The scandal around Cambridge Analytica proved one more time how powerful and dangerous the Internet and social media in particular can be. Yet again it raised questions as to whether regulating them is a necessity.
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However, what about the Internet in terms of its psychological influence? Many would falsely assume that people are smart enough not to trust online ads and make up their minds based on reliable data and facts. This is a truly optimistic view of human nature. Unfortunately, companies like Cambridge Analytica portray a more dismal image. According to the recent revelations, they not only managed to shift voters’ opinions to vote for Trump – they reconfigured the American society at large.
Before we delve into the ramifications of these unethical practices, it is important to understand how it all started. Basically, there were two Cambridge researchers – Michal Kosinski and Alexander Kogan who developed technology for accumulating psychometric data from social network. While Kosinski moved on with his life and actually changed Cambridge for Stanford, Alexander Kogan had different plans. He founded a company Global Science Research which at first intended to collect data for the purposes of science.
He developed an app called “This is your digital life” which paid users to take personality tests and give access to their personal data as well as the data of their friends. The technology used Facebook profile info such as likes, statuses, tests, and, based on some rumors, private messages to build people’s psychological profiles. It utilized the OCEAN test which meant to figure out such characteristics as openness, extraversion, neuroticism etc. The only problem here is that only the users who took the tests were warned about the data collection; their friends had no idea.
In 2014 Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, offered Kogan cooperation. Even though Kogan was not legally allowed to sell the collected info to the third parties, he agreed. Perhaps, the enumeration was way too generous, or he simply liked the idea of changing America. It is important to stress here that when Facebook allowed Kogan to gather data, they stipulated that he could not share it with anybody. He as a scientist could only utilize it for research purposes.
However, Kogan did not bother. Thus, he signed a contract with CA, and they started to use his app to amass facts about potential voters. The gullible people agreed to Terms and Conditions which allowed CA to accumulate not only their data, but also data of their friends. CA then used all these info bits to micro target potential voters and change their perception of reality. This is how Trump got elected and, as some claim, this is how Brexit was orchestrated.
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How Is It Related to Trump Campaign?
If you go to the website of CA, you will see that it has political and commercial sectors. If you click on the political one, you will see that CA helped Trump campaign as well as campaigns of other notable Republicans such as Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. However, the latter did not get elected. How was Trump so lucky then?
As I already mentioned, Alexander Nix was the CEO of CA, but it is worth taking a look at its Vice President. In 2014 it was Steve Bannon who was simultaneously the head of the Trump’s campaign and the editor of alt-right news website Breitbart. Bannon has an enormous influence on the company and even helped convince an American conservative billionaire Robert Mercer to invest 15 million in the whole enterprise. He described politics as war and wanted to procure useful info to win it.
Bannon managed to pull it off. CA collected info from 50 million FB users and used that data to create posts, ads, blogs an even websites to target the voters. They could even pinpoint the undecided ones and then bombard them with data bits of a particular nature. They could even determine how many times they would need to target this or that voter to convince them to cast their ballot for a specific candidate. The algorithm allowed for deep understanding of every individual, their innermost fears and desires.
What Lessons Can People Learn?
Even though it is Alexander Kogan who overstepped his legal boundaries, he is not the only one to blame. It is not the first time Facebook violated people’s privacy for the sake of profit. Yes, they only allowed Kogan to procure data for research, but they did not even try to control him. What is more, when in 2015 Zuckerberg found out about the data theft, he only sent a letter to Nix asking him to delete all the info. He did not even check whether Nix listened to him or not.
In addition, it’s been revealed that friends’ data was amassed due to the issue in Facebook’s API. Not only is the platform replete with technical problems, but its CEO does not even try to redress the damage on time. Millions of Americans are now experiencing intense “trumpgret” because they were tricked into believing they were making the right choice. In reality, they were simply bombarded with “fake news” disguised as a real thing.
Facebook can no longer be perceived as a conduit of information. It has to be regulated, just like any other kind of media. How many times do we have to hear Zuckerberg apologize before we do something about it? How many neo-Nazi meetings do we have to watch on the news before realizing that the Internet is not just a place to find cat memes and look over Reddit threads? How fragmented should the American society become before people understand that something is not going quite right?
All these questions must not stay unanswered. We cannot just assume that people are rational beings capable of ignoring propaganda and make up their minds based on trustworthy facts. Our essay writers know that, it’s high time Americans acknowledge it too. It’s high time we do not let foreign despotic governments interfere with the democratic elections of the leader of the Free World.