In my 2007 DEFCON presentation I made a brief reference to "active" vs "passive" devices in data mining and manipulating mental states. It starts at the 32 minute mark of this video:
Just re-watched this. Wow, I really hit this one out of the park. I went into more detail than I remembered and predicted a misuse like election hacking.
Here's a diagram of how an actual hack could work:
You define a target group which have certain concepts (memes) in common. A political action group on Facebook, for instance. You set up a monitor to gauge conversation and you set up an actor (bot) to inject (influence) conversation. The monitor watches for a "diffraction", a moment when an event causes the group to suddenly refocus (i.e. re-allocate) their mental bandwidth. Here's an example of a diffraction:
For instance, when the pope died, people shifted their everyday mental activity to thoughts about the pope. A diffraction is usually temporary but mental bandwidth is in flux, so it can be captured by other ideas. It indicates a weakened mental immune system which can be infected.
The actor injects gateway keywords and phrases to walk the group incrementally towards the desired memes. It's like a gateway drug. It's very difficult to get a Republican to become a Democrat by just shoving opposing ideas in their face. Memes surround themselves with anti-memes to prevent displacement by competing memes. The trick is an incremental shift of group sentiment over time, so anti-memes aren't triggered.
In 2007 I executed a model like this in Seattle on an alternative lifestyle group of about 500 to 1000 people. I was mostly interested in the velocity and vectors of injected memes but I got more than I bargained for. If you've read some of my other entries, this is part of the Dominique Mainon story and her coven of witches as well as internet manipulation.
This is also what I did in My Most Audacious Hack, an attempt to shift economic ideology in 2008. Smart capitalists would have instituted a 28/32-hour workweek to rebalance incomes but today's capitalists are dumber than the ones in 1934 (who fixed unemployment with a 40-hour workweek and child labor laws), and set the stage for today's unrest.
This process could be largely automated, hundreds of thousands of instances spun up, each one influencing 100 to 1000 people in a very specific, customized manner for that group. The hardest part is deriving the proper gateway phrases, gauging their impact, order of use, etc.
This concept isn't just applicable to elections. It also applies to stochastic terrorism, the deliberate exposure of marginal people to radical ideas to foster terrorist acts like we've been seeing for the past few months.