“I Told You So”: Facebook, Your Data & Trump

“Have been thinking about you since this Cambridge Analytica case has been unfolding,” a colleague wrote Interpersonal Divide author Michael Bugeja. “Don’t you feel like telling people – I told you so!’”

Yes, and he just did.

Background: Data-mining company Cambridge Analytica obtained “likes” and other psychographic data from some 50 million Facebook users. It did so, as Interpersonal Divide has warned, by asking users to take a “personality test.”

On July 22, 2017, this website warned viewers in a post titled “Facebook Quizzes Invite Spammers and Hackers“:

Facebook quizzes often appeal to our curiosity or ego or seemingly provide entertainment during lulls in social media posts or other routine activities, using algorithms to ascertain who your secret admirers might be or what celebrity most fits your profile. You take the quiz, which asks that you log on with your Facebook credentials and then “like” the site and share with your friends. They take the quiz, too, and share with their friends, and all the while information from your smartphone is being harvested and sold to third-parties.”

The company then used the data to create a software program specifically designed to influence voters at the ballot box.

According to the Guardian newspaper, Trump supporter and donor Robert Mercer paid $15 million to Cambridge Analytica. “Mercer, who also funded the rightwing website Breitbart, was introduced to the firm by Steve Bannon,” the newspaper stated, noting that he was Trump’s election strategist.  Cambridge Analytica reportedly claimed to have contributed to Trump’s victory.

And you may have, too. The software program not only gathered your private information, if you took the personality survey; it then had access to all your friends.

Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine has covered Facebook’s vending of data in several chapters. In fact, some 28 pages, or 1.4 percent of the book, focuses on Facebook and fake news.

That’s not coincidence, either. Michael Bugeja, Interpersonal Divide author, was one of the first social critics to scrutinize  Facebook in a Jan. 23, 2006 expose, titled “Facing the Facebook“–published in  The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Here’s an excerpt:

“I registered on the Iowa State Facebook and noticed that the discussion groups looked a lot like direct mailing lists. Some, in fact, are the same or barely distinguishable from mailing lists compiled in The Lifestyle Market Analyst, a reference book that looks at potential audiences for advertisers. For instance, “Baseball Addicts” and “Kick Ass Conservatives” are Facebook groups while “Baseball Fanatics” and “Iowa Conservatives” are the names of commercial mailing lists. You can find “PC Gamers,” “Outdoor Enthusiasts,” and advocates for and against gun control on both Facebook and in marketing directories. Several Facebook groups resemble advertisements for products or lifestyles such as “Apple Macintosh Users,” “Avid Sweatpants Users,” or “Brunettes Having More Fun.”.”

If you visit technology hoopla in 2006, you will see that social media was supposed to introduce us to diversity and inclusion and heighten our sensitivities. Higher education bought into that completely.

It is a small step in the age of Big Data to harvest our private information and weaponize it for presidential elections. And don’t think if you didn’t support Trump that the theft of that information was harmless. It wasn’t. His campaign saved money by not contacting you, targeting those whose votes it could sway.

Iowa Public Radio has been ahead of the curve in coverage of this phenomenon, including these Bugeja interviews with hosts Charity Nebbe (Talk of Iowa) and Ben Kieffer (River to River):

Speaking of broadcasts and public radio, in an NPR interview, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota was concerned about Cambridge Analytica’s data theft of millions of Facebook users to help Trump’s presidential campaign.  Facebook called it a “breach,” which she challenged:

“Well, yeah, if you break into my apartment, you can do it with a crowbar or you can do it because the manager gives you a key. The manager gave them a key.”

Oh, Sen. Klobuchar, it’s much worse than that. The manager gave the thief a key and said, “Inside you’ll find the keys of all his and her friends.”

Help yourself, and that’s exactly what happened.

I told you so in Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine, available in softcover for $19.95.

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