24th Jul 2019
Filmmakers Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim go deep into the Cambridge Analytica scandal and it makes for an absorbing, often controversial watch
Data, according to the creators of The Great Hack, is the most valuable commodity on earth. But it is one, the film says, that we need to seriously be mindful of. Data rights, they say are akin to human rights, and can be stolen and weaponised without your consent.
So many people believe that social media is responsible for manipulating our opinions and our lives and place in society for the purpose of an ulterior motive – this is what mainstay of the documentary.
The film explores the Cambridge Analytica (CA) scandal from 2018 and how the company used data mined from millions of Facebook accounts around the world to place targeted ads in timelines in order to influence a series of political elections. For those that don’t know, Cambridge Analytica was a British political consulting firm which combined data mining, data brokerage, and data analysis with strategic communication during recent electoral processes.
It reveals that they specifically targeted lapsed and apathetic voters – hugely important when it comes to swing states – with specific, tailor-made campaigns that guaranteed their vote. These campaigns attempted to sway those voters using all they could – disinformation, propaganda and true and untrue sensationalist news – to get the vote they (CA) was looking to secure.
Its creators make the argument that we should all be doing more to secure our data online, and to champion companies and politicians who, according to them, practise “good data hygiene.”
It focuses on three principal characters: British journalist Carole Cadwalladr, who famously exposed CA’s ties to the Trump and Brexit campaigns in an interview, along with New York professor and privacy campaigner David Carroll, who attempts to recover his stolen data from CA – it’s his that is the heart of the film.
He attempted to expose CA but although he proved that the firm had illegally processed his data, the outcome was futile; ultimately his attempt to retrieve that data was thwarted by Cambridge Analytica’s decision to liquidate in 2018.
Key point by @Karim_Amer33 — it’s too easy to blame Cambridge Analytica. We let our democracies get industrialized by big data profiteers. And nothing has really changed for election 2020 in the US. We still have no data rights and voter surveillance is the default setting. pic.twitter.com/qLj8wcrs2y
— David Carroll ? (@profcarroll) July 20, 2019
Then there’s Brittany Kaiser, a former Business Development Director at Cambridge Analytica-turned-whistleblower; she claimed in 2018 that CA had used the same tactics to help influence the Brexit vote.
“This is something you’re participating in, almost all of your waking life in the connected world,” Amer told the Radio Times. “When you watch something, when you scroll, go on an Uber ride or do anything that’s related to that, you’re giving up data for services. And I think the more we have awareness about that, the more we can balance the see-saw because right now it’s quite skewed. We just give up our data and have no idea what happens to it or how it affects us. We need to demand more.”
As it stands, the chilling thing is we still know very little about what the company actually did with the data.
It’s a must-watch – and one that may compel you to delete your Facebook account after viewing.
Main photograph: Netflix
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