By Nadine Szabó
In a world where there are 3.03 billion social media users, mishaps occur quite often: songs get leaked before they are officially published, celebrities get exposed and social media networks create scandals. The most recent scandal was brought to light by a former employee at Cambridge Analytica, Christopher Wylie, who revealed that data was collected from a personality test on Facebook and used in different, controversial ways. Facebook is facing vast amounts of backlash, as the gigantic network did not do much to protect its users.
Aleksandr Kogan, an academic psychologist and data scientist based at the University of Cambridge, utilized his company Global Science Research to distribute personal information to Cambridge Analytica, which in turn put the information to use for political purposes.
Ever since, undercover reporters have discovered that Alexander Nix, the head of Cambridge Analytica, planned to exploit the gathered information to “swing elections.” The campaign “Defeat Crooked Hillary” also most likely rose from this accumulation of data. The former platform operations manager, Sandy Parakilas, published a warning, letting the public know that other firms are also abusing this set of personal information.
Christopher Wylie claimed in an interview with The Guardian: “it was a grossly unethical experiment” during which “we spent one million dollars harvesting millions of Facebook profiles.” He defends his argument by saying that such types of data collection are psychological manipulation of the individual, as well as of the nation. The firm was playing a game that no one knew was going on; it was conducted without the concerned people’s consent. “It is a full service propaganda machine,” he says when asked about the nature of Cambridge Analytica.
In Plato’s Republic, there is a cave, where men are kept chained up, facing the walls of their quarantined prison, where all they know of the world is shadows of people passing through the cave. One day, one of the men is let out into the real world. When he comes back to tell his cave friends about the true nature of Earth, they merely see a shadow and only hear the echo of his voice. To the isolated men, reality remains a shadow. When creating Cambridge Analytica, Wylie and his co-founders used the same approach.
Interviewer: “And you changed his [Steve Bannon’s] perception of reality?
Wylie: “And we changed the perception of who we were and what we were doing and what situation he was in, yeah.”
Interviewer: “And then from there you took it to … change the perception of reality for America?”
The creation of Cambridge Analytica served as a weapon. Steve Bannon, a man who was intrigued by such an idea, desired to win a war of politics. So, just as 2 + 2 = 4, the puzzles in this chain of events assembled quite promptly. “He wanted cultural weapons. We could build them for him.” From then on, the idea developed into a major innovation. With access to the previously mentioned personality quizzes on Facebook, they could not only target voters’ opinions on who to vote for, but also their personality. Cambridge Analytica became a source of psychological warfare. And all people well-versed in politics and propaganda could perceive that.