Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and a tale of two countries
If it was not such a serious issue, I would have been laughing my head off, watching the videos of Mr. Zuckerberg attempting to explain the intricacies of modern technology and internet-lingo to senior citizens of the American Congress.
But it is a serious issue that Facebook allowed the (illegal) collation of data by Cambridge Analytica, to be sold to and used by political forces with the big bucks.
Cambridge Analytica (CA) is a political consulting firm, which specializes in providing data mining and analysis services for elections.
Over time, CA has been found to use its data mining resources in influencing various elections, even as it illegally obtained voters’ information via Facebook for targeted campaigns.
Preeminent among the elections alleged to have been influenced are the Unites States’ 2016 elections and the Nigerian 2015 elections.
In the case of the US elections, the former employee turned ‘singing-canary’ – Chris Wylie – disclosed that CA’s modus operandi was to flood potential voters with information painting Mrs. Clinton in bad light.
Thus, the CA machinery was aimed at removing what could be considered as “the incumbent”, by bombarding potential voters with negative information regarding Hilary Clinton. Such as her emails debacle.
But in the case of the 2015 Nigerian elections, the reverse was the case:
The CA machinery was deployed for the purpose of enabling the (then) incumbent to remain in power, by painting a gory picture of impending bloodshed and widespread terror among the people, if the (then) opposition won elections.
Well… we all witnessed what happened in 2015 and in 2016 respectively. While the opposition won the 2015 Nigerian elections, the “incumbent” in the US 2016 elections in the person of Hilary Clinton lost the election, to his Excellency and Commander-in-Chief of the Twitter Forces, Mr. Donald Trump.
(I never thought I’d see the day)
I accept that it was wrong for Cambridge Analytica to illegally obtain private information, and that Mr. Zuckerberg should be sent to the naughty corner, for allowing Facebook to be a careless pawn.
I equally agree that it was wrong for this illegally obtained information to be (literally) sold to “the highest bidder”, off the shelves of the personal data black-market, and subsequently flood Facebook users with targeted pieces of information.
Where I however do not align with the majority of opinions is the degree of influence (if any) which these targeted campaigns really had on the voters.
I mean, in the case of Hilary Clinton, the general complaint from the average person on the street – even before Mr. Trump threw his hat in the ring – was that she was “cold”, appeared quite “manipulative” and came across as “inauthentic”.
This was coupled with her husband’s said sexcapades as POTUS, so that many considered it a slap on the face for her seek a ‘return’ to the same position.
America had long made its decision, irrespective of Cambridge Analytica’s meddling. There was nothing Mrs. Clinton was going to do make the people accept her.
They just were not ready for a female President. Especially not one as qualified as her, whose hands-on experience of the job requirements had essentially morphed into a curse, and had become her Achilles heel.
Thus, while other aspirants could more easily dive into answering questions with a truckload of naive optimism, she lacked that luxury, having the weight of practical knowledge to require that she filters her answers.
Sadly, this was often interpreted as her being ‘calculative’.
And whereas male counterparts could have gotten away with negotiating any situations, and being strategic, she was hardly afforded that privilege. Thus, what would otherwise be described as being “strategic” or “in-control” was termed (in her case) “manipulative”.
But the saddest part was her having to carry the cross of her husband’s unsavoury philandering; suffering the double jeopardy of the personal ridicule as a wife, yet, bearing the brunt of the direct connection to the unpleasant amoral memories he left in his Presidency’s wake.
While it would now be convenient to blame Cambridge Analytica for the (rather bizarre) choice in Presidents by the American voters, the truth remains that Cambridge Analytica could only have influenced the decisions (if at all), based on already existing individual opinions, and a large aversion to (what was considered as) a return of the Clinton Presidency.
(Phew! That was one long sentence)
This point is illustrated in the failure of Cambridge Analytica to similarly achieve their desired results in Nigeria. Just like in the Unites States, a large number of the Nigerian populace were highly disenchanted with the government of the day, and what was considered as the maddening heights of corruption.
Even though the gory pictures of wide-spread bloodshed, terror and deepened poverty in Nigeria as earlier ‘predicted’ by Cambridge Analytica currently seem to be playing out in an ironic twist of fate, the said pictures and targeted information did not however influence the populace at the time of the election campaigns
Because the Nigerian populace was bent on removing (or at the very least, not supporting) the incumbent, and no amount of targeted ads could change this.
The bottom-line is that even while Cambridge Analytica and Facebook may be crucified for the illegal mining and utilisation of individuals’ data, one cannot validly pin the impending nuclear war, or the current trade-wars with between the United Stated and China on Cambridge Analytica.
Cambridge Analytica could only flex so much muscle. It was the populace who had the real power.
What they decide to do with it going forward still remains in their own hands.