Cambridge Analytica: our data, not our choice.

Do you ever wonder if technology is spying on you? Do you think that your data is actually personal? Do you actually believe that you make your own choice when it comes to voting? Unfortunately, Cambridge Analytica, before it’s closure in 2018, was able to collect personal data through social media and use it to influence our mindsets. As of 2018, Facebook had 2.32 billion users, many of which became targets of the company. Cambridge Analytica has been involved with many electoral campaigns across the globe. The most prevalent were the 2016 US Presidential Campaign and the 2010 Trinidad and Tobago Campaign.

The 2016 US Presidential Campaign saw Cambridge Analytica’s engagement through the likes of Trump and the Republican Party. Robert Mercer, an associate of Trump, gave 15 million dollars of funding to Cambridge Analytica to support the Trump campaign. As a company, they analyse data on social media in order to target the ‘persuadables’ of society. In the US election, these were people in Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida. By targeting those who are not sure who to vote for, Cambridge Analytica were able to flood people’s feed with ads and videos so that they vote Trump. For example, by posting anti-Hillary posts or showing the destruction of immigrants in the US, people are more likely to vote for Trump as he has strong anti-immigration policies. Furthermore, Cambridge Analytica CEO, Alexander Nix, contacted the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to further discredit Hillary Clinton. The release of Clinton’s personal emails, including those linked to selling weapons to ISIS, enticed people to vote for Trump instead. Nix, in undercover footage, was caught boasting about his involvement in the Trump campaign and how the company led Trump to his win.

Another interesting campaign that saw the involvement of Cambridge Analytica was the 2010 campaign in Trinidad and Tobago. Within that state, there was a political party that attracted more “Indian” people and a political party to attract more “African” people. In this election, the youth were targeted through increased levels of apathy. They created the ‘do so’ movement which functioned to encourage people not to vote in the election. There was a high interest in this movement which was able to sway the election. Whilst Afro-Caribbean kids decided not to vote on the election day, the “Indian” children did because their parents told them to. Although “Indian” kids were involved in the movement, they did not go against their parents will. The difference in 18-35 turnout was 40% which was able to sway the election 6% towards the Indian United National Congress (UNC) party. This case study depicts the influence of Cambridge Analytica and really brings into question whether the results of these elections are legitimate.

Fortunately, after the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, the company began to receive a lot of legal fees due to their use of people’s data without consent. In 2015, Facebook was aware of the actions of Cambridge Analytica on their site yet failed to do anything to secure privacy settings for individuals. Facebook just took the Cambridge Analytica’s word when they said that they had deleted the information. The company’s offices were searched in March 2018 by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). In addition, former employee, Brittany Kaiser, went on to reveal some of the secrets of Cambridge Analytica to the Guardian. After long investigations into the company, Cambridge Analytica announced on the 2nd of May 2018 that it was going into liquidation. Although the company is dead, the team behind it have already started to set up a new company.

The company, Cambridge Analytica, brings into question the legitimacy of voting in elections. If people are able to be swayed by political movements or what they are exposed to on social media, then surely the results of elections are biased? As a result of this, I argue that you, as the reader, do not believe everything you see online. Look up the advertisements you see. Look at both sides of the argument before making a decision on who to vote or what party to side with because you can never be sure if there are large companies behind what you see online.

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