Using big data analytics to gauge the sentiment or sway potential voters is not wrong. Seeding fake news, priming platforms with fake profiles, gaming algorithms and, definitely, stealing profile data is wrong. There is a touch of farce to what is already becoming a broad comedy in this evolving story of Cambridge Analytica ‘stealing’ data and helping win an election. Let’s look at the actors in this piece: UK-based data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, a ring of secretive investors and a winning Presidential poll.
On the face of it, the culprit—it seems to everyone—is Cambridge Analytica that illegally used data sourced from a legitimate Facebook app data that profiled users and their friends creating a database of 50 million individuals. Yet, you can’t but marvel at how Cambridge Analytica changed voter perceptions by using just a small subset of Facebook’s data. The question everyone is asking is how they just did it. It was simple, really. On its initial profile dump, the company superimposed rich data sets—believed to be in excess of 4,000 data points per individual—of just about every American they could lay their hands on, legally, mostly. From gender, age and ethnicity to individual hobbies and favourites, it was all mixed up in a digital soup to filter out tastes as well as sentiments.