By Kayleigh Dray
Note from Tom - Please make time to watch this documentary and place your comment below, recommend it to your friends and colleagues. Go to Netflix’s and search for "The Great Hack"
July 26, 2019 "Information
Clearing House" -
We are all, to some degree, aware of the
shadowy connections between Cambridge Analytica (CA), the US election and Brexit.
And we all know that CA did ‘something bad’ with our data. However, unless you
have a degree in tech, it can be hard to understand why so many people believe
that social media – specifically Facebook – is manipulating our opinions, our
lives, and our society.
Thankfully, Netflix’s The Great Hack is here to help us understand how “the dream of a connected world” tore us apart.
And then there’s former CA employee Brittany Kaiser, whose explosive testimony helped Cadwalladr to uncover the truth – and whose blurred role as victim/villain of the piece easily makes her one of The Great Hack’s most compelling characters.
This is not the case, Carroll says, no matter how much it may feel as if it is. Instead, Facebook gives “any buyer direct access to [our] emotional pulse” because it allows them to monitor – and, subsequently, influence – our behaviour. How?
Are You Tired Of The Lies And Non-Stop Propaganda?
It’s a very good question – and one which can be answered with another.
Have you ever taken a personality quiz?
It’s a format that pretty much anyone who uses Facebook will be familiar with: a seemingly innocuous string of questions, which reveal something unique – or not so unique – about you as an individual. However, there was more to these particular quizzes than first met the eye. Because, using psychological research, including the OCEAN score (which examines five key personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism), the folks at CA were able to use the results of these quizzes to build psychographic profiles of social media users.
As Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer confirmed in 2018: “In total, we believe the Facebook information of up to 87 million people – mostly in the US – may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica.”
As reported by Cadwalladr in 2018, CA used this data to influence the Trump and Brexit campaigns. Millions of adverts, explains the documentary, were targeted at all voters – but specifically at a group which has since been dubbed ‘The Persuadables’.
Right-wing votes were assured Trump voters, staunch liberals firmly in the Hillary Clinton camp – a ‘Vote for Trump’ ad sent to either of these groups would be a waste. Instead, CA used their harvested data to identify the people who were on the fence. Or, to put it more bluntly, the people whose minds could be changed.
With this data in hand, CA set to work on making personalised ads, with the aim of exploiting these individuals’ insecurities, worries and prejudices. And they did this “until [The Persuadables] saw the world the way we wanted them to see it”.
One such account came in the form of Christopher Wylie, a former CA employee who had worked with Aleksandr ‘Dr Spectre’ Kogan to obtain the data – and whom Cadwalladr convinced to come forward to reveal his role in the whole affair.
“We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles,” he told her, after bravely agreeing to go on the record. “And [we] built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.”
Wylie’s testimony was not enough, however, and so the documentary’s focus switches to Kaiser.
However, when the company’s shady dealings were exposed by Wylie, Kaiser decided she’d had enough of “making excuses for old white men”. It was then, and only then, that she decided to testify against them as part of a parliamentary inquiry – and, without giving too much away (spoilers ever our watchword here at Stylist), Kaiser’s story reaches sky-high levels of drama as it unfolds on screen.
But, while The Great Hack gets a lot right, it gets a lot wrong, too. It lacks the cinematic panache of the critically-acclaimed Fyre, and, while it engages with the debate surrounding data mining and fake news on a surface level, it fails to dissect or scrutinise the details it uncovers (when filmmakers sit down with Kaiser, they take her version of the facts at face value – and allow her to present herself as something akin to a human rights activist, without ever challenging her on the decisions she made prior to joining CA).
CA may have exposed voters to a carpet bomb of biased ads and news reports, but it didn’t force them to check those ballot boxes. They weren’t bullied, or threatened, or coerced into making the choices they did. Their agency was not wrested from them.
It has always been up to us to read beyond the headlines. To do more than skim through the comments on Facebook. To do our own research, to ask questions, to challenge our opinions. To, above all else, form a more well-rounded view of the world – one which allows us to see past the fakery and the falsities when they are forced under our noses by politicians, shady institutions and social media trolls.
“If we are going to become more cohesive and more able to move the world forward,” she continued, “then we need to understand other points of view. We can do that [by seeking] out media with which we do not agree.”
It is up to us to break the bubble. Because – while we can slap legislations on Cambridge Analytica, and while Facebook may have since updated its privacy laws – we will never be able to get at the whole truth if we allow ourselves to exist within echo boxes of our own making. People will always share their opinions, and we will always be exposed to fake news. And, unless we make smarter, savvier choices about the media we consume, we will always be susceptible to manipulation.
Unless we recognise this enormous responsibility, democracy will die – not with a bang, but with a whimper. And that, friends, is The Great Hack’s most important takeaway.
Kayleigh Dray is editor of
Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in
films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find
her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.
This article was originally published by "Stylist" -
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