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Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and Trump 2016 – The Story of Chris Wylie [Guardian]

March 18, 2018

Consider the article below a follow-up to the previous post, on FB advertising meets politics [this blog Feb 27th].

Main link (read first): https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/17/data-war-whistleblower-christopher-wylie-faceook-nix-bannon-trump


The subtext here is that the outcome of the 2016 election can be attributed to potent new advertising techniques (aka propaganda/PR, aka social media campaigns, aka psy-ops – call it what you like!). Such a belief continues the direction set by the FBI’s extraterritorial indictment of the St. Petersburg internet advertising / propaganda / social media posting firm.

This time the focus is on mainly domestic advertisers and political figures, with additional involvement by researchers from Canada, UK, and it seems both US and Russian national security organizations who were in love with the possibility of using commercial advertising tech to do their hard work for them.

Central to all this is Facebook – who built one of the premier businesses of our time – by creating “profiles” of users and selling bundled groups of “eyeballs” with similar profiles to advertisers. Clients of course including political campaigns of all stripes. Again, see the Wired article linked in the Feb 27th post on FB/advertising/politics.

In the case of Chris Wylie in the current piece, it seems Cambridge Analytica used what was supposed to be an academic dataset, thereby violating disclosure rules. The data correlated self-tested Big-5 personality factors (psych 101 stuff), with other features not described in the article – I’m guesssing routine A/B testing of ad materials, and lining that up against both the academic data set in question, and the the wealth of “standard” profile information FB would sell them. This concept is right out of the 20th century – the only remotely novel thing that I can tell is the application of “big data”, and that too is pretty much a stock-in-trade, on the 5-year time scales typical of the tech world (i.e., both sides in the election had it). Once again, read the previous Wired article.

Bottom line:

1. It seems a bit exaggerated to imply that there was some kind of magic bullet formula here to make an advertising campaign of unprecedented potency. Certainly the scale of this operation is impressive, but for the middle-american audience, the fundamentals favored Trump (relatively speaking). For the simple reason that his last name is neither Bush nor Clinton. This little bit is consistently missing from the story. Still.

2. This is what FB (and Google) has been doing with all the you data you give it. All that stuff they give you “for free” …..

3. It’s cool when we benefit from these tools and tactics, but when they are turned against you? Double edged swords … cut both ways. When will we ever learn?

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