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A note from the Editor…

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Although we’re only four months in, 2018 has already been rife with scandal and controversy. For the most part, they tend to revolve around Donald Trump and his sexual assault accusers, mistresses, underlings and lawyers. But the one that has had the most pervasive implications for United States citizens is Cambridge Analytica’s abuse of the personal information it obtained from Facebook, and how it was able to turn a profit on that data and enable the Republican party to sabotage our democracy.

The man responsible for unveiling this conspiracy is Christopher Wylie, a former contractor for Cambridge Analytica, which is a British political consulting firm that combines data mining and analysis with strategic communication. Wylie revealed that the company had obtained unauthorized private data from over 87 million Facebook users through an application called “thisisyourdigitallife.” The app essentially set up an informed consent process in which hundreds of thousands of Facebook users would agree to take a seemingly benign survey. In turn, “thisisyourdigitallife” would gain access to the information on their profiles, allegedly for the purpose of “academic use.” However, because of a loophole in the design of Facebook’s app, they were also allowed to collect the personal data from everyone in the Facebook social network of each survey participant.

Cambridge Analytica went on to use this enormous pool of information to create psychological profiles on 70.6 million U.S. citizens and sold them to Florida Senator Ted Cruz in 2015 when he was running for the Republican presidential nomination. In fact, they took credit for his victory over Trump at the Iowa Caucus. But when Cruz failed to secure the nomination, the company shifted its focus to the Trump team.

The alliance between the two should not have been a surprise, considering Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon helped found Cambridge Analytica and also formerly served as its vice president. “This was Steve Bannon’s baby,” said Wylie, who described the company as a “data franken-monster” and “Bannon’s arsenal of weaponry to wage a culture war on America using military strategies,” which is exactly what he did.

According to the Washington Post, the Trump campaign paid at least $5 million to Cambridge Analytica from the time they joined forces in July of 2016 until the presidential election. In turn, “Cambridge Analytica was able to provide the campaign with predictive analytics based on more than 5,000 data points on every voter in the United States,” said the company’s CEO Alexander Nix in an interview with Switzerland’s Das Magazin. “From there, our team of political consultants and psychologists guided the campaign on what to say and how to say it to specific groups of voters.”

“Pretty much every phrase Trump put out was data-driven,” Nix said. “Trump’s team was able to test out 175,000 different variations for his arguments.” From these tactics, Cambridge Analytica discovered that young, conservative white people reacted positively to phrases like “deep state” and “drain the swamp,” as well as viewing a border wall to keep out immigrants favorably. All three examples proved to be key components of Trump’s campaign. He even admitted during a Florida rally when he debuted “drain the swamp” that intelligent people told him to say it, even though he didn’t really like how it sounded. The crowd loved the slogan so intensely that it became a primary focus for the rest of his campaign.

In addition, Trump’s canvassers were given an app that allowed them to identify the political views and personality types of a given household, as well as a conversation outline that would work with its residents. “We can address villages or apartment blocks in a targeted way,” said Nix. “Even individuals.”

Having used Facebook since around 2007, I have witnessed firsthand how the social media giant has evolved over the last decade. However, I never fathomed it could be used in such a negative way and on such a large scale. While I strongly believe Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg must be held liable for their negligence in allowing this to happen, his disbelief in what his website has become certainly resonated with me.

At its core, the tactics and methods used by Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign is nothing short of modern day mind control. It’s extremely concerning and frightening to know just how easy it was to manipulate such a large percentage of our country into making what could easily go down as the singular mistake in U.S. history.

 

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A note from the Editor…