Less than two weeks ago, the now-famous video of Chris Wylie giving information about Cambridge Analytica was released. The company’s former research director spoke to Channel 4 News about how he’d helped to build a company that has unfairly swayed elections across the world.
In the following days, Channel 4 News released a series of videos that appear to back up Wylie’s claims, including secret camera footage of top company members boasting about securing elections for their clients.
Cambridge Analytica has reportedly worked with clients across the globe, but two campaigns that the media coverage has focused on are Donald Trump’s US Presidential campaign, and Vote Leave’s pro-Brexit campaign, which both took place in 2016.
According to Chris Wylie, Cambridge Analytica obtained personal information from over 50 million Facebook users, which they used to create tailored ad campaigns based on fear and emotional manipulation. In secret camera footage with a journalist posing as a potential client, managing director Mark Turnbull proudly claimed that Cambridge Analytica is reponsible for the infamous “Crooked Hillary” campaign that turned so many American voters against Trump’s opponent. Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, also said on camera that they could entrap a client’s rivals by offering them bribes or sex workers, secretly filming the incident, and using the footage as blackmail.
Shahmir Sanni, a Vote Leave volunteer, was featured in another Channel 4 News video as a whistleblower for deals between the Vote Leave campaign and AIQ, a Canadian company linked to Cambridge Analytica through its roots and parent company, SCL. According to Sanni, this money was secretly funneled through a young volunteer’s bank account so Vote Leave could go over their legal spending limit. Chris Wylie has also commented that AIQ used voters’ information to unfairly sway the Brexit vote.
With both of these cases, the issue is that immoral (and, in some cases, illegal) methods have been used by Cambridge Analytica to give their clients an unfair political advantage. In their own words, their campaigns focus on voters’ emotions, not issues. They have used voters’ personal information without those voters knowing, and manipulated them with fear and anger to get the results they want. The scandals have been unearthed, but Cambridge Analytica’s clients still have their power.
Of course, it will take time for issues to be investigated and governments to decide what is done in response to this new knowledge. The problem is, it probably won’t involve impeaching Trump or stopping Brexit. Ever since Trump and Vote Leave won, thousands of voters have spoken out about how they feel they were misinformed and would vote differently if given another chance. Will they get another chance, though? Probably not.
Did Cambridge Analytica trick voters with lies, or is it up to voters to learn what they’re voting about before making a choice?
Mark Zuckerberg has spoken out about the breach of privacy that Facebook shouldn’t have allowed. Alexander Nix has been suspended as CEO of Cambridge Analytica. These private companies will probably face some sort of repercussion, but will Trump’s team or Vote Leave? Cambridge Analytica should not be allowed to provide these services for clients, but those clients should also be reprimanded for hiring these services. What can you do when the vote’s already be cast? Will we simply have to watch the world be run by people that we don’t want in charge?
All political campaigns use data research to learn what their voters want. Cambridge Analytica crossed a line by obtaining information without voters’ knowledge and targeting individuals based on private information. These services are only available to the richest clients, so does that mean the 1% will always win? As political campaigning grows more expensive and tactics become more personal, do you stand a chance against an onslaught of ads created specifically to change YOUR mind? Maybe it won’t happen again, but to some people that doesn’t matter; Donald Trump doesn’t need Cambridge Analytica any more. They already got him to power.