Posted by Curt on 21 March, 2018 at 8:19 pm. 8 comments already!


What the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica panic lacks in relevance it sure makes up for in melodramatic rhetoric. Bloomberg, for instance, says that “revelations of the apparent skulduggery that helped Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election keep sending shock waves across the political landscape.” It’s true. Everyone is talking about it. The story has consumed most of the mainstream media.

The theory goes something like this: Facebook obtained information on users who took a personality quiz with their online friends. Another outlet, Cambridge Analytica, harvested that information to brainwash a bunch of rubes, and then yada, yada, yada … Russia! Senators are now demanding executives come forth and answer questions. Investigations must be open. Democracy is under threat.

Former Cambridge Analytica contractor and now-professional whistleblower Christopher Wylie told CNN that while at the company he helped build a “psychological warfare weapon” to “exploit mental vulnerabilities that our algorithms showed that [Facebook users] had.”

So, in other words, he worked in the advertising business.

Those who have covered politics for more than a single Trump-cycle should know better than to use this kind of unnerving rhetoric for what amounts to average microtargeting, which has been used by hundreds, if not thousands, of firms. Yet, now, when it serves to bolster convoluted theories about an election being overthrown, terms like “psychographics” and “breach” are being thrown around to make it sound like someone hacked into voting rolls after boring into the deepest recesses of our souls.

Moreover, the idea that Facebook can know your “mental vulnerabilities” is only true if you share your nightmares with them. If you’re uncomfortable with data mining and your information being shared, don’t take surveys. Because, breaking news: You don’t have to be on Facebook. You don’t have to use Twitter. You don’t have a constitutional right to play FarmVille without answering some questions. You don’t get free stuff. The very existence of these tech companies is predicated on mining data so that they, or third parties, can sell you things.

Cambridge Analytica, a shady company owned by the British firm called SCL Group — and, reportedly, in part by the right-wing funding Mercer family — claimed it could build models that identify persuadable voters by using six key personality types. Considering the amount of data Hillary Clinton had at her disposable, the idea that more data equals more persuasion is suspect. Aside from that, Cambridge Analytica’s effectiveness is questionable, as are its business practices. As others have pointed out, most Republicans used the firm to open to door to the Mercers’ checkbook..

Yet, on the most obvious level, Cambridge Analytica is another story about double standards. The only consistent position the Left seems to take these days is that the mechanisms they use to keep power automatically transform into something nefarious and un-democratic when the opposition use them.

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