How Facebook was weaponised
The surveillance scandal of Cambridge Analytica use of Facebook data to help the Donald Trump campaign win in the 2016 election began three years earlier with a scientific paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study by Michal Kosinski of Stanford, David Stillwell of the University of Cambridge and colleagues involved 58,466 adult American users of Facebook. Subjects provided information about themselves and took a standard test to classify their personalities in five broad categories: degree of openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism or OCEAN.
The researchers then correlated the “big five” personality traits with each person’s Facebook “likes,” an average of 227 per subject. This data led to a computer model which could predict a person’s race with 95 per cent accuracy, gender with 93 per cent and political orientation – Democrat or Republican, for instance – with 85 per cent accuracy.
In 2014, assistant psychology professor Aleksandr Kogan who runs London-based Global Science Research (GSR) approaches Kosinski and Stillwell. Kogan wants access to the OCEAN data set on behalf of Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL). The deal fails to go ahead.
GSR develops its version of the data set using Amazon’s crowdsourcing marketplace Mechanical Turk (MTurk). Kogan’s subjects are paid by SCL to take the Facebook survey.
Crucially, for every individual recruited on MTurk, Kogan also captures the same data for each subjects’ unwitting Facebook friends — an average of around 340 friends per individual. GSL suddenly owns a massive data pool of profiles of 50 million individuals across the United States.
GSR’s data set is used by Cambridge Analytica in the Republican Party presidential Iowa caucuses in support of Ted Cruz. Cruz wins. “The impressive bit,” says Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, is to expand the findings from those who took the personality tests to the entire American electorate of 230 million. Nix says Cambridge Analytica also has “4,000–5,000 data points” – pieces of information – on every single adult US citizen.
In June 2016, the Trump campaign hires Cambridge Analytica. The campaign develops “dark posts” on Facebook to target wavering left-wingers, African-Americans and young women to “suppress” their vote.
Dark posts target users with specific profiles in specific locations. For example, news aimed at African-Americans in which Hillary Clinton refers to black men as predators or in the Miami district of Little Haiti highlighting the failure of the Clinton Foundation following the earthquake in Haiti.
Facebook became weaponised and Donald Trump became President of the United States of America.
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