Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the Dark Side of Data
Opinion by Lefty G
In the wake of the recent revelations that the data of 50 million Facebook users was harvested, sold, and used to manipulate American voters during the 2016 election campaign the questions have been many.
How was the researcher, Aleksandr Kogan, able to apparently mislead Facebook as to the intended use of the data he was collecting?
How were 270,000 app users able to share not only their own information, but information on all of their friends, giving Kogan data on 50 million Facebook users which he then sold to data firm Cambridge Analytica?
Why did Facebook stay quiet about it all until a whistleblower - former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie - came forward with the story?
And how much, if anything, did Donald Trump know about these activities? After all, it was Trump's then campaign manager Steve Bannon who created Cambridge Analytica with money from Republican super-donor Robert Mercer.
Donald Trump himself has bragged about how sophisticated and effective his social media campaign was.
All of these questions are important and yet, in a world where people are comfortable handing over their private data just for the dubious privilege of taking a quiz or downloading a throw-away app, the answers almost seem academic.
One way or another organizations will get their hands on the data needed to manipulate public opinion. In fact, political operatives are late to the game; corporations have been collecting and analyzing this type of data for marketing purposes for some time now.
The data analytics trend is here to stay. Facebook may promise tighter enforcement of data harvesting and fake news in an effort to pacify the public and lawmakers but they seem to also concede that it is both a hopeless fight and not really their job.
The social media giants and the government won't be able to stop the fake news, fake comments, and fake twitter accounts. This means that the truly important question going forward is whether people will be able to develop the critical thinking skills necessary to rise above the noise, the spin, and the outright lies.
It is without a doubt a daunting challenge for our society to face - and nothing less than the future of democracy itself is at stake.