Our Guide to the Facebook Cambridge Analytica Scandal
The social media giant has been criticised for its involvement with Cambridge Analytica. But what does it all mean?
50 million Facebook profiles have been reported as “harvested” (yuck) for use by Cambridge Analytica. There are roughly 2.2 billion Facebook profiles in the world, so why should you care?
If the Panama Papers didn’t convince you that the corporate elite spend their weekdays screwing over the rest of us while screwing themselves in their own Eyes Wide Shut-like weekend parties (they are apparently leading the charge in nose beers and compromised spa baths), then the recent Cambridge Analytica files should only help to suck out the last remaining faith you had in humanity.
Then again, you could just be chilled about the whole situation and remind everyone, “Yes. Of course Facebook is evil. You’re all surprised?”
Apparently there are people out there who thought Facebook was free. It isn’t. If you have purchased any product in the past year it was probably because it was marketed to you from data collected from your digital activity. This is what has been dubbed ‘surveillance capitalism’, and it’s here to stay.
Can you imagine what the Facebook headquarters in San Fran is like right now? Brace yourself. Mark Zuckerberg has been asked to present himself in front of UK ministers for misleading them in a previous evidence session, the US Federal Trade Commission has apparently begun investigating Facebook for violating its own privacy agreement and here in Australia the Information and Privacy Commission has demanded that Facebook provide information on whether any Australians had their data mined for use by Cambridge Analytica. On top of this, the Israeli government has also informed Facebook that they are now under investigation. Oh, and there is the $37 billion wiped off Facebook’s stock price since the news broke.
Things are probably...quite tense. Hence, the probable firings we will shortly see.
So, who is Facebook’s mate, Cambridge Analytica, if not the name of some antiquated British university club? They probably have their own secret society chant.
We are the Cambridge Analytica,
The boys of pure Britannica!
Your privacy is laughable
And you cannot find us culpaaaaabbbllleee...
Cambridge Analytica actually has the US to thank for its beginnings. Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon helped set up the company, and was even its vice president for a while. Just let that sink in. The current POTUS’s former Chief Strategist set up the company!
It has been reported that at a conference in New York, Bannon claimed he never had knowledge of “Facebook mining” or “dirty tricks” at Cambridge Analytica (despite that ostensibly being what the company was set up to do), but at the same time he reminded the crowd that “Facebook data is for sale all over the world.”
And that is why this story has dredged up as much interest as it has. It’s not the 50 million profile breaches, it’s the context. Facebook data is for sale all over the world, and people are just cottoning on to how powerful the internet is, and how murky its waters are.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t even matter if you don’t have Facebook. If you use any search engine, browse the internet, even pay for a coffee with your bank card, that info is going to be sold to someone. Don’t care? Don’t blame you. It’s called compassion fatigue.
You don’t necessarily have to care, but you should know one key thing: Cambridge Analytica had a significant impact on the results of the 2016 US election. Beyond the targeted ads you get on Instagram and your subsequent consumer behaviour, that’s the sort of data manipulation that has clear results.
In recorded conversations, a senior staff member of Cambridge Analytica claimed that the firm was directly responsible for the “defeat crooked Hillary” campaign. Executives at the company were also recorded boasting of using fake news campaigns, honey traps (sending girls to candidates’ rooms), and engaging in operations with ex-spies to contribute to the outcome of over 200 elections worldwide.
Not just the US election. 200 elections. 200! But which one has more impact?
This is the point where you say, “Fuck it” and flip your laptop closed. Too big a problem. But you don’t have to have a solution, you just have to know that it’s going on so you don’t keep filling out lame Facebook quizzes about which member of Rugrats you are while giving away your political affiliations at the same time.
Manipulation is nothing new. Propaganda far precedes the digital age, with cartoons being one of the most notable propaganda during some of the 20th century’s biggest conflicts. But this is manipulation on a global scale, and all you have to do is be aware of it.
Some people are going one step further and asking themselves whether they want to have anything to do with Facebook anymore, hence #DeleteFacebook has been trendng.
This author deleted his Facebook account a few years ago and it’s hard to pin down why. I simply asked myself, “Do I want Facebook when I’m 70?” The answer?
So then why keep it now?
Facebook has mud on its sides. Former vice-president for user growth at Facebook, Chamath Palihapitiya, was quoted in December last year as saying that he felt immense “guilt” for creating tools that he sees as “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”. The dopamine-driven feedback loops inherent in Facebook (but not restricted to just Facebook), of which Palihapitiya talked about in December are something that are increasingly studied and proven to be a cause for anxiety and depression. Meanwhile, all you have to do is track down the Wikipedia page that lists historical criticism of Facebook to see that maybe that shitty manager you had when you were working at Maccas when you were 18 might not actually have been the pure personification of corporate evil that you had initially thought.
Just go back to the start. A company that was created by a kid who wanted a ‘safe space’ where guys could rate college girls online is a company that begins its life with one leg dragging, ethically speaking. Get too much of that mud on you and you just start wanting to shake it off.
But what you can’t do is play the victim. Don’t watch 30 hours of seriously questionable YouTube videos, ‘like’ a friend’s joke on Facebook about Caitlyn Jenner, then upload a photo of yourself literally putting a #1 next to Tony Abbott’s name on a federal election slip, and assume that data isn’t being sold to a company that can use it.
Back at Facebook headquarters, after what must have been the equivalent to a bunch of monkeys flinging faeces at each other while three unpaid intern monkeys produce the full works of Shakespeare, Mark Zuckerberg finally emerged with a sad face badge on his lapel.
“We have a responsibility to protect your data, and if we can’t then we don’t deserve to serve you.”
Wow. It’s almost like he wants his share price to fall further.
Keep reading. Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.
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