Have you ever wondered where Facebook received revenue if they offer the app itself free? Although Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg claimed the revenue comes mainly from digital advertising, what we don’t know is Facebook’s revenue also comes from monetizing our personal data to companies, such as Cambridge Analytica. The company used information on what people liked or interested in, who they interacted with, or what they posted about to set up adverts to their social media for political campaigns.
Many of us have been wondering, how did someone like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump got elected in 2016 and how did BREXIT even happened? Facebook and Cambridge Analytica holds the answers. In 2014, Facebook has a quiz which invited users to find out their personality type. The app collected the personal data of those taking the quiz, but also gathered the public data of their friends. Up to 300,000 people installed the app, but it recorded information on more than 87 million people. It is claimed that 30 million people's data was sold to Cambridge Analytica which used it to psychologically analyse profile voters in the US and persuade them to vote for Donald Trump.
How exactly did Cambridge Analytica use people’s data for political campaign? Former director of Business Development at Cambridge Analytica, Brittany Kaiser said, “you don’t need to change everyone’s mind. You just need to change the minds of the “persuadables”, gather their data by psychologically analyse how they think, identify it, and persuade them. The persuadables are people who have not decided on a side and mainly consist of first time voters. They did turn the states into red from blue and won Ted Cruz from the lowest candidate in the primary.
It is reported that Trump’s campaign have run 5.9 million visual ads on Facebook, in contrast to Hillary Clinton’s 66,000. Cambridge Analytica then set up those people’s feeds by disturbing and hatred contents such as the “Crooked Hillary”, “BlackLives Matter” and “MuslimsAreTerrorists” made by them. Rumor has it that Russian Government was also involved in this matter by creating fake and shady websites which are used to create greater tensions on racial disparities as well as political polarization. This is what the whole Mueller Report is about. Although the Soviet Union fell in 1992, the tensions between the two countries never fade as they desire world supremacy. Russia thinks that by getting someone like Trump elected, the USA would be facing much more controversies and problems, which would lead to its fall.
Their targeting tool for the Leave.eu campaign used to be export-controlled by the British government in which the methodology was considered weapons-grade communications technology and tactics. It is illegal to use those without the permission of the British Government. In military terms, it is usually called “Psyops” or psychological operations. For example, in Afghanistan, the British Government has a choice to defeat the Taliban: either bomb the village or use this psychological operation tactics to persuade the people that “the Taliban is not good and must be destroyed,” to essentially give the position of advantage to the British government. This was a followed-up military tactics which was called “the Hearts and Minds” used by the British government when they were colonizing Malaya and tried to defeat the Malayan Communist Party. And this tactic is used against the British people itself.
Apart from the Ted Cruz’s campaign, Trump’s presidential Campaign, and Leave.eu campaign, the most shocking fact shown in a Netflix Documentary called “The Great Hack”, is when Brittany Kaiser found footage from Cambridge Analytica sales pitch, in which the company touts how it suppressed voter turnout through a viral youth movement, called “Do So”. It was a carefully social media disinformation campaign with the intent of abusing racial tensions to achieve a certain electoral outcome.
If you think, “this only happens in the USA and Britain,” we clearly do not have a reasonable statement to counter-argue that. Although Cambridge Analytica has gone to bankruptcy and now defunct, there will always be another Cambridge Analytica, still uncovered and not revealed to the public. Your data is now being weaponised in order to manipulate you to a certain way of thinking and eventually undertaking actions. If you think, “I don’t use Facebook anymore, so there wouldn’t be any problems,” maybe you are not aware that other social media platforms that you are using such as Instagram and Whatsapp are owned by Facebook. Yes, it is creepy and scary.
What governments can do is to impose and set a strict regulation to those TechGiants. Governments need to take specific and collective action, coordinating efforts to have TechGiants like Facebook and Google to treat our data like a personal property. We own it, control it, and should be the ones to profit from it. When Facebook just announced that they are switching things up: “The future is private”, what has it been in the past years? The global community urgently needs precise, clear rules that define ownership of data.
The sole power of TechGiants like Facebook and Google is the fact that they own and use the personal data from people around the world. They are more powerful than any powerful governments in the world. Social media users are blinded by the fact that those apps are free and easily accessible, while they monetize our data to gain revenues. And the worst thing is that we actually agreed to give it away by agreeing to the hundreds-pages long Terms and Conditions that no one reads. We were all blinded by the excitement and desire to connect, while we were unconsciously being manipulated by propaganda to make us think about what the government wishes us to. The world is not progressively moving forward, authoritarian governments are on the rise, and we are unaware of it.