Analytica use Filipinos' Facebook data to help Duterte win?)
When Duterte became president, Tiu La Viña was appointed head of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA). He resigned from his post after about 4 months, following allegations of corruption.
Former journalist and NPC president at that time, Joel Egco, was also in the photo. Egco now works under the Duterte administration as a Presidential Communications Undersecretary.
Open for all?
La Viña said the event was open for all – not just the Duterte camp.
“What I recall was they were presenting him to media in the hope of getting clients,” he told Rappler, but also admitted he “didn’t know anyone from other campaigns there.”
Malou Tiquia, a political strategist in the Philippines, however, told Rappler she did not get any invite from the NPC to attend the "open" event with Nix.
Tiquia handled the campaigns of Duterte's opponent Jejomar Binay in the 2016 elections.
La Viña did admit however, that Nix played a role in the strategy he used for Duterte’s social media campaign.
“Our interest was networking with NPC but I think the short talk of Nix influenced my work,” he said.
Specifically, La Viña said his main takeaway was that “emotions determined election results.”
“I picked up on the idea of elections being driven by emotions. And also that was what was happening on the Facebook battlefield,” he said of Nix’s presentation.
“That’s why a month later, when I sent my strategy inputs in [to the Duterte camp], it is obvious he had made an impact.”
But La Viña vehemently denied learning to use psychographics from Nix’s presentation.
“I was at the abstracted level of emotions barely experimenting with psychographics,” he said.
Psychographic profiling and behavioral microtargeting were the precise techniques used by Cambridge Analytica in the Trump campaign.
The company used data collected online via Facebook to segment voters by their personalities and behavior. The information was then used to target Facebook users on content specifically tailored for them.
In the talk that La Viña and the Duterte camp attended, Nix talked about psychographic profiling in the lead up to the elections.
“Election campaigning will never be the same again due to the advent of cutting-edge technology," Nix was quoted as saying.
"The traditional and conventional methods that have been employed through all the elections in the last century may still work, but they will be unlike new strategies and tactics that are products of behavioral microtargeting, psychographic profiling, predictive analytics and many other modern tools."
Nix has been suspended by Cambridge Analytica as recordings emerged in which he boasted of his data company playing an expansive role in Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, doing all of its research, analytics, as well as digital and television campaigns.
Influence in the PH
While La Viña insisted he personally did not use psychographics, data suggests it was used in the 2016 Philippine elections, months before the US elections took place.
In a post by Facebook's Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer on Wednesday, April 4, he said that about 1,175,870 Filipino users may have had their Facebook information improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.
The Philippines is behind only the United States in terms of the number of people whose data was compromised.
Despite continued denials from the Duterte camp, SCL itself has also claimed it was involved in Philippine elections.
A report by Quartz on Thursday, April 5, said it obtained SCL company documents from 2013. Back then, the Philippines was already listed as one of the places where they had a client.
“Cambridge Analytica and its now-suspended CEO Alexander Nix have boasted about influencing elections in Southeast Asia and elsewhere," the article said.
"Documents from around 2013 obtained by Quartz touting Cambridge Analytica’s predecessor SCL contain a blurb stating that in the Philippines, SCL helped rebrand an incumbent candidate in a national election as a ‘strong, no-nonsense man of action.’” – Rappler.com