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.

Voter Turnout

With the results from last Thursday’s election looming, it can only be right to dedicate this week to voter turnout among British elections. In 1950, voter turnout was at 83.9% which was the peak of both the 20th and 21st century. Unfortunately, the highest voter turnout among the 21st century was in 2017 at 68.7%. Even the recent election was lower than this at 67.2%. This immense drop depicts a lack of trust and interest in our democracy. Reasons could extend from being busy to not trusting politicians. Within this blog, I am going to try and explain why people choose not to vote and hopefully persuade people to vote in the next election as it is so important for our democracy!

One reason that people do not vote is because of the idea of ‘safe’ seats. Before going into that, I am going to explain how our political system works. Britain uses the first-past-the-post system. The UK is divided into 650 constituencies all of which reflect a seat in parliament. Within these constituencies, citizens vote for a political party. The MP who gains the most votes within that constituency will represent them in parliament. For a majority government to occur, 326 seats must be won by a party. The leader of this party will become the Prime Minister. Otherwise, a hung parliament occurs. In this case, the Prime Minister before the election stays in power and is given the chance to create a government. They may decide to negotiate with another party and create a coalition, as seen in 2010. Otherwise, they can try to govern with a minority or they can resign. Resignation usually occurs after failure to negotiate. In this case, the leader of the largest opposition party steps in. As a result of this system, many people believe that their votes do not count. This is especially the case in constituencies that have ‘safe’ seats. This is when the same MP or same political party continues to get re-elected in a constituency. This would put people off voting because if the same party continues to win within their constituency, they may think it is a waste of time to vote at all as nothing will change. After all, why go out and vote if nothing is going to change?

Another reason why people may choose not to vote is due to a lack of trust in politicians. Within political campaigns, parties say that they will do some ‘amazing’ things for the country. When it comes to actually being in power, many fail to fulfil their promises. In fact, only 17% of people trust politicians. An example of unfulfilled promises can be seen with the Liberal Democrats, who campaigned to remove tuition fees. When they got into a coalition government, they tripled tuition fees. In the lead up to the election, they got a large amount of support from students. Unfortunately, they broke their promises. Examples like this have led to a nation that no longer trusts the words of politicians. Why vote for parties to get in power if they won’t do what they promise anyway?

The final reason that I am going to discuss in this blog is a lack of knowledge. The new generation is a lot busier than the last, with improved technology, larger activities and less time. Political participation then goes to the bottom of the list. Whilst there are many debates in a lead up to an election, people do not always have the time to watch them. This leaves them in a position where they do not know what the parties stand for. Why vote if you do not know what you are voting for?

The most recent election had a turnout of 67.2% which was lower than in 2017. There are many reasons why people chose not to vote last Thursday. Some of the reasons I have discussed above. However, there are many more reasons as to why people do not vote. The action of voting is very important within our democracy. By voting, you are choosing who you want to represent your views and policies. If you do not vote, then the government will not represent your views and it will become biased to the people who did vote. If everyone chose not to vote, then we would not have a democracy and therefore it is very important. If, for example, you do not know what the political parties stand for, then there are many quizzes online that can help. You just complete it and see which party is closely aligned to what you believe in. If voter turnout does not increase, then our democracy will continue to go downhill.

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My First Blog Post

Political events are part of everyday life.

— Doris Salcedo.

Politics…

For most people, politics is a dull and tedious subject. In fact, when I told some people what I wanted to study at university, I got asked if I was just a boring person who wanted to become the next member of parliament. This is because when people think of politics, they think of the politicians on television who say that they are ‘different’ and are going to change things and make the country a better place. The lies and deceit of politicians gives a bad reputation to politics as a subject. However, what people fail to realise is that politics is more than the government and politicians. It is a vast subject that affects everyone, no matter who you are. Politics shapes our morals and how we go about our daily life. It stretches from crime to the economy. Still think it is boring?

Within this blog, I want to share my enjoyment for politics. Whilst it is a very complicated and opinion based subject, I hope to make it as simple as possible so that anyone can read and understand it. Perhaps, I may teach some people a thing or two so that they can feel confident in political discussion. I hope to do this by discussing current affairs, social issues and political books. By no means am I an expert at politics, I learn new things all the time through my degree, discussions and books. In fact, a few years ago, before I studied politics for my International Baccalaureate, I can honestly say that politics was not a passion or even strong interest of mine. However, I didn’t realise how vast the subject is. In particular, I found myself to be fascinated by security politics. I believe that, with knowledge, everyone will find their interest within the subject which is my reason for doing this blog.