This weekend Christopher Wylie, who is now being called the ‘data war whistle-blower,’ brought forth a groundbreaking exposé on a big data company named Cambridge Analytica that he says harvested data from 50 million Facebook users to build psychological and political profiles which were then used to target each individuals personality type with ads that were designed to persuade them towards a particular candidate, this time around allegedly, Trump.
At 24 Christopher Wylie was oddly studying for a PhD in fashion trend forecasting while simultaneously working for Steve Bannon Executive Chairman of Breitbart that would be Trumps Chief Strategist and Robert Mercer, US hedge fund billionaire who funded Cambridge Analytica. “The idea they bought into was to bring big data and social media to an established military methodology – “information operations” – then turn it on the US electorate.” says the original Guardian exposé.
Wiley says the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, SCL, whose expertise were in psychological operations, had contracted with the US State Department and was attempting to work with the Pentagon. According to its website, SCL has participated in over 25 international political and electoral campaigns since 1994. SCL entered the U.S. market in 2012, and was involved in 44 U.S. congressional, US Senate and state-level elections in the 2014 midterm elections. The big data company was also used in Ted Cruz and Ben Carson’s campaigns.
During the elections Facebook became a tool to harvest the personal life details and serve ads in such a way that it allegedly violated the US’s democratic process. Cambridge Analytica hasn’t just done this in the United States, but in various countries all around the world. Wiley says the company was a “mercenary outfit” that would “work for anyone.”
The documents yet to be public include receipts, invoices, emails, legal letters proving that between June and August 2014, the profiles of more than 50 million Facebook users had been harvested. Most damning of all, he has a letter from Facebook’s own lawyers admitting that Cambridge Analytica had acquired the data illegitimately.
How was this all done?
Wylie has a copy of an executed contract, dated 4 June 2014, which confirms that SCL, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, entered into a commercial arrangement with a company called Global Science Research (GSR), owned by Cambridge-based academic Aleksandr Kogan, specifically premised on the harvesting and processing of Facebook data, so that it could be matched to personality traits and voter rolls. He has receipts showing that Cambridge Analytica spent $7m to amass this data, about $1m of it with GSR.
Facebook apps that provide quizzes and games were built by Dr. Kogan a faculty member and senior research associate at Cambridge University. The Guardian says he is also an associate professor at St Petersburg University. Further research revealed that he’s received grants from the Russian government to research “Stress, health and psychological well-being in social networks”. In a newly released classified document, the CIA detailed the extensive campaign by the Chinese government to infiltrate American institutions, apparently China isn’t alone.
The Psychometrics Centre of Cambridge University created the myPersonality app that was used by 6 million people. Participants were scored on “big five” personality traits – Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism – and in exchange, 40% of them consented to give Kogan access to their Facebook profiles. By knowing where an individual ranks on each of these traits, social scientists can usually determine their political patterns. For instance, liberals rate high on openness and low on conscientiousness. These scored were then taken and correlated with each individuals Facebook likes to track patterns.
Odd patterns arose such as those who like “I hate Israel” also tended to like Nike and KitKats. From the data, “operation KitKat” was created by agencies that fund research for intelligence services.
While Christians get censored and banned by Facebook, Kogan was allowed access to large amounts of data. By excusing his actions and saying the data was for academic purposes, Kogan recruited and paid participants to take an online personality quiz through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Qualtrics. When the participants reached the end of the survey they installed ‘thisismydigitallife,’ Kogan’s app that gave the social scientist access to not only all their personal data on Facebook but all their friend’s info as well.
“Facebook could see it was happening,” says Wylie. “Their security protocols were triggered because Kogan’s apps were pulling this enormous amount of data, but apparently Kogan told them it was for academic use. So they were like, ‘Fine’.”
Lawmakers in both the U.S. and the U.K. are demanding that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explain how the data theft occurred and how the company plans to protect consumers.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said that he was “disturbed” by the news and questioned if Facebook’s policies have kept pace with their growth as a major social media platform over the past decade and a half.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, a staunch advocate for privacy from the government as well as corporations, warned against the government collecting material from companies.
“There’s a certain amount of personal information [online] but it’s consistent with your agreements [with companies]. But the main thing I say is, we ought to be very careful about the government collecting that data from private entities,” Paul told CNN on Sunday.
He added, whether or not Cambridge Analytica broke the law, “the privacy of the American consumer and the American individual should be protected.”
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced Saturday that her office is opening an investigation into Facebook and the data firm Cambridge Analytica.
“Massachusetts residents deserve answers immediately from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. We are launching an investigation,” Healey tweeted.
While Democrats use this as a possible explanation for their loss, what is really being brought to the light is the power that can be gleaned from big data and then used for psychological manipulation. Data-driven campaigns are not a new phenomenon, rather Big Data has been around for several years now. For instance, Obama’s re-election campaign was run and won successfully through the use of big data.
Facebook- Tearing the Fabric of our Society
According to former Facebook Vice President for User Growth, Chamath Palihapitiya;
“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created [including the hearts, likes, and thumbs up of various social media channels] are destroying how society works.” He added, “[There’s] no civil discourse, no cooperation; [only] misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem–this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”
Regarding an incident in which seven innocent men in India were lynched after a hoax about kidnappings spread through WhatsApp: “That’s what we’re dealing with. And imagine taking that to the extreme, where bad actors can now manipulate large swathes of people to do anything you want. It’s just a really, really bad state of affairs.”
Mr. Palihapitiya further stated that he feels “tremendous guilt” about Facebook. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works” and continues on to state that he doesn’t let his children use any social media. Through psychologically based targeting and manipulation beyond the scope anyone ever imagined it would be, Facebook and those who utilize it with bad intentions, is extremely dangerous.
In conclusion, we all must have our eyes open for signs of psychological manipulation by advertisers not only on Facebook or online, but in every aspect of our lives. We may not be able to halt the psychological warfare coming against us in a consumer society, but the more we know the tactics commonly used, the less likely they are to work. If we live our lives the way the Bible teaches us to by dedicating them fully to God, we will become untouched by the degradation of morals ripping apart our society.
Carole Cadwalladr. “The Cambridge Analytica Files.” The Guardian. . (2018): . . http://bit.ly/2ppV22p
“Members of Congress demand answers from Facebook about Cambridge Analytica.” CBS News. . (2018): . . http://cbsn.ws/2FM3dRr