Tuesday open thread—Cambridge Analytica
I claim no powers of clairvoyance. But when the Cambridge Analytica / Facebook story broke over the weekend, I had more than a sneaking suspicion that this would be orders of magnitude bigger than the Andrew McCabe firing. Why? Because people even now really don't know who McCabe is. But tell them that their Facebook data was illegally harvested and there will be an uprising.
Any democratic political system runs on trust. The trust is that, as far as possible, it's an even playing field. Sure, politics aren't for the fainthearted. But there's a difference between political fisticuffs and egregious psychological manipulation. What we have in the CA story is a tale of an elaborate and effective military-style psychological operation. The firm had nearly 300,000 people download its app, and then used the information those people voluntarily gave to harvest the data of 50 million other users, all as part as a very sophisticated psy-op. People, even as they give companies like Facebook reams of personal data, are rightfully concerned about how their data is used. Now it seems that Facebook was in bed with the Trump campaign, and facilitated its manipulation of millions of Facebook users.
Cambridge Analytica was the missing piece of the puzzle. How did the Trump campaign run its Facebook operations? Now we know: By stealing the information of millions of users. It's how Russian bots were then able to target misinformation to discreet demographics. One reads something on Twitter or Facebook, something one is already predisposed to believe, and one is nudged even further down a particular path.
This was always the peril of social media. The possibility of abuse was there for the asking. When you give a company so much of your data, and that company is not very discerning as to whom it sells that data, eventually that data could be used to manipulate users. Facebook and Twitter by definition are in the business of manipulating their users to keep their eyeballs fixed to their products, in order to sell them to advertisers. Now we know that we're being sold not only to advertisers, but to political campaigns.
Hold on to your hats, kids. This is only the beginning.
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